Episode 19: TABOR and the Politics of Colorado Transportation Funding

In this episode we focus on Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, twenty-five years after its approval. Does TABOR still enjoy majority support among Colorado voters? What are the factors that influence support and opposition for TABOR? What have been the positive and negative impacts?

Segment 1: All About TABOR

  • Last Friday, the Denver Post editorial board published a piece outlining their argument for why TABOR needs to be reformed. Yet even in doing so they acknowledge the obstacles facing any attempts at reform, not the least of which is that there is no political will to do so. TABOR still enjoys widespread support among Colorado voters, which we found here at Magellan in a 2016 statewide survey on general issues facing our state. While Democrats generally support eliminating TABOR, Republican voters and the increasingly large bloc of unaffiliated voters enjoy the direct-democracy of TABOR and the constraints it places on all levels of government.
  • Still, those constraints do not come without consequences. Democratic State Rep. Millie Hamner wrote an accompanying commentary in the Post highlighting five critical state needs that are hindered by TABOR, including two top-of-mind issues for Colorado voters: public education and transportation infrastructure. Simply put, TABOR has created an environment where there is a very high-stakes competition over resources for these important public needs.
  • The interesting thing about the latest effort at TABOR reform in the legislature is that it is led by Republicans, Rep. Dan Thurlow and Sen. Larry Crowder. Their plan would result in reduced tax refunds in the 1st two years and then no tax refunds in the foreseeable future after that. It would allow the state to spend hundreds of millions more each year on transportation, education and health care, while maintaining voters’ power to vote on tax measures. This is more or less the proposal we explained to voters in our statewide survey last year, and it was widely rejected.
  • What about the political ramifications? Former Secretary of State Scott Gessler makes the interesting argument that TABOR actually helps Colorado’s Democratic politicians because voters know that they are protected from fiscal overreach. It also leads to significant infighting within the Republican Party, which is a likely result of the current Thurlow-Crowder plan. Still, it does appear that TABOR is becoming less of a third rail in Colorado politics. How TABOR reform will impact next year’s Republican primaries and general election, it’s probably still too early to tell, though it is safe to say that in a Republican primary there is going to be very little appetite for reforming TABOR.

Segment 2: Colorado’s Transportation and Infrastructure Needs

  • Related to our TABOR discussion, Vic Vela at Colorado Public Radio has a good primer on efforts at the statehouse to address our transportation and infrastructure needs. It appears as though voters will eventually be asked to support a sales tax hike, though the specifics still need to be worked out.
  • In the event that a sales tax hike is placed on the ballot, it will matter whether it appears on this November’s ballot or next year’s. Legislators will need to balance the need to do something, which their constituents demand, with the consideration that placing the tax increase on the ballot next year would increase it’s likelihood of passing, with a younger, more tax-friendly electorate.
By | 2017-05-24T03:25:48+00:00 March 3rd, 2017|