Nearly two decades ago, Colorado voters had had enough of politicians spending money, growing government and raising taxes to pay for it. We passed the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), a state constitutional amendment that requires lawmakers to ask Colorado voters for any tax increase and prevents the state government from growing faster than the private sector.
Most politicians and special interest groups despise TABOR because it’s a bit like parental control for teenagers.
Picture this: It’s Friday night, and your teenager comes to you claiming he is broke and needs more money. You gave him his $20 allowance at the beginning of the week, so as a responsible parent, you ask, “Where did the $20 that I gave you on Monday go?”
He might explain that he filled up his car with gas so he could run errands for you, gave $10 to church, and helped out a friend who didn’t have any money for lunch.
Or he might roll his eyes and sigh before answering, “I just spent it! Alright? Now I need more!” He might even invoke some type of sob story about not having a pencil for school or money for lunch, even though you’ve paid for those things already.
Whether his reasons are noble or no good, at least he had the courtesy to ask you. He didn’t just reach into your wallet, take an additional $10, and tell you about it as he rushed out the door.
In this case, you, as the parent, are in charge. You can deny him his request, and suggest that he budget a little better in the future. Or if you are feeling generous, you can hand him a few dollars more and grumble that this really is the last time.
That’s what it is like to be a taxpayer in Colorado thanks to TABOR, which serves as a fragile line of defense between taxpayers’ pocketbooks and government.
TABOR puts Colorado voters in charge. We get to decide how much government we want and how much we are willing to pay for it. If state and local elected officials want more money, they must make their case to voters, who then can either approve or deny the request. (Lawmakers can increase state “fees” for services without a vote of the people, but that’s a column for another day.)
Columnist and former Colorado resident David Harsanyi championed TABOR in a recent article:
1.) TABOR has been hugely successful in instilling fiscal responsibility in irresponsible lawmakers and mitigating the fiscal problems of Colorado. You can raise taxes. All you have to do is ask. (The United States could use a TABOR.) and, 2.) The initiative process often balances the power of elected legislatures. The Founders argued for streams of democracy to create some equilibrium in Federalist Papers.
What’s not to like about TABOR? Plenty if you are an elected official or special interest group with a teenager’s narcissistic propensity for spending someone else’s money. They are annoyed at having to explain themselves to voters.
Last week we learned that the takings coalition has had enough of asking permission before reaching into taxpayers’ pocketbooks. In a desperate move, a group of current and former state and local elected officials filed a lawsuit claiming that TABOR is unconstitutional because its passage via citizens’ initiative violated the Constitution’s guarantee of a “republican” form of government. (Independence Institute constitutional scholar Rob Natelson destroys this silly argument in an article for the Texas Law Review.)