Legislative leaders from across the state converged on Centennial Hall in Steamboat Springs on Thursday to emphasize the bipartisan support for a pair of referendums. Together, referendums C and D are intended to allow state government to spend more of the revenue that otherwise would be returned to taxpayers in the form of tax credits.
Referendums C and D, which will appear on the November ballot, would relax the Taxpayers Bill of Rights for five years to allow the state to capture an estimated $3.1 billion in surplus funds. The money would be used to make up some of the budget cuts endured in the past eight years by higher education, health care programs and K-12 education. Beyond 2010, a portion of the money would be used to repay bonds, allowing the state to repair roads and bridges and complete other capital projects.
"We need more than a parade of politicians," said House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver. "We need ranchers, teachers, nurses, cops, retirees, homemakers -- we need a broad coalition in this state. This is the most important debate we'll have in Colorado in this decade."
Steamboat's representatives to the Colorado Legislature -- Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park -- have endorsed the referendums, as has Republican Gov. Bill Owens.
Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Clear Creek County, rose from her seat to praise Taylor in front of his constituents for being among the first Republicans to step across the aisle and back the referendums.
"Without the support I got from Jack, C and D would not be reflective of the wide geography and wide interests of this state," Fitz-Gerald said.
Also present at the public forum was Minority Whip Rep. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling. Denver Chamber President Joe Blake kicked off the meeting.
Taylor said he doesn't look forward to next year's state budget process if C and D do not pass. He said that mandated programs -- those that the Legislature is obligated to fund -- will consume an additional $200 million next year, even as the Legislature struggles to cut another $208 million from the budget because of TABOR's ratcheting-down effect.
House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton, an outspoken opponent of referendums C and D, told the Steamboat Today this week that there is no budget crisis in Colorado and that legislators need to do a better job of prioritizing spending. He said his colleagues, who he says support C and D because they see the share of unappropriated and available tax dollars dwindling, are legislators who want to fund new programs.
Taylor pointed out that after five years, the timeout on TABOR would expire, and the constitutional amendment would go back into effect.
Romanoff said it's important to understand that if referendums C and D are approved by the voters, they will forever alter the ratcheting-down effect of TABOR. Under C and D, Romanoff said that in times of future recessions, Coloradans won't have to struggle so mightily to dig themselves out of a hole while the other 49 states get on with the business of reinvesting the fruits of recovering economies.
Referendum C would raise the "floor" of TABOR, allowing annual budget increases (tied to inflation and population growth) to be based on a larger sum.
Romanoff said the change is easiest to understand if voters think in terms of their own salaries. Consider a person making $40,000 annually, Romanoff said. Then imagine that, because of a recession, his employer cut his salary in half. If individual workers were subject to TABOR as it stands today, Romanoff said, all of their future raises would be percentages on top of only $20,000, even during an economic recovery. However, passage of referendums C and D would restore his $40,000 salary and afford him bigger percentage raises in the future.
Romanoff said individual taxpayers will forgo $491 in tax credits during five years, or an average of $98 annually, if referendums C and D pass. Referendums C and D would not have any effect on their state income-tax refunds, Romanoff stressed.
"Together, we could reinvest that $98 in better schools and safer roads," Romanoff said. "This is a first step back to national leadership, which is where Colorado belongs."