Steamboat Springs Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff promised Wednesday that the Legislature would be faithful in its appropriation of TABOR funds freed up Tuesday by approval of Referendum C.
"That's our top priority," Romanoff said. "We will be extraordinarily vigilant in following the letter and the spirit of the law."
Referendum C passed by 45,000 votes of 1.1 million cast and was overwhelmingly approved in Routt County. It will allow state government to keep an estimated $3.1 billion in revenue in the next five years that would otherwise have been returned to taxpayers as rebates. The money is to be dedicated in equal shares to K-12 schools, health care for economically disadvantaged people and programs to lower health insurance, plus increased aid for students at community and state colleges.
Romanoff, a Democrat, joined Republican Gov. Bill Owens to push for passage of Referendum C and its companion -- Referendum D. Voters rejected D, which would have allowed the Legislature to devote 10 percent of the funds from C to underwrite $1.56 million in bonded indebtedness. The bulk of the money would have been used to accelerate completion of a list of road and bridge projects across the state.
Romanoff said he was aware there was confusion about the future of Referendum C with the failure of D. Although D could not have been passed had C failed, he said, without D, C still offers assurances that the Taxpayers Bill of Rights funds will be dedicated to specific uses.
"Some people think that D was the earmarking bill, but D was a bonding bill and C is (primarily) a de-Brucing bill with a one-third, one-third, one-third" spending requirement committed to K-12 schools, health care and college funding, Romanoff said. "Referendum D would have jump-started school repair projects and roads," he said. "Arguably, all of them will still be funded eventually; it will just take longer."
It also may prove to be more expensive to the taxpayers than it would have been had D passed.
Former Routt County Com--missioner Bill Haight was also a state highway commissioner for a dozen years spanning the late 1980s and early '90s. Haight, who worked up until the last minute in support of C and D, said the failure of D represents a lost opportunity to hedge against inflation.
The rate of inflation in the construction industry is higher than that of the economy as a whole, Haight said. Government bonds offer below-market interest rates. Those trends working together offered an opportunity to borrow money and build new highway bridges, for example, in the near term -- before inflation made them more expensive.
The gap between the interest rates and the inflation rate adds up to an economic opportunity, Haight said. The opportunity could be considered greater when you take into account the added expense of attempting to repair infrastructure that has been allowed to decay.
Romanoff agreed with Haight. He tried to persuade voters to support Referendum D by comparing the vote to a decision about tackling home repairs.
"I tell people it would make sense to borrow money in order to fix a leaking roof," he said. "But people are nervous about taking on additional debt, and that's understandable."
Despite the failure of D, Rom--anoff was enthused about the passage of C. One of the biggest aspects of Referendum C, he said, is that it provides a permanent fix to the "ratcheting effect" of TABOR. That term refers to a provision that pegs state spending limits to revenues collected at the depth of the last recession and previously prevented spending to recover along with a growing economy. That revenue floor will be adjusted to correspond with the needs of a growing state, proponents of Referendum C say.