Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 59
October 22, 2008
Amendment 59 is an imperfect but necessary step toward repairing the state constitution, and we urge voters to support the measure.
While setting aside revenues in a “savings account” for public education, Amendment 59 would address the unreasonable constraints that have been placed on the state budget by two other constitutional amendments.
Amendment 23, passed in 2000, and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, adopted by voters in 1992, have made it difficult for legislators to meet expectations for health care reform, funding higher education, caring for state parks or modernizing state highways, among other budgetary needs. We don’t believe that was what the voters intended, either in 1992 or 2000.
Enter Amendment 59, which would change the constitution to eliminate a requirement in Amendment 23 that compels the state Legislature to annually increase P-12 education funding by an amount no less than the rate of inflation. Amendment 59 also asks voters to give up future tax rebates authorized under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
By waiving those rebates, voters would rewrite the way Amendment 23 set out to increase state funding for P-12 education and offset some of the unintended consequences the amendment has had on the state budget process. TABOR already limits the amount by which state government can increase the budget year over year. In budget cycles following years in which revenues were down, that has had the effect of ratcheting down government spending.
We do not believe that when they approved Amendment 23, voters fully grasped how it would further squeeze state government in concert with TABOR. The net result is that even as it has been required to steadily increase spending on one of the biggest areas of its annual budget – education – it has been forced to cut back spending in other areas of critical need.
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Do not be misled. Amendment 59 would do more than create a savings account for education with the revenues previously returned to some taxpayers. The savings account, referred to as SAFE, would free up millions of dollars previously mandated for education, and we anticipate the Legislature would spend those newfound monies on other budgetary items.
We wish the ballot language were more transparent in this regard. And we regret that Colorado voters are being asked to weigh the complexities of this ballot measure. It’s a task better assigned to our elected representatives. We consistently have cautioned against legislation by a citizens’ initiative that amends the constitution.
However, we take encouragement from the fact that a bipartisan committee crafted Amendment 59. And we further are reassured that before the state spends any of the future revenues deposited in the education savings account as a result of Amendment 59, the enabling legislation must pass by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Legislature.
Amendment 59 is less than ideal, but Colorado needs it. Vote “yes” to help repair the mess created by TABOR and Amendment 23.