Brodie Farquhar: TABOR only works for conservative ideologues
June 11, 2018
I read with interest the defense of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, mounted by Jennifer Schubert-Aiken and Amy Oliver Cooke in the Thursday edition of the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
These conservative leaders, from the Steamboat Institute and Independence Institute, gave readers a stilted and incomplete review of TABOR. Indeed, Aiken is sponsoring a TABOR Road Show next week, presenting their defense for TABOR in Steamboat, Aspen and Durango.
I look at the conflict between TABOR and representative government, at all levels of government in Colorado, as best summed up in the old adage, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." TABOR requires an affirmative vote of the people, to raise taxes or increase public debt, above and beyond what's automatically called for in responding to population growth or inflation.
On the surface, it sounds like a no-brainer. It is a perfect illustration of democracy in action, leaving tax increases up to the people. Who could possibly object to that?
Well, just about every elected official in Colorado. That's who.
In a perfect world, where voters are perfectly informed and understand the issues to be addressed by a tax increase, voter approval is the perfect answer.
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Trouble is, we do not live in a perfect world, and voters are rarely perfectly informed and able to make informed decisions and cast wise votes. Of course, there are all sorts of variables that can come into play. Sometimes, voters are well-aware of certain issues and make wise, well-considered decisions and votes. But it usually takes a crisis and lots of publicity for that to happen.
All too often, voters are busy with their own lives and concerns and lack time, energy or access to good, balanced information in order to make sound decisions. As a result, calls to increase taxes or debt are all too easy to reject out of hand, without due consideration of the issues and long-term consequences of a "no" vote.
This is why teacher pay is so low, why schools and infrastructure are crumbling, why so many problems go unresolved and unaddressed, year after year. The money is there, but TABOR makes it needlessly difficult to put that money to work for We the People.
I don't think voters are stupid or of ill-will. They're just damn busy. They cannot and do not spend the hours, days, weeks, months and years that our representatives do, immersing themselves in issues.
That's why our Founding Fathers came up with a system of representative democracy – an approach that's been emulated at every level of government, from state legislatures to school boards to municipal or county government.
A representative democracy is not perfect – far from it. I think it was Winston Churchill who said of his Parliament that it was the worst form of government invented … except for all the others.
The problem with the "perfect" democracy of TABOR is that Colorado cannot deal with problems in a timely, cost-effective manner. In practice, we fix problems when they hit crisis level and are more expensive to fix.
I'll take "good" government, flawed as it can be, over "perfect" government. I'll take what works reasonably well over hamstringing our representatives. Otherwise, why even have representatives? Because it works.
TABOR only works for conservative ideologues who want to shrink government until it can be drowned in the bathtub.