A political battle is brewing in Colorado, and it’s going to look and sound awfully familiar. The real question will revolve around which sides traditional Republicans choose to defend.
For a preview of this fight, check out what the unabashedly conservative Colorado Springs Gazette wrote about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in yesterday’s paper:
TABOR doesn’t work. TABOR never has worked. TABOR never will work, and it’s hurting us.
The “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” had such a nice ring to it that recession-plagued voters opted for it in 1992. Recessions often breed radical politics and so it was with TABOR, which had such enormous unforeseen consequences that ultimately it took another ballot measure, Referendum C in 2005, to offset the damage.
TABOR was the creation of El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce. It is based on the notion that one can devise a formula for government spending based on inflation and growth and just walk away, leaving the automatic pilot to do the work.
Trouble is, governing is always more complicated than that. The further trouble is that even though various El Paso County Republicans have distanced themselves from Bruce, they’ve all made TABOR a part of their political catechism, and they don’t have the courage to say that the TABOR emperor ruling us all has no clothes. [My emphasis]
El Paso County has, by far, the lowest taxes of any of Colorado’s big counties, yet new businesses are not stampeding to our door.
Tom Zwirlein, a professor in the College of Business at UCCS and director of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, said “I think it’s definitely hurting our economic development.”
This month, Zwirlein delivered some bad news: For a few years now, Colorado Springs has been hemorrhaging $60,000-a-year jobs. Zwirlein said the city’s Economic Development Corp. is hamstrung because there are so few incentives it can offer to prospective new businesses, “and it all goes back to TABOR.”…
…Bruce has portrayed the de-TABORings as the work of big-spending liberals. But Colorado’s fire districts are run by guys with gun racks in their pickups. They just want to put out a few fires. They’re not liberals. They simply couldn’t make TABOR work.
Go back and re-read the paragraphs in bold above. Republicans in this state are in trouble already, but they’re going to be in even bigger trouble someday very soon. Critics have opposed TABOR for a long time, and those voices grew loud enough in 2005 to see the passage of Referendum C (the TABOR time-out). The problem with Referendum C is that it was only a temporary solution to what is very clearly a problem, no matter what diehard conservative anti-tax, anti-government Republicans (and the Independence Institute) will try to tell you.
And the problem with that, if you are a Republican politician, is that you will soon be left between a very large rock and a very hard place. You can continue to stand behind TABOR, despite the defection of conservative newspapers and a large contingent of business interests, in order to maintain your street cred with staunch anti-everything conservatives. In that scenario, you’re going to have a hard time winning an election against a more logical opponent. On the other side, you can stand behind reality and admit that TABOR isn’t working and never did work, but to do so risks alienating those true believer conservatives that make up your base.
Neither option is a very good one if you are a Republican, but at some point they’re going to have to just take the nasty medicine and swallow it down. Because if you live by the anti-tax (or spend) sword, you’re eventually going to die by the anti-tax (or spend) sword. Necessary public services aren’t free, and the magical free market won’t build and maintain stuff out of thin air. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but most people understand why they are important. Pretending otherwise will only change one reality in the near future: Your re-election chances.