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The long knives are out for the TABOR amendment, with even the conservative Denver Post comparing TABOR’s “one-way ratchet” unfavorably with the situation in Wyoming, where legislators are actually permitted to save money during boom economic times for use during down periods, instead of being forced to return “excess” money to taxpayers during good times and permanently shrink the government during bad times.
The end of TABOR could also be seen in Governor Bill Owens’ State of the State speech, where he promised to save TABOR by asking the voters to approve a change that would allow the state to keep “excess” revenues in exchange for a reduction in the tax rate from 4.6 percent to 4.5 percent — an idea remarkably similar to one promoted last year by Rep. Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), the new state Speaker of the House. Romanoff’s suggestion was laughed out of the legislature last year, but this year it is being called a way to “save” TABOR.
I expect the true believers over at the Independence Institute won’t agree with Owens that allowing the government to keep “excess” revenues when the economy bounces back from a recession “saves” TABOR. But it is almost certainly true that even if the notorious “one way ratchet” of TABOR is repealed, there will still be the requirement that tax increases by voted on by the people instead of the legislature. This means that Colorado is unlikely to imitate Wyoming in one respect — Wyoming has a surplus these days because of its relatively high severance tax on mining activities. Any proposal to increase Colorado’s severance tax would likely generate an expensive ballot proposition campaign, with an uncertain result.