Last year, the Bell Policy Center, a progressive think tank, circulated petitions to put on the ballot a proposal to solve the state’s fiscal crisis through amending the “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights” (TABOR).

TABOR is the 1992 state constitutional amendment that requires the state to return rebates to taxpayers, even when there is a budget deficit, when state revenue increases beyond a small permitted increment. This means that after an economic downturn that causes state revenue to shrink, the state budget is more or less permanently reduced. TABOR’s “downward ratchet” is generally agreed to be the primary cause of the current state budget crisis.

The Bell ended up not putting its initiative on the ballot, presumably because it believed it would fail. Meanwhile, the governor and state legislature failed to come up with any reform proposals. The new Democratic leadership in the State House and Senate promise to do something about the problem, but some people are not willing to wait. According to the Rocky Mountain News, the League of Women Voters and the AARP have announced plans to put TABOR reform or repeal measures on the November 2005 ballot.

Democratic Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff sounds peeved, saying people should give the new legislature, which hasn’t even convened yet, a chance to do its work. But the prospect of a ballot initiative doesn’t necessarily hurt the chances of a legislative fix.

It will take a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate to amend TABOR, and that means Democrats and Republicans will have to work together. Democrats are generally committed to TABOR reform, Republicans less so. The threat of a ballot initiative that could simply undo TABOR in its entirety, along with the message sent by voters who tossed out the GOP leadership of both houses last year, could help force a legislative compromise that would make a statewide vote unnecessary.