(Mar. 20) – Speaker KC Becker, Sen. Kevin Priola and Sen. Lois Court introduced a bipartisan bill today to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit. Colorado has one of the best economies in the country but revenue limits restrict the state’s ability to benefit from economic growth during upturns and protect against downturns. As a result, Colorado’s investment in public schools consistently ranks at the bottom of the nation, and transportation is severely underfunded.
“This effort is supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition. This is about good governance,” said Speaker Becker, D-Boulder. “The TABOR cap is an antiquated fiscal policy that has severely limited Colorado’s ability to invest in basic functions of government－from public schools to transportation and health care. It’s made our economy easier to bust when recessions hit and harder to boom when they end. This measure is not an answer to all of our fiscal problems, but it’s a critical first step in making sure our fiscal policy actually supports our way of life in Colorado.”
Colorado’s TABOR amendment restricts the amount of revenue all levels of government (state, local and schools) can spend, preventing the state from benefiting from economic growth and making critical investments. The vast majority of local governments and school districts have already “debruced,” meaning, they’ve received voter approval to retain all or a portion of the revenue over the TABOR cap.
Of the state’s 272 municipalities, 230 municipalities have obtained voter approval to retain and spend all or a portion of excess revenue collected. Of the state’s 64 counties, 51 counties have obtained voter approval to retain and spend all excess revenue. All but four of the 178 school districts in Colorado have obtained voter approval to retain and spend excess revenue.
The state has not yet followed suit, having only temporarily suspended the TABOR limit because of budget constraints through the voter-approved Referendum C in 2005.
In the last 27 years since the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) was voted into Colorado’s Constitution, our state population has increased 50 percent – more than 2.3 million additional people live in our state in 2019 than in 1992. For decades, Colorado has not been able to keep up with the demands of growth because of the outdated fiscal restraints imposed on the state by TABOR.
“I’ve talked to many Coloradans in my community and they are concerned about transportation and education. They want us to solve problems and fix things,” said Sen. Priola, R-Brighton. “I’m a native Coloradan and this proposal follows TABOR to a T because it goes to the voters.”
There is a $9 billion project backlog at the Colorado Department of Transportation. Investing in our state’s infrastructure and transportation system is critical for economic development in rural Colorado and across the state.
“I am proud to work with Speaker Becker and Senator Priola to ask the voters, without changing the constitution, if they’re willing to allow us to keep the funds we’ve collected to provide the services they expect,” said Sen. Court, D-Denver.
HB19-1257 refers a measure to the Fall 2019 statewide ballot asking voters to authorize the state to annually retain and spend all state revenues in excess of the TABOR cap, the constitutional limitation on state fiscal year spending. HB19-1258, the companion bill, is contingent on voters approving the referred measure. It splits up the revenue retained due to the measure to be spent 1⁄3 each on public schools; higher education; and roads, bridges and transit.
“These bipartisan measures will help ensure rural Colorado can thrive, generate more economic development and provide critical services in our communities,” said Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillion, a co-prime sponsor of the measures.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Speaker Becker read a statement from Gov. Jared Polis about the measures. “Governor Polis supports allowing the state to keep the tax revenue it already collects. This common sense policy does not alter the right of citizens to vote on taxes but allows Colorado to keep pace with a growing economy. The governor is engaging bi-partisan civic leaders across the state because he believes broad bipartisan support is essential to win in November.”
The text of the bills can be found here and here.