TABOR at 25: An Outdated Artifact for Tomorrow’s Economy

November 3, 2017
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by Carol Hedges, Executive Director

Twenty-five years ago today, Colorado voters approved adding Article X Section 20 to the state constitution, known to us as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).  That same year, Motorola introduced one of the first handheld digital mobile phones. 

Motorola International 3200At the time, the phone was an important – and innovative – step for mobile technology. But it was bulky, heavy, and shaped like a brick. It couldn’t send or receive text messages. There was no internet and you couldn’t get directions from Google Maps. Charging the battery took five hours, and it only lasted for an hour or so of talk time.

If you got your hands on one today, that same phone would still work on certain networks. But faced with an option of that over one of today’s smartphones, with all its capabilities built for modern life, what would you choose? What would you want to rely on to communicate and connect with the world today and into the years ahead?

Colorado is facing a similar predicament when it comes to TABOR – an outdated idea that’s outlasted its questionable usefulness. Twenty-five years after its passage. TABOR remains a dominant influence in Colorado’s fiscal landscape. But is it really the governing policy that we want to move forward with into the next twenty-five years?

Over the last two and a half decades, we’ve talked a lot about TABOR – how it severely limits Colorado’s ability to invest in ourselves or benefit from economic growth, how it’s made our economy easier to bust when recessions hit and harder to boom when they end, and how it provides an easy avenue for elected officials to abdicate their responsibility to make decisions about investing in schools, roads, health care, and jobs.

Many who live in Colorado today – which is nearly 2 million more than in 1992 – may not be familiar with all the ramifications of the controversial constitutional amendment that barely passed on its third trip to the ballot. But understanding the last 25 years of fiscal policy in Colorado is not nearly as important as looking ahead to the next 25 and figuring out what kind of state we want and how we’re going to support that endeavor.

As we look ahead and try to sort out how to best keep Colorado awesome, we need to have honest debates about changing technology, an evolving economy and dramatic growth if we are to develop better systems and structures that can help our state and everyone in it thrive in the decades to come.

The Colorado of the future needs fiscal policy that actually supports our way of life in Colorado, by making sure we don’t keep kicking costs for things like infrastructure down the road, by making sure we’re actually paying for ourselves as we see waves of new population growth, and by making sure we can shift and adapt in smart ways as the economy evolves.

Between now and 2040, another 2 million people are estimated to move to our state. That’s a staggering number to think about when we’re not even keeping up with the demands of our growth now. How can we realistically expect to do so going forward, without some significant changes?

Over the coming weeks, CFI will be publishing a series of blog posts that explore details on how TABOR constrains our ability to adapt to economic and cultural changes that threaten our future.

The 25th anniversary of the passage of TABOR is not a cause for celebration, it is a call for a smarter, better way forward in the next 25 years.

We better make sure we have a phone that works.

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