The TABOR Polls
Following is an article by State Senator Mark Hillman that criticizes a poll released by the AARP concerning the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). Hillman's article is reproduced with permission. Then a press release from the Indpendence Institute describes a competing poll that, unsurprisingly, got quite different results.
By State Senator Mark Hillman (January 19, 2005)
The twang of "dueling polls" echoed through the Capitol hallways during the first few days of the legislative session. Interest groups set out to convince legislators that their pulse of the populace paved the pathway to political popularity.
Colorado's conflicting constitutional amendments remain the focus of this debate.
AARP released a poll that purports to show that citizens want the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) to be repealed or modified. AARP won't deny its own anti-TABOR bias -- it's already filed ballot titles asking voters to amend or repeal TABOR -- but contends that the poll is nonetheless scientifically accurate.
Selected findings from the poll and accompanying report:
"More than eight in ten likely voters strongly (46 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) agree that the state has a serious budget problem.
"More than three-quarters say that it is very (51 percent) or somewhat (25 percent) important that TABOR be changed to allow funding to be restored when economic growth gets back on track.
"About seven in ten (72 percent) support changing TABOR to allow funding to be restored to previous levels when the economy improves.
"More than half strongly (30 percent) or somewhat (25 percent) support repealing TABOR outright."
However, the poll contains some curiosities. For example, while voters seem to support an outright repeal of TABOR, they are lukewarm on giving up tax refunds required by TABOR.
By a narrow margin of 47-45 percent, respondents favor allowing the state to keep part of their refunds. In a 48-45 percent squeaker, respondents agreed to allow the state to keep all of their future refunds.
Voters, it seems, are much more protective of "my refund" than of some arcane law called "TABOR." Second, the pollster explained to respondents, "TABOR does not allow increases in funding for state services, so once they have been cut back they cannot be restored, even if state revenues increase as the economy grows."
The veracity of that statement depends entirely on how you define "increase." TABOR doesn't prevent spending increases; it allows spending to increase at the combined percentage of population growth plus inflation. Yet, when spending grows slowly or not at all during a recession, TABOR doesn't allow it to return to pre-recession levels even if the economy does.
AARP concluded its poll with this question: "How strongly do you support or oppose changing TABOR so that funding for state services such as higher education' health care for children, roads and highways, and nursing homes could be increased as the population grows and the need for these services increases?"
That's a textbook example of biasing a question to produce a predetermined result. Clearly, "refunds" poll better than "TABOR," so those likely to oppose this proposed change must not only know what TABOR is but also support it. Those who failed to make the connection between TABOR and refunds then must say no to the "needs" of "health care for children, roads and highways, and nursing homes." And to deliver the knockout blow, it is speciously suggested that TABOR doesn't allow government spending to match population growth.
Meanwhile, TABOR backers from Independence Institute and Colorado Club for Growth are set to release a poll showing that a majority of voters doesn't want to change TABOR. (Details were not available.)
However, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce invited legislators to hear from pollster David Hill, who reviewed the results of four polls taken during the past year. His findings should confound both camps in the TABOR wars:
- Despite three years of budget belt tightening, voters think government waste is most responsible for state budget woes.
- Despite Amendment 23's mandate that education spending shall always increase, voters think schools need more help.
- Voters don't primarily associate TABOR with "a vote on taxes" -- more often identifying TABOR as a limit on taxes and government spending.
- Voters believe their tax burden increases faster than their income.
State Sen. Mark Hillman (R-Burlington) is the Republican Leader of the Colorado Senate. His e-mail address is mail**at**markhillman.com.
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For Immediate Release
January 17, 2005
Poll Shows Little Support to Weaken TABOR or Raise Taxes
GOLDEN, Colo. -- The results of a new poll commissioned by the Independence Institute and the Colorado Club for Growth shows a lack of voter support for modifying Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) or seeking a TABOR override (known as De-Brucing).
According to a scientific survey by the nationally-recognized polling firm TelOpinion Research, only 33 percent of likely Colorado voters who voted in the most recent election approve reducing their TABOR tax refunds or removing the so-call ratchet mechanism.
More than half (52%) of the survey's 600 respondents altogether opposed weakening TABOR or giving up $500 million in tax surplus refunds. Only 33% are in favor of a proposal that would allow state government to keep more tax revenue. The results refute recent claims of Coloradans' sagging support for TABOR.
"This just goes to show what we've already known," said Independence Institute President Jon Caldara. "Despite the best efforts of Colorado's spending lobby to blame TABOR for everything from the state's budget shortages to causing baldness in lab rats, most Colorado taxpayers are happy with TABOR the way it is."
"Voters realize that Colorado's budget situation is not a revenue problem, it is a spending problem. Legislators must deal with the strong likelihood that voters will reject a tax increase. It would be wiser for them instead to spend their limited time working on finding efficiencies and productivity inside government to address any budget shortfall."
"The legislature should focus on re-inventing the way the state does business to encourage cost savings without large reductions in governmental service," Caldara said, citing Performance Based Budgeting, competitive contacting, procurement reform, and sentencing reform as methods to increase governmental output.
"While legislators expect more from taxpayers, it is clear that Coloradans expect more from government," Caldara said. "The taxpayers want to keep TABOR in place to keep their elected officials in line."
The Independence Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Golden, Colo.