Lemmings Oppose Fiscal Responsibility
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared in a July edition of Grand Junction Free Press.
Lemmings are those curious rodents that follow each other off a cliff and drown. Apparently Colorado has been infested, judging by a story from the Associated Press. The argument is that Colorado politicians should spend more money, because politicians in other states spend more money. But such "lemming logic" can lead only to wasteful state spending that harms taxpayers.
This November, voters will decide whether to allow a $3.1 billion spending hike over five years. That's on top of spending hikes already authorized under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Governor Bill Owens recently signed the largest budget in Colorado history for fiscal year 2005-6, for $15.2 billion. The state is scheduled to spend more every year, even if Coloradans vote against the additional spending hike this fall. If voters approve the measure this fall, there will be no TABOR-authorized tax refunds.
The AP reports, "Colorado collects fewer state taxes per person than all states except South Dakota and Texas, Census Bureau figures show. Colorado gets about $1,532 per person, about half the amount collected by top-ranked Hawaii." However, "Coloradans pay more city and county taxes than people of many other states."
But how much money does the state government need to run essential services? $15.2 billion isn't enough? $1,532 per person, or over $6,000 for a family of four, isn't enough? The fact that politicians in states like California and Hawaii spend even more isn't a reason for us to allow a bigger spending hike.
If the additional spending hike passes, a family of four will pay an average of over $2,500 more over five years. What could your family do with an extra $2,500? Maybe help fund K-12 or college education. Perhaps contribute to a savings plan. Do you really believe Denver politicians, who dominate the legislature, will spend that money better than you can?
The AP quotes House Majority Leader Alice Madden, a Boulder Democrat: "Colorado can never catch up to where we used to be. We used to have one of the best economies in the nation. Now we have one of the worst, because of TABOR."
It takes a Boulder liberal to so fundamentally misunderstand basic economics. When Madden complains that Colorado "can never catch up," what she means is that the state's politicians will keep spending more of our money every year, only they won't spend quite as much more as they would have if we hadn't suffered a recession.
For Madden to blame economic problems on TABOR is sheer silliness. In fact, TABOR's restrictions on the growth of state spending has helped the state stay competitive and recover from the recession. Thankfully, we had TABOR to dampen the effects of profligate state spending and protect the productive sectors of the economy.
Much of the budget is eaten up by wealth transfers. Taking money from some people and giving it to others doesn't increase net wealth. On the contrary: restraining state spending, and letting individuals who earn money decide how to spend and invest it, is the major driving force of economic growth.
A few weeks ago Penn Pfiffner, President of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, came to town to address the Colorado Republican Business Coalition. He pointed out that most of the general fund is directed to K-12 spending and Medicaid. Pfiffner said TABOR has been beneficial to businesses by controlling tax growth and offering businesses a greater tax certainty that allows them to plan for their futures.
A diverse group attended Pfiffner's presentation, including Shari Bjorklund, former Republican candidate for state legislature, and John Redifer, former chairman of the Mesa County Democrats. Marcia Neal, Mesa County District 51 School Board member, also attended, saying, "Amendment 23 and the TABOR amendment forced school boards to live within their budgets." We never supported Amendment 23, which requires rapid spending increases for K-12 education even in times of recession, but we agree that spending restraints are necessary to keep politicians within a reasonable budget.
Maybe it's time for state politicians to reign in wasteful spending to make room for higher-priority projects. The Independence Institute, with which Pfiffner is affiliated, issued a report describing numerous ways the state could save money.
The spending hikes already authorized by TABOR are more than adequate. The notion that politicians need to spend even more of our money is ludicrous. Wiping out the TABOR refunds is a plan worthy of the lemmings, but not of Colorado taxpayers.
Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.