The true costs of Ref. C
by Linn and Ari Armstrong
The following article was originally published by Grand Junction Free Press on September 5, 2005.
Total state spending has gone up every year under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, from $6.34 billion in 1992 to $14.61 billion this year. That's an increase of 130 percent.
Isn't that enough?
The general fund makes up about 40 percent of total spending. It's the part of the budget most under legislative control and tied to Colorado taxes. It was cut during 2001-02 and 2002-03, even as total spending increased. And it's also expected to increase for the next five years.
The economists at Legislative Council predict that "actual appropriations" will increase from $6.1 billion this year to $7.2 billion in 2009-10. That's an increase of 17 percent, under current rules, without Referendum C.
Isn't that enough?
At the same time, the proponents of Referendum C claim that certain parts of the budget will have to be cut. But if general-fund spending is increasing, why must some things be cut? The argument essentially is that certain parts of the budget must be increased disproportionately.
For instance, the assumption is that spending on Medicaid, the same outfit that purchased sex drugs for registered sex offenders, has to increase faster than the total budget.
But why should Colorado taxpayers have to fork over even more money just because legislators refuse to reign in certain costs? The threat is this: unless taxpayers pay even more than they're already expected to pay, the legislature will allow certain costs to grow without restraint. That is, in essence, blackmail.
Some have argued that, without Referendum C, Mesa State will suffer. But how much money does Referendum C promise to Mesa State? The answer is zero. Not one cent.
In fact, Referendum C does not promise money to any specific project. It's a blank check. While the language claims the money must be spent for certain broad, vague categories, the reality is that such language is merely a shell game that provides no serious guidance.
If you really want to help Mesa State, vote no on Referendum C. Then, when you get your TABOR refunds, give half of that money to Mesa State.
Otherwise, you will get no TABOR refund for the next five years. Not a single penny. All that money will be spent by politicians. Most of whom, by the way, are *not* from Grand Junction.
According to the *other* Grand Junction newspaper, Reeves Brown of Club 20 made the following argument. If voters reject Referendum C, then, because the Denver area is disproportionately represented in the legislature, "rural areas will get cut first."
We've already seen that spending is expected to increase, not "get cut." But contemplate for a moment the sheer stupidity of Brown's argument. His claim is that Western Slopers are largely at the mercy of Denver-area politicians. So what does Brown think is going to happen to the money of Western Slopers if they approve of the massive tax hike?
It takes a special kind of person to believe that sending more money to Denver to be spent by Denver politicians is the best way to help the Western Slope. We could instead say "no" to the massive tax hike and keep that money in the pockets of working families on the Western Slope.
What is the true cost of Referendum C? Don't ask Rep. Bernie Buescher. According to this paper, he recently claimed the cost is $25 for the first year. What he fails to mention is that the TABOR refund is expected to increase dramatically over the five-year span.
How much does Referendum C increase taxes? Nobody knows for sure, because it completely wipes out all TABOR-related refunds for five years, regardless of the amount. The latest estimate is $3.74 billion over the first five years. (After that, the spending base is permanently increased.)
That's an average of nearly $3,500 for a family of four. The actual refund per family will vary. The blue book says, "The sales tax refund accounts for about 42 percent of all TABOR refunds and is distributed based on income levels. Taxpayers are expected to receive an average of $491 in sales tax refunds over the next five years." So if Referendum C passes the average two-income family will give up around a thousand dollars in sales-tax refunds alone, over the first five years.
Referendum C would take an estimated $3.74 billion out of the voluntary economy. That represents, on average, about 15,000 jobs per year at an annual salary of $50,000. If Colorado families have $3.74 billion less to spend, local businesses are going to suffer. Some people would lose their jobs.
State spending is already expected to increase over the next five years. Politicians don't need even more of your money. Working families can spend that money better than politicians in Denver can.