Ref. C a blank check
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on September 22, 2005.
Here's a pop quiz about Referendum C: How much money does that measure promise to the University of Colorado?
The answer is zero. Not one cent.
What percent of the estimated $3.74 billion tax hike (over the first five years alone) will be spent on CU and higher education?
The answer is that nobody knows, because Referendum C is a blank check. This year's legislature said most of the money would be split evenly among health care, K-12 and higher education, but that's subject to change.
The language of Referendum C says the money would be spent on health care, education, retirement plans and transportation. But these broad categories don't impose any real restraints. Furthermore, the legislature could merely shuffle other money away from those programs and replace it with the new money from Referendum C.
Referendum D authorizes new state debt "with a maximum total repayment cost of up to $3,225,000,000." Out of the borrowed amount of up to $2.072 billion, how much of that money is dedicated to higher education? The answer is $50 million, or 2.4 percent. And the younger generations -- which, by the way, cannot vote yet -- get saddled with state debt.
How much will the state budget be cut next year if Referendum C is defeated? That's a trick question, because state spending is already expected to increase next year. This year's total state budget of $14.61 billion is the largest budget in state history. Economists at Legislative Council predicted that "actual appropriations," a portion of the budget related to the general fund, will increase every year through 2009-10, by about 17 percent.
Perhaps you've heard the claim that the budget would be "cut" by some $400 million. That claim is a fabrication created by the governor's economist and repeated by unscrupulous journalists who conspire to mislead the public.
True, without reform, spending for programs such as Medicaid and K-12 education will increase disproportionately next year, straining other parts of the budget, including higher education.
Yet are CU's leaders asking voters to reform Amendment 23, which automatically increases spending on K-12 education faster than the rate of inflation, even during times of recession? No. They are instead asking taxpayers to give up even more of their hard-earned money, money that will mostly go to fund programs other than higher education.
Colorado Daily reports that CU regents Pete Steinhauer and Cindy Carlisle both support Referendums C and D. Steinhauer said, "And it's hard for me to understand how anyone could vote against it."
Maybe it is hard for wealthy Boulderites to understand why most regular working people don't want to pay higher taxes. Legislative council estimates that the average taxpayer would lose nearly $500 in "sales tax refunds" if Referendum C passes. Yet Legislative Council also points out that the "sales tax refund accounts for about 42 percent of all TABOR refunds."
This tax hike averages nearly $3,500 per family of four. When Colorado families have less money to spend with local businesses, marginal jobs will be eliminated.
Hank Brown said, "If C doesn't pass, there will be no aid for higher education a decade from now," according to the Rocky Mountain News. Brown has rightly been praised as the new leader of CU, yet on this point his comments are hyperbolic. With already-increasing budgets, some parts of the budget will be squeezed only if legislators refuse to rein in spending elsewhere.
And Brown has already found ways to trim costs at CU, finding nearly a million dollars of annual savings in administration. Brown has also looked at CU's half-million dollar liquor tab and decided booze should no longer be subsidized by taxes.
Apparently Brown believes that CU is not doing a good enough job that Coloradans will voluntarily subsidize its budget. Maybe that's true; with clowns like Ward Churchill wasting tens of thousands of dollars annually, many taxpayers are rightly concerned with the way the state's university system is spending our money.
But there's nothing stopping the citizens of Colorado from cutting a check to CU. If your interest is higher education, then vote no on Referendums C and D and send half that money directly to CU, your child's college account or a scholarship fund. You'll be better off, and higher education will be better off. If CU has to ask you for that money, rather than take it by force, it will be more accountable.
I'll close with an anecdote. I worked for Hank Brown for the summer in 1992 when he was a U.S. Senator and I was a college kid. Brown did a lot of things that I admired. For instance, he took on the Amtrak monopoly, though unsuccessfully.
I also got a glimpse of government abuse. Part of my job was to evaluate the transportation budget. I discovered that odd-sounding projects were added that just happened to be in the states of the senators on that committee. The amount of pork was roughly equal, except the chair's state got more. When I breathlessly brought my findings to a lead staffer, the bored response was something like, "Yes, but is the spending for Colorado in there?"
So when Brown's "conservative Republican" credentials are paraded around by left-wingers who support Referendum C, remember that it is the "conservative Republicans" in Congress who are currently loading bills with billions of dollars of special-interest pork and blowing out the national debt. In Colorado, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights keeps a lid on such nonsense.