20 May 2009: Repealing TABOR true act of courage

Repealing TABOR a true act of courage

It’s not uncommon to do a double-take and head-scratch and wonder, “Huh?” when listening to arguments, mostly from plutocrats and pundits, defending TABOR.

This time, however, the double-taking and head-scratching come courtesy of a letter writer to the Denver Post when he writes, “TABOR does not restrict state government from doing anything; it simply requires that the legislature get taxpayers’ permission to raise the taxes to do what they want.”

So, TABOR—Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights—does restrict government from doing something: raising taxes, which is an essential prerogative and responsibility of a legislative body under a republican form of government.

Let’s not, though, confuse “republican form of government” with “Republican form of government.” The former references a political philosophy of governance, the one for which our federal and state constitutions provide; the latter comes down to political equations that guide one’s thinking.

Traditional conservative philosophy, of the post-monarchial style, holds that the core of power in American politics lies with the states and ultimately in their legislatures.

Initially, for example, U.S. senators were appointed by state legislatures, a decidedly un-democratic procedure that got excised from the Constitution with the Seventeenth Amendment during the great Progressive Period of the early 20th century.

The fundamental essences of conservatives and progressives are such: conservatives adhere to strict ideological, faith-based, fundamental political prescriptions and are not afraid to stand on political pulpits to preach the hot-fire, hell, and brimstone Gospel of Reaganism; progressives, on the other hand, believe in going out on a limb to shake things up and at times actually do.

To be fair, in my little double entendre above, I played on the term republican, when it is conservatives who are in the philosophical bind by insisting that issues of taxes be decided by vote of the populace and not of the legislature.

However, with non-conservative Republicans, unlike polar bears, listed as an endangered species, few if any Republicans will be willing to defy orthodoxy by publicly supporting the complete repeal of the TABOR albatross.

Defenders of TABOR, such as Jon Caldera of the Independence Institute, point to the California’s financial debacle and argue that for the grace of TABOR, there go we.

Perhaps, but in making that argument, they primarily indict Republicans who dominated the state during the first 12 years of TABOR as free-spending drunken sailors.

To think a Democratic-controlled legislature would raise taxes willy-nilly is like thinking such a radical group would have had the guts to repeal the death penalty or allow innocent children of unauthorized immigrants to get in-state tuition rates or forbid non-emergency use of a cell phone while driving—which they didn’t.

Arguably, raising taxes is the most distasteful task of a legislative body.

One convenience of TABOR is that it lets legislators hide behind its skirts though more courageous ones, as a way to skirt around its limitations, have voted for increases in “fees,” which, while performing the same function as direct taxes, are legally non-taxes.

The issue of TABOR has come down to two positions: either you’re for it or against it.

There is no more middle, muddle room to tinker with it. We’ve been there and tried it with Amendment 23 and Referendum C.

The bottom line is that the legislature must constitutionally balance the budget each year, thus providing for, what conservative columnist David Brooks calls, a “well-ordered community.”

Denying the legislature its traditional and rightful authority to control the state’s purse reduces our system to institutionalized populism. And taking the responsibility of tax levying from the hands of the legislature allows gutless wonders to populate its ranks.

The 2010 election has the potential for defining the course of the state for generations if a repeal of TABOR is on the ballot along side the gubernatorial contest.

Such a referendum would give the voters and taxpayers with nearly two decades of experience with TABOR the opportunity to reaffirm and emblazon it permanently in our constitution or to excise it as we did with legislative appointments of U.S. Senators.

In a recent interview with the Denver Post, Governor Bill Ritter, when asked to describe himself in one word as governor, said, “leading.”

November 2010 also offers the opportunity to be the defining moment as a leader in a thus-far lackluster governorship for Ritter. By placing the repeal of TABOR on the ballot and leading the charge for the change, Ritter can demonstrate true leadership and model for all of Colorado a true profile in courage.

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