Referenda C & D opponents use fuzzy facts
In a short time, voters will make the call on the direction Colorado will take arguably for the next generation. Hopefully, you have been educating yourself on the issues of Referenda C and D, but not by listening to opponents’ sophomoric sound bites, street theater, and distorted commentary. The measures are far too serious for such simplistic antics. Your decision will have consequences not only for your and your fellow Coloradoans’ personal fortunes, but also for the entire state, of which you are a caretaker. It comes down to your life philosophy: whether it’s everyone for him/herself, or we’re all—Coloradoans—in this together. It’s that simple.
Over the past few months, the “it’s-all-about-me” folks have been spreading lots of lies and misinformation about the current state of the state and the proposals to do something about it. As Bob Ewegen, a fairly conservative columnist for the Denver Post, wrote on July 9, “There’s an easy way to tell when opponents of Referenda C and D are lying. Just watch their lips. If their lips move, they’re probably lying.” For example, they claim the state budget grew by 7.7 percent this past year, when in fact it grew only 2.5 percent.
Opponents of the referenda claim it is a tax increase and it will gut TABOR. Both are lies. Referendum C does not raise the state income tax or any other tax rate; in fact, after five years, it will reduce the rate from 4.63% to 4.5%, and Referendum D is about bonding, not taxes. What Referendum C would do is fulfill both the spirit and the letter of the TABOR constitutional amendment. TABOR says our state government must inexorably ratchet down its spending in bad economic times; and after bad times, our elected officials may not do anything to help the state recoup. While limiting the power of the governor and legislature, TABOR does not limit the power of the people to right the ship. Referenda C and D do just that. It’s called people power, or democracy for short.
In a commentary in the Post on July 24, Jon Zeschin, a member of the Colorado Economic Futures Panel and founder and president of his own wealth management and investment advisory firm, dissected the budget issues confronting the state and demonstrated how the formula to limit government spending set by TABOR—inflation plus population growth, but never to exceed six percent—is flawed in terms of keeping up with the needs of the state. For example, he pointed to the rising prison population, due to tougher sentencing, swelling some 123 percent during the 1990s. Ironically, it is the rightwing “think tank” Independence Institute that suggests releasing prisoners early would help alleviate the budget mess.
Opponents claim it will cost the average taxpayer $3,200. That’s a lie. Seventeen special interests, such as for capital gains, created by the Republican-controlled legislature between 1999 and 2001 will get their cut first; you, the average taxpayer, get seconds and your share of any rebate over the next five years will be less than $500 according to the non-partisan legislative council. The opponents claim it’s a “blank check” for government to run amuck. In fact, the funds would need to be spent on the specific areas they are intended—community and state colleges, k-12 education, health, and transportation needs.
Opponents argue the true level of taxation is the actual amount government spends. Following that reasoning, President Bush, Senator Allard, and Congresspersons Beauprez, Musgrave, Hefley, and Tancredo—all Republicans—are among the greatest tax raisers in U.S. history. Of course, rather than direct taxation, their modus operandi is vis-à-vis credit card financing. Either way, you pick up the tab.
Closer to home, an example of distortion came last week when my libertarian counterpart Steven Graeber wrote, “Supposedly, if Referendum C passes, the increased taxes would pay for transportation projects. Yup, bulldozers tearing the heart out of Clear Creek County.” That’s just not true. In fact, of the approximate $3.7 billion in revenues Referendum C would allow the state to keep over five years, 30 percent would be allocated for K-12 school improvements, 30 percent for health care, 30 percent for community and state colleges, and 10 percent as payment on Referendum D, if and only if it passes. Referendum D is a separate vote that would allow the state to bond $1.56 billion for capital improvements projects, including $1.2 billion to repair or replace deteriorated roads and bridges. But of that, not one dollar will be directed towards the “bulldozing of Clear Creek County.” That’s a whole other ballgame.
In my column four weeks ago, I urged you to do your homework by “becom[ing] as familiar as you can with both TABOR and the referenda.” Personal research on this, as it is on every issue, is imperative. Cool deliberation rather than emotional platitudes ought to guide your decision. Steven urges you to “be selfish”; on the other hand, I suggest using your common sense. For this is not about passion, it is about reason. As I have written previously, “while it may be your dough, it is also your state.” For me, that means, in large part, of driving through Colorado without fear of a chunk of concrete dropping from a bridge and smashing into my, or even my friend Steven’s, windshield.
Program Note: Tune in Saturday, October 8 at 3:00 on KYGT for an in-depth discussion on the referenda. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to make an informed and intelligent decision. In addition, you can access this article on the Courant website at www.clearcreekcourant.co, as well as mine at www.westernexposure-co.com if you would like to share it with friends across the state.