31 August 2005: Referenda C&D

Referenda C & D: a critical juncture

Crossroads. Turning points. Crises. We apply those terms to events in our lives, both in the personal and public realms, that were critical junctures, with a turn this way or that making a meaningful impact and bringing about a sequence of events good and ill. With that in mind, one wonders if in some 10 or 20 years, we look at the vote on Referenda C and D this November as such a crossroad or turning point or even a crisis. Certainly the vote in 1992 to implement TABOR, the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, was such.

After it being arguably the single most controlling factor in our state and local governments for 13 years, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge so many Coloradoans have about TABOR—what it does and the impact it has had on our lives. For or against it, one would think it would rank right along the real Bill of Rights as part of a Coloradoan’s lexicon. Such though is not the case, but, hopefully, many will take a crash course on the role and the impact of TABOR with the November vote looming on the two referenda related to it.

The anti-referenda side fired the first salvos in the battle for your vote with its “Vote no, it’s your dough” campaign. Recently, the proponents of the referenda struck back accusing the naysayers of illegal tactics and of being willing to sacrifice the state to their anti-tax ideology. Between now and November, expect it to get down right nasty, and understandably so—after all, while it may be your dough, it is also your state.

That conundrum gets us to the crux of the matter—what is your personal philosophy of government? Essentially it comes down to two: privatizing services and functions we traditionally associate within the purview of the state, such as education, or a funding a functioning state government so it can provide essential services, such as road construction and maintenance, that we collectively, through legislative action, deem necessary for the well-being of the commonweal. In the Denver Post on August 14, Jim Griesemer, Dean Emeritus at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, writes that the nine-month study of the Colorado Economic Future Panel has concluded, “Colorado is indeed a state at risk.” Alternatively, those against the referenda will argue that if they pass, Colorado will go to hell in a hand basket.

Both sides will claim to be heirs of Jefferson’s dictum that government that governs least governs best. The anti-referenda side will claim it is obvious that they are carrying the ball for Jefferson, but the pro-referenda side will argue that what those who oppose the referenda are not about minimal government, but about “no government,” which is quite different. Likewise, those opposing the referenda will try to make the case it is a tax increase, but those supporting them will point out that the rate of taxation does not increase and that a good portion of that “dough that is yours” actually comes from other folks outside of Colorado in the form of the state sales tax, which will plummet if the state’s fiscal condition deteriorates any further.

Look for dynamics of the personalities aligning for and against the referenda. Long-standing anti-tax leaders including Governor Owens and University of Colorado President Hank Brown are fighting hard to get the referenda passed. Along with them, showing bipartisan support, are gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter, Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, as well as our representative Tom Plant and former state GOP chair Bruce Benson. Opponents include the Independence Institute, a rightwing “think tank,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Holtzman, and a confused Bob Beauprez, seemingly speaking out of both sides of his mouth. Expect out-of-state “celebrities” to show up to tell you how to vote. A few weeks ago Texan Dick Armey stopped by to tell Coloradoans what a Texan think they should do. Expect conservative guru Grover Norquist of the American for Tax Reform to do likewise before it’s all said and done.

Bottom line is that the outcome of the vote on Referenda C and D will determine the direction of the state of Colorado for the next generation. Over the next two months, I will work to make the case we are in a state of crisis and passing the referenda is in the best interest of the state we all love. Whether you agree with the governor and our local leaders or not, I only ask is that you do two things: become as familiar as you can with both TABOR and the referenda, and share your knowledge with every voter you know. In the end, I am confident that an educated citizen/voter can move past simple platitudes.

As part of the self-educative process, Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald and Representative Tom Plant will host a discussion on the referenda at the Buffalo Bar in Idaho Springs on Tuesday, September 6 at 7:30. See you there.

Program Note: On September 10 at 3:00 on my Western Exposure on KYGT, I will host a discussion on the meaning of the September 11 attacks as we commemorate the fourth anniversary.

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