BEYOND THE NUMBERS
North Carolina lawmakers are considering a misguided constitutional amendment that would lock in low spending levels dating from the recession and force more cuts to education and other services over time.
Thirty states have considered this kind of amendment, known as a TABOR or taxpayer bill of rights — including North Carolina in 2013 — and all except Colorado have rejected it (see map below). And not only Democrats have opposed TABORs. For example, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a TABOR proposal in 2011, explaining, “We should learn from the state of Colorado that experimented with a similar measure, and failed.” Members of the North Carolina House should heed those words and reject the latest TABOR proposal, which the state Senate approved this week.
The proposal would place on the November 2016 ballot a constitutional amendment limiting annual spending growth to the sum of the inflation rate and population growth. Overriding the limit would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature.
Here’s why this proposal is a bad idea:
- TABOR’s formula is deeply flawed. The population groups that need more public services, such as children and seniors, tend to grow faster than the population as a whole. Also, inflation isn’t an accurate measure of the cost of state services. It gauges the cost of goods and services consumers buy, like housing and food, rather than things states pay for, like education and long-term care for the elderly.
- TABOR causes deep cuts over time to services that benefit the entire state. Colorado enacted the nation’s only TABOR in 1992 but suspended it for five years in 2005 due to a sharp decline in funding for K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and health programs like child immunization and prenatal care. And while Colorado’s economy and revenues are recovering from the Great Recession, TABOR will keep the state from making needed investments by sharply limiting the revenues available to lawmakers.
- TABOR is a gimmick, not real reform. It does nothing to make government more efficient or ensure that tax dollars are well spent; instead it simply lets lawmakers abdicate their responsibility for thoughtful decision-making in favor of a formula. Moreover, the supermajority requirement to lift the limit would allow a minority of lawmakers to demand state funding for pet projects in return for providing the votes needed to raise revenues.