Twenty-five years ago today, Colorado voters approved the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), a constitutional amendment limiting annual state and local spending and revenue growth to a rigid, arbitrary formula and mandating voter approval of all tax increases, among other restrictions. TABOR proceeded to undermine Colorado’s ability to pay for the building blocks of thriving communities and a strong economy, such as public schools and universities, health care, roads and bridges, and other infrastructure needs. That’s partly why no other state has passed a similar TABOR, though many have considered it.
TABOR is a formula for decline because it:
Under TABOR, for example, Colorado fell near the bottom among states in support for education, and it’s stayed there. In 2015 it ranked 48th in K-12 school spending — and 46th in higher education support — when measured as a share of personal income. The state also faces an annual shortfall of about $1 billion in transportation funding, which supports highway and bridge construction and maintenance, among other things. Colorado voters have approved close to 500 municipal ballot measures to relax TABOR’s harmful restrictions and raise badly needed funds.
Twenty-five years later, TABOR remains a bad idea. It provides an illusion of fiscal responsibility while constraining lawmakers’ choices and their ability to respond to needs. Other states should reject this and similar budget gimmicks and instead prioritize investments in schools, health care, and infrastructure to promote broad-based prosperity.