The Terror of TABOR
Around the country, right-wing radicals are working feverishly to undermine public services in health, education, public safety and every other area. Their weapon of choice is something called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (or TABOR), which severely and artificially limits revenue and spending for all services, no matter how great the need. (This document provides a concise description of exactly how TABOR works.) The Heritage Foundation orchestrated the passage of TABOR in Colorado in 1992. The impact on Colorado has been disastrous. Now, Heritage, Grover Norquist and their radical right-wing allies are pushing hard to pass laws that would bring the terror of TABOR to the entire country.
Right-wing ideologues try to present TABOR as reasonably limiting government spending based on a combination of population growth and inflation. But here is the trick: "No existing measure of inflation correctly captures the growth in the cost of the kind of services purchased in the public sector." That means "the inflation adjustment generally is not sufficient to allow the continuation of existing services." Also, "subpopulations that state government serve tend to grow more rapidly that the overall population growth used in the formula." For example, "while the total population grew by 15.4 percent from 1990 to 2002 ... the number of elderly and disabled persons on Medicaid grew by 70 percent." Make no mistake about it: The goal of TABOR is not to restrain the growth of government; it is to undermine every vital government service.
Since 1992, TABOR has severely limited funding for health care in Colorado, and the people of Colorado are suffering as a result. For example, the number of the state's low-income children who lack health insurance has skyrocketed from 15 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2003. During the same time period, the national proportion of low-income children without health insurance declined. Also, around the time of the passage of TABOR, the on-time vaccination rate for children in Colorado was above the national average. Now, Colorado is last in the nation for on-time immunization rates. (Now there is a bill [HB 04-1194] in the state legislature that will give Coloradans a chance to take back their government. If you're a Colorado resident, write to your state legislators and ask them to reform TABOR.)
TABOR has wreaked havoc on Colorado's schools. Today, "the ratio of teacher salaries to average private-sector earnings is lower in Colorado than in any other state," impeding the recruitment of quality teachers. Since the passage of TABOR the high school graduation rate has fallen 6 percent. Colorado now ranks 48th in the nation for "state funds for higher education per $1,000 of personal income." And while funding for state schools has plummeted, tuition has shot through the roof and scores of faculty are being lured away by states that can offer more reasonable salaries.
The Heritage Foundation, which is seeking to impose TABOR on the entire country, claims that it has been a boon to the Colorado economy. It's not so. Over a 44-month period ending in December 2004, Colorado hemorrhaged 68,000 jobs, a decline of 3.0 percent. Meanwhile, in ever other Mountain state – none of which has TABOR – the median job growth has been 4.5 percent during the same period. TABOR proponents dishonestly compare the growth rate in Colorado from 1980-1992 (a time period that featured three national recessions) with the growth rate from 1992-2004 (when there was just one national recession).
Even Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (R) – who considers himself a champion of "low taxes and restrained government spending" – is now publicly critical of TABOR. In his recent State of the State address Owens said, "General Fund dollars available under TABOR ... will not keep pace with the demands on the budget. As a result, we cannot take the steps we must take to build a brighter future for all of Colorado, and particularly our children." Now conservative ideologues like Bob Novak are lashing out at Owens for acknowledging the needs of his constituents. In a Jan. 8 column, Novak opined that Owens' "once bright prospects ... are taking another hit" because he supports amending TABOR.