First reported in The Denver Post on Sunday, February 8th, 2009
Major transportation funding proposals are coming so often these days at the state Capitol that the list of ideas is getting as crowded as rush-hour traffic.
In the latest item, statehouse Republicans on Friday announced a new idea for putting more money into fixing Colorado's crumbling roads and sagging bridges. The plan involves taking so-called Senate Bill 1 dollars — which go to transportation only when the budget is flush — and committing that money toward transportation in good times as well as bad.
More significant, though, is the compromise Republicans hope will get Democrats on board: eliminating the Arveschoug-Bird limit, which holds the growth of the state's all-important general fund budget to 6 percent annually.
Democrats have been pushing their own plan, known as FASTER, which would raise annual vehicle registration fees
"If they're really serious about transportation," House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, said of Democrats, "they'll jump on board."
The Republicans' new plan has two parts. The first half — contained in House Bill 1154 from Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling — would require the state to put a little more than 10 percent of its annual sales-and-use- tax revenue into transportation funding.
First reported in The Rocky Mountain News on Thursday, February 5rd, 2009
Here we go again: Smart lawyers and nervy politicians are cooking up ways of bypassing this state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights by pretending that it doesn't say what most people have always understood it to say.
Two years ago, you may recall, the governor and legislature ignored the clear language of TABOR - which is in the state constitution - by "freezing" property tax rates, which actually has the effect of boosting tax collections. TABOR happens to prohibit any "tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain," but the state's leaders dismissed this legal hurdle.
Now some members of the legislature, heeding the siren song of a legal opinion written by former state Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky, have begun to claim that they can also bypass voters if they want to change a 1991 limit on how much the state boosts its general fund each year.
Until recently, most everyone (including the Office of Legislative Legal Services, for example) had concluded that TABOR locked the 1991 general-fund growth limit of 6 percent into the constitution. And why wouldn't they assume so? TABOR specifically says that all existing "limits on district revenue, spending, and debt may be weakened only by future voter approval." The Arveschoug-Bird limit, as the 1991 statute is called, clearly falls within that definition.But not according to lawmakers emboldened by Dubofsky's opinion.
First reported in The Greeley Tribune on Thursday, February 5rd, 2009
The 19-16 roll call by which the Colorado Senate gave final approval to a measure (Senate Bill 108) raising fees for vehicle registrations, trucking permits and rental cars and allowing tolling of existing roads.
Voting “yes” were 19 Democrats.
Voting “no” were all the chamber’s 14 Republicans and two Democrats.
Democrats voting yes:
Bob Bacon, Fort Collins; Betty Boyd, Lakewood; Joyce Foster, Denver; Dan Gibbs, Silverthorne; Peter Groff, Denver; Rollie Heath, Boulder; Mary Hodge, Brighton; Evie Hudak, Westminster; Jim Isgar, Hesperus; Moe Keller, Wheat Ridge; John Morse, Colorado Springs; Linda Newell, Littleton; Chris Romer, Denver; Paula Sandoval, Denver; Gayle Schwartz, Snowmass Village; Brandon Shaffer, Longmont; Abel Tapia, Pueblo; Jennifer Veiga, Denver; Suzanne Williams, Aurora.
Democrats voting no:
Morgan Carroll, Aurora; Lois Tochtrop, Thornton.
Republicans voting yes:
Republicans voting no:
Greg Brophy, Wray; Bill Cadman, Colorado Springs; Ted Harvey, Colorado Springs; Ken Kester, Las Animas; Keith King, Colorado Springs; Mike Kopp, Littleton; Kevin Lundberg, Berthoud; Shawn Mitchell, Broomfield; Josh Penry, Fruita; Scott Renfroe, Greeley; Mark Scheffel, Parker; Dave Schultheis, Colorado Springs; Nancy Spence, Centennial; Al White, Hayden.
First printed as letters to the editor of The Gazette on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009
Tabor put taxpayers back in charge
I read with great interest State Senator John Morse's letter to The Gazette on - as he passionately opines - the undue restrictions placed by TABOR on Colorado state-level budgetary decision makers, both elected and unelected. I suspect that the good Senator will find precious little support for his painstaking premises with the voters of El Paso County, especially those who read the letter carefully and draw the closest reasonable analogy, their own family fiscal management. Senator Morse describes what TABOR requires of revenue overages, a return to the taxpayer beyond a set level of growth prescribed by law. Later, describing the opposite situation, Senator Morse bemoans the inability of the state to expend in time of decreased revenues, at the same rate as in years of higher income.
A fiscally sensible family, not beholden to adjustable-rate mortgages or ruinous credit-card balances, that is fortunate enough to see increased revenue in a year, invests the increase after allowing for any increases in must-pays. Later on, in leaner times, the same family will cut expenses, relying less on credit than on its savings to get through emergencies. Overall, the responsible family does not grow its expenditures beyond a projected level of income for the foreseeable future. Common sense, one might say.
First printed as a letter to the editor of The Denver Post on Monday, February 2nd, 2009
Amid the hand-wringing over cuts to vital programs this year, a small group of lawmakers has been quietly mulling over an effort to undo one of the key constraints on the state budget.
And they have found new hope in a legal opinion that says their target, known as the Arves-choug-Bird limit, is not protected by the state constitution.
Named after the lawmakers who sponsored the legislation in 1991, the provision limits growth in spending from the state's general fund — the pot of money from which most operating needs are drawn — to no more than 6 percent a year.
With few exceptions, the provision prohibits any money collected beyond the limit from going to operating needs — the ongoing costs of state government to run prisons, schools, colleges, health care and social services.
Separate laws say that any money collected beyond the 6 percent limit must go for roads and construction needs.
However, in years when the state's general-fund spending drops, Arveschoug-Bird limits spending growth in the fund for the next year to 6 percent — the so-called ratchet-down effect.
For example, if the state's general-fund spending were $100 in one year and fell to $80 the next year, the 6 percent limit would mean that spending could grow to only $84.80 the following year.