Colorado’s fiscal future

Conflicting amendments limit state’s ability to grow its economy

An important theme emerged during the statewide conversations initiated by TBD Colorado over the last year: The state’s path is unsustainable without major fiscal and constitutional reforms.

On Nov. 14, the TBD (“To Be Determined”) Colorado board of directors released policy recommendations developed as a result of the community conversations held with more than 1,200 Coloradans during 70 public meetings across the state since January.

Our state has endless positive potential. Important, forward-facing decisions must be made to ensure a vibrant future for our state. Analysts from across the political spectrum may disagree on the proper course for the state, but they too believe that the current fiscal structure cannot be maintained.

Of particular concern are three constitutional amendments – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights or TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23 – whose combined effects have created an unsustainable fiscal structure. These measures have constrained any flexibility of our elected officials to adjust the state’s tax structure to respond to revenue needs for essential, highly-valued services. For example, the measures have:

Created an imbalance between commercial and residential property taxes, which has had the effect of shifting the responsibility for funding K-12 education from local school districts to the state, diminishing local control of school districts;

Made it difficult to fund transportation options so that the infrastructure can be maintained and expanded to serve a growing state; and

Required the impossible – increased spending (Amendment 23) while reducing revenue options (Gallagher and TABOR).

In recent years, the state’s revenues have not kept pace with the underlying growth in the Colorado economy because many of the fastest-growing sectors are either exempt from tax or taxed at a lower rate than other sectors. Even though Colorado’s revenues are now increasing as the economy begins to recover, the state will be unable to grow its way out of the coming fiscal gridlock unless structural changes are made.

Respecting the role of Colorado voters, who have ultimate authority on increasing taxes, revenue options must be weighed against public services Coloradans wish to receive.

Coloradans deserve the opportunity for continued honest, informed conversations about what the state’s future and how to realistically get there. We can not afford to see a lapse in the ongoing dialogue that TBD Colorado started.

Policy recommendations for each of the TBD issues are posted online at www.tbdcolorado.org. A full report will be posted in early December. We welcome all Coloradans to review to work done so far and to continue participating in TBD Colorado.

Greg Maffei is chairman of the TBD Colorado Board of Directors, and president and chief executive officer of Liberty Media Corp. No state dollars are being spent on TBD Colorado.