National policy group warns against tax and revenue limits

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has issued a report warning states - including Nevada - against adopting a Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment similar to Colorado's.

"A growing body of evidence shows that Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, has contributed to a significant decline in that state's public services," the 18-page report alleges.

TABOR has been proposed in Nevada by State Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, and several conservative groups. Like the Colorado constitutional amendment, Beers' proposal would limit future growth in government spending to inflation plus the annual increase in population. Beers said he continues to believe TABOR is needed in Nevada and that, if the need for more governmental revenue is legitimate, voters will support increases.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a national nonprofit policy think tank which focuses on state and federal fiscal policies and their impact on middle- and low- income families. Its report says the effect of the TABOR formula is to create a permanent revenue shortage that "pits state programs and services against each other for survival each year and virtually rules out any new initiatives to address unmet or emerging needs."

In the 13 years since Colorado put TABOR in its constitution, the state has declined from 35th to 49th in K-12 spending, higher education funding has dropped by 31 percent and the number of low-income children without health insurance has doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation in that category, according to the report.

Meanwhile, a greater percentage of the state budget has shifted to the prison system which has no control over its case load and therefore can't be restricted by TABOR.

Carol Hedges of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute blamed the severity of last year's whooping cough outbreak on the budget reductions in health department budgets. The number of cases soared to more than double the previous year. She said health budgets were so strapped they couldn't afford to buy vaccines for childhood diseases.

She and budget and policy analyst David Bradley said a wide spectrum of Colorado lawmakers, public officials and businessmen - both Republican and Democrat - are backing ballot questions this year which would lift TABOR's restrictions for the next five years to rebuild some of those services.

"TABOR slowly starves the services on which state residents rely," the report concludes. "Each year the TABOR formula produces a maximum expenditure level that is below what is needed and all state priorities must compete for this inadequate level of funding. If one area such as corrections gets first in line because of legal requirements, the funding available for all other services shrinks further."

It says, after 13 years Colorado's services have deteriorated to the point where quality of life has been undermined along with economic development.

Beers said that is the mantra of special-interest groups "who don't like the fact TABOR takes tax hikes out of the hands of special interests and puts in the hands of people."

"It's called the sound of the gravy train coming to an end," he said. "That's what they don't like. Any time government finds itself with inadequate funding to get done what needs to be done, all they have to do is ask for a vote of the people."

He also said there are a couple of key differences between Nevada and Colorado which prevents conflicts caused by initiatives and referendums which impose requirements that demand more money. Colorado voters in 2000 passed an amendment mandating annual increases in funding for public education.

In Nevada, he pointed out, initiatives that mandate spending money must identify a source for that revenue.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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