Now that Colorado lawmakers have convened in Denver, the push for increased government spending has already begun. But before we go down the road to more state spending — and higher taxes — lawmakers would be wise to consider real solutions that will improve lives without placing an additional financial burden on Colorado families.
Here are five ways to increase opportunity while ensuring responsible spending.
First, uphold the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Since 1992, TABOR has ensured that Coloradans have input in the tax rate they pay.
Coming off a contentious election, and with the next legislative session just around the corner, it’s easy to get caught in the negative side of politics. It’s easy to build up political divides and play into an “us versus them” mentality — which then only breeds more anger, disconnection and gridlock.
These barriers aren’t just in Washington, D.C. or at the state Capitol. They are deeper than that. Liberals often feel like conservatives ignore urban areas, devalue diversity and simply “don’t care.” While conservatives often feel like liberals have forgotten rural areas, downplay traditional values, and advocate for the tolerance of everyone — except for the people they disagree with.
Gov. John Hickenlooper believes he knows best when it comes to Colorado’s energy economy. Recently leaked documents show that he is drafting an executive order requiring power plants in Colorado to reduce their CO2 emissions. Instead of building a consensus, respecting the role of the Legislature in creating laws, the governor apparently wants to exercise the force of law by executive fiat.
Summer is winding down, and the race for the White House is heating up. But for voters, who should be the next president isn't the only question to answer. Many have another important choice to make — whether or not to leave their labor union.
Whether you play the lottery or not, here’s something that you won’t want to gamble on. Colorado voters will likely face what we are calling the “Frightening Four” on their November ballots. If passed, these four potential ballot issues would devastate our economy and put us in a position far worse than Illinois.
Not even 48 hours after the legislative session ended, the governor floated the idea of convening a special session to address the hotly debated hospital provider fee. This drum beat has continued in the press, with pressure from countless special interest groups who didn’t get their way during the normal 120-day session. And this all comes after the Senate Finance Committee voted down a bill to move the $750 million hospital provider fee into a separate enterprise fund for the second year in a row.
Even though it’s been almost a decade, our economy still hasn’t fully recovered. Too many people are still unemployed or underemployed, many small businesses have shut their doors, and a growing number of college graduates face mounting student debt along with bleak job prospects.
One critical reason for this is an often misunderstood or overlooked dynamic in the economy. Like the shifting of tectonic plates that leads to an earthquake, this dynamic is a bit like the “Big One,” the nickname for the earthquake that west coasters have feared for decades could cause the crumbling of cities. The reality is we have been moving toward an economic tectonic plate shift for decades now — and it’s only getting worse. So, what is this economic swing that is threatening our country’s future?
It’s corporate welfare.
Films are fun and a great part of American pop culture. Creative talent expressed through film is one of America’s gifts to the world. And movies are even better with a stunning Colorado backdrop. Why wouldn’t they be? We live in a beautiful state that looks great on the big screen.
Under pressure from powerful Hollywood lobbyists, movie production companies are lured to states through tax incentives. Well, we happen to agree with Senator Bernie Sanders’ complaint that “big-money interests have undue influences over the political process.” Ten states have ditched their film incentive programs since 2009 because they realized it’s bad public policy.
Amid Gov. John Hickenlooper’s flurry of activity to siphon funds from the hospital provider “fee” in order to feed a larger general fund, we’ve stood firm. Why? Because enterprising this fund would be an end run around our Taxpayer Bill of Rights and deny Coloradans the tax refunds we deserve to put back in our pockets.
TABOR is a state constitutional amendment protecting Colorado taxpayers against unnecessary tax increases and runaway government spending. First, state tax increases must be put to the voters, which we have voted down by huge margins in recent years. And second, the state must issue tax refunds when total revenues for a given year exceed inflation and population growth. Thanks to this provision, Coloradans are set to recoup $154 million of our hard-earned money as a tax refund this year, with even more to come in years ahead.
When the governor found out that our activists were against his strategy to circumvent TABOR, he suggested that we give him some ideas on other ways to increase state revenues. Well, Gov. Hickenlooper, we reject the premise of this challenge and instead suggest that the state tighten its belt.
Here’s how. Start spending our money more wisely and efficiently. We already pay plenty of money to the government. In fact, revenues from taxes and fees have grown 43 percent in recent years — from $8.6 billion in 2010to a projected $12.3 billion last year.
Revenues aren’t the problem. The problem, as Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman wisely points out, is Colorado lawmakers’ “spending addiction.” State government spending grew 38 percent faster in 2014 than it did throughout the 1990s, according to the Independence Institute.
And it’s not just how much money lawmakers spend, but also where which causes budgetary problems.
The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act stands out as an example. Colorado’s state Medicaid spending and related programs grew 64 percent between 2013 and 2015. That includes our notoriously costly state insurance exchange, Colorado Connect, currently running a $13.3 million deficit. In fact, Medicaid now takes up over 30 percent of general fund spending. That leaves increasingly less money to spend on other needs.
Another example is the cost incurred by our bloated state pension system. Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association has $23 billion in unfunded liabilities — promises we have no current means of paying for. In an attempt to prop up this failed pension system, schools are forced to pay a rate of nearly 20 percent into PERA — meaning less education money actually gets into the classroom. Reforming PERA’s crisis–in–waiting is essential to protecting Colorado’s economy and fiscal stability.
In addition, the Independence Institute has identified numerous other reforms that legislators could enact, without changing the state constitution, which could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
No one ever said making these tough budget decisions would be easy, but circumventing our Taxpayer Bill of Rights and taking more money out of every Coloradan’s pocket is inexcusable.
When Gov. Hickenlooper was asked why his proposal wasn’t being sent to the people for a vote as required by TABOR, he told the Denver Post he thinks it “wouldn’t win approval” because Coloradans “don’t want to give any more money, in any way, to government.” He added, “I don’t think that necessarily means that’s the best thing for the state.”
Well, we happen to trust Coloradans to know if it is prudent and necessary to send more of their hard-earned money to fund expanded government programs. The governor should too.
Michael Fields is the state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado.
This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which misstated how much schools are required to pay into PERA.
When the federal government released their harmful new energy regulation — better known as the “Clean Power Plan” — Attorney General Cynthia Coffman wasted no time filing a lawsuit against the Obama administration for overstepping its authority. Coffman rightly joined a rapidly growing coalition of states who are standing up for Colorado’s right to control its own energy grid.
To date, 27 states have filed suit against the EPA in federal court for “going far beyond the authority Congress granted to it by ordering a significant transformation of states’ electricity generation.”
And for good reason! The so-called “Clean Power Plan” would wreak havoc on Colorado families. Studies on the initial rule showed that if this dangerous new regulation is implemented, it will cost Colorado families more than $610 a year in increased heating and energy bills.
Attorney General Coffman’s decision drew sharp reproach by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who, along with Sen. Michael Bennet, supports this expensive new power grab that will hike Colorado heating and electric bills while destroying thousands of jobs. Colorado is now at a crossroads: will officials help the EPA enact this costly new regulation by submitting a state implementation plan or will officials stand up for hardworking Coloradans and refuse to go along with the unreasonable mandate?
In Colorado, the rule mandates a 28-percent reduction in overall carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. But making such sweeping changes to our energy grid won’t come cheap. In order to achieve such a goal, Colorado would have to close many fully functioning power plants well ahead of schedule and replace them with expensive new plants designed to use alternative energy sources that are typically government-subsidized and unproven. This move that will send 9,000 Coloradans packing as they search for new jobs, laid off thanks to the EPA’s overzealous new regulation.
Everyone recognizes the need for clean air and the importance of protecting our environment, but is it really worth $29 billion a year to implement new rules that even the EPA itself admits will have no measurable impact on our climate? The EPA’s own numbers show the rule will only reduce atmospheric carbon by a measly 0.2 percent and will only decrease global temperatures by an essentially imperceptible 0.01 degree.
Last year the Colorado Legislature introduced a bill that would give Colorado — not unelected bureaucrats at the EPA — control over our energy future. And this year, Colorado legislators should move quickly to pass the bill into law.
The legislation is simple: First, it prohibits Colorado from submitting or implementing the EPA regulations until the court decides if the rules are even legal to begin with. With 27 outstanding lawsuits challening this plan, this provision will prevent our state from wasting taxpayers’ resources until the EPA’s legal authority is clear. Why should taxpayers be on the hook for implementing a regulation that might not even be legal to begin with?
Second, it would empower Colorado state legislators, who are accountable to the people, to have a full vote on the plan before it is submitted to the EPA. And, lastly, it would instruct the state agencies developing the plans to ensure that they will protect the affordability and reliability of the state electricity system for its citizens.
Colorado has always had an independent spirit — and it’s because we know it’s Coloradans, not Washington bureaucrats thousands of miles away, who know what’s best for our state. As we look forward to 2016, we hope our elected officials will live up to that independent spirit and protect Colorado ratepayers from Washington’s latest attempt to dictate how we live our lives. Lawmakers should stand up to the Clean Power Plan and its risky new mandates that will only leave Colorado with higher energy bills, fewer jobs and less control of our future.
Michael Fields is the state director of Americans for Prosperity Colorado.