(Centennial Fellow) After imposing more than $1 billion a year in tax and fee increases - without once seeking voter approval - liberal Democrats in the Colorado legislature now want voters to permit them to raise taxes without limitation and without ever asking voters again.
Can you say, "Oblivious to irony"?
Colorado's constitutional stipulates that taxes cannot be increased without asking the voters. But voters have an annoying habit of saying "no" to big-spending politicians who think their priorities are more important than those of the voters, so in just the past four years Democrats have:
· Increased vehicle licensing taxes by $40-$50 per vehicle per year, plus substantial penalties, and called them "fees" just so they didn't need to ask for voters' permission.
· Increased assorted taxes on Colorado families and businesses by $50 million last year and another $130 million this year, again without ever seeking voters' permission.
· Increased your property taxes by some $150 million this year alone, again without voter approval, calling that scheme the "Colorado Children's Amendment."
Apparently, liberals are betting that voters have a very short memory because, as you may recall, the 2007 Children's Amendment was touted as a "commitment to pre-school programs, full-day kindergarten and local school districts" and as a plan to prevent the State Education Fund from becoming insolvent, according to a press release from Gov. Bill Ritter.
Now, we're told, schools are on the brink of financial catastrophe and, oh by the way, the State Education Fund is broke anyway.
House Concurrent Resolution 1002 asks voters to exempt K-12 education and higher education - which account for 60 percent of state general fund spending - from all constitutional spending limits and from the requirement that tax increases must be approved by the voters.
Because money is fungible, it would eviscerate the last meaningful taxpayer protection in the state constitution.
To be sure, local school districts have had a couple tough budget years. But so has the State of Colorado and so have taxpaying families and businesses.
Despite numerous attempts to shield education from economic reality, the legislature's bag of tricks finally ran out this year along with taxpayers' money. Since voters adopted Amendment 23 ten years ago, in yet another plan to give schools all the money they need, schools have been exempted from the cuts that confronted the rest of the state budget.
Ten years ago, the state spent an average of $5,168 per pupil. In the recently-approved 2010-11 budget, the average is $7,279 - a cumulative increase of 40 percent.
Last year, even after the legislature rescinded $148 per student, schools still received an average increase of more than $200 per student over the previous year.
Despite two recessions in the last decade, per pupil spending has increased each and every year. That doesn't mean that schools haven't experienced increasing costs for health care, for energy and for funding retirement pensions or that the legislature hasn't cut back in other areas. However, these are conditions that businesses and families must manage as well - and they must do so without the power to tax.
Because it seeks to amend the state constitution, HCR 1002 needs a two-thirds majority in both the Colorado House and Senate. It will almost certainly fall short of that goal. However, proponents could put their proposal on the ballot via petition.
Selling it to voters will be an uphill climb, as proponents of Amendment 59 learned in 2008. That proposal, which sought to repeal parts of TABOR and Amendment 23, was far more even-handed, backed by more than $2 million and opposed by less than $50,000. Nonetheless, voters rejected it 54 to 45 percent.
The prospect that voters, whose trust of government is near an alltime low, would reward the tax hikers with even more power to tax is a longshot.
That liberal Democrats are so tone deaf that they are forging ahead anyway demonstrates their abject isolation from the financial hardships facing ordinary Coloradans.