We are just years away now from ruining Colorado, probably for good.
If you’re a fan of places like Arkansas and West Virginia, where when things break, they just leave them be because there’s no money to fix them, you’re going to love the Colorado barreling down the crumbling road ahead of you.
A future where businesses start packing up and moving it out is coming to you in less than 10 years courtesy of the Colorado Republican Party, which won’t budge on the state’s arcane tax-limit laws to prevent what is now inevitable disaster.
The dirty details of our inevitable demise were spelled out in an Associated Press story this week, revealing that by 2030, it’ll all be over for a state that people are flocking to right now.
This isn’t hyperbole, folks. Colorado is in serious financial trouble, and it’s going to get ever so much worse. Unfortunately for the adults in the room, explaining how and why we got here doesn’t fit into Fox News sound bites and government-conspiracy-type Facebook memes.
Colorado suffers under a self-imposed constitutional mess that most voters back in 1992 thought cleverly kept state lawmakers from raising taxes whenever they felt like it. It was a “dream” built on a myth. Colorado has long been a frugal state, and it was long before a whacky Colorado Springs lawyer sold this billet–doux to voters back then. Even with the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights digging into state schools, roads and colleges, Colorado ranks a mediocre 19th on the list of high-to-low tax burdens. There are relative extremes. New Yorkers pay a hefty 13 percent of their income in total state taxes, a combination of income, sales and property taxes. The half-million people who live in Wyoming pay only 7 percent. Colorado’s pretty much in the middle at 9 percent.
The problem back in 1992 was the headline version of TABOR: no more tax hikes without voter approval. It’s the story under the headline that’s going to ruin Colorado.
The author of TABOR is Douglas Bruce, a lawyer from Colorado Springs who is equally famous for being a Denver slumlord, being the rarest state legislator in state history, censured for kicking a newspaper photographer and acting like a dweeb, and most recently, a convicted tax evader, who went to jail for cheating the rest of us taxpayers. He refuses to pay his fair share. When Bruce wrote TABOR, he built in a convoluted scheme that caps how much revenue Colorado can take in — regardless what taxes voters approve. So when more and more people flow into Colorado and pay their fair share of taxes to build roads and run schools to accommodate the growth, TABOR prevents that money from being used for its intended purposes. One way to look at is that newcomers’ taxes don’t pave roads, but yours do.
So under TABOR, as Colorado brings in more people, it needs more money for schools, colleges, roads, public health, parks and everything else we expect the state to provide. But under TABOR, it can’t use the new money it collects — even if Colorado voters don’t raise taxes.
You don’t have to be a seasoned lawmaker or business executive to see the folly of this. The more Colorado has a need for expanded roads, more schools and bigger colleges, the less it has to spend on those things.
Republicans say they refuse to permit the Legislature to try and fix the problem, because they’re afraid of a small but mighty minority of tax-protesting extremists, like Douglas Bruce, will run them out of office and put yet another Douglas Bruce in their seats instead.
Government by fear is the worst form of government there is. That’s how China runs its government, and it has no place in Colorado.
The excuse Republicans give for not wanting to fix the biggest problem with TABOR — and nobody is asking anyone to end TABOR’s ability to allow only taxpayers raise taxes — is that Colorado is spending too much money on Medicaid.
Here’s why that’s a lie. A few years ago, hospitals and lawmakers agreed that increased Medicaid spending would be wisely offset by beginning a hospital fee, which sends money back to the state, to offset Medicaid spending. More people on Medicaid saves hospitals, consumers and Colorado taxpayers money because it keeps the state from having to solely pay for indigent care all by itself. Don’t trust me, ask state lawmakers, hospital companies, insurance companies and federal lawmakers. It’s true. The hospital fee money that Republicans don’t want the state to have — is the money that the fee collects from hospitals to offset state Medicaid funding.
Now you tell me who’s trying to pull something here.
It seems that Republican leaders are trying to run Colorado into the ground in some kind of sordid plan to step out from the ruins and say, “See what happens when you let Democrats run things?”
Why else would some of these Republicans permit Colorado to crumble into chaos for a straw-man fallacy? Especially since more than just a few reasonable GOP state lawmakers say they “get” what the TABOR problem is causing and would support a fix that doesn’t undo voter-approved tax hikes, but they’re afraid of the wrath of GOP voters, GOP extremists and GOP leadership. They’re counting on the fact that this is all too much for the average voter, who barely reads a “tax hike” headline and has no interest in learning how TABOR will be their own undoing. Neither I nor anyone else is asking for tax hikes here, just the ability for the state to keep everyone’s existing fair share.
So enjoy it while you can, Colorado. Within a few years, the state will finally rise to the top of the list, but it’ll be a list of worst congestion, worst roads, worst schools, worst place to open a business and worst health care. Best believe that you get what you pay for.
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