Natalie Menten, the voice behind the uber-libertarian movement to pass Amendments 60 and 61, as well as Proposition 101, has accused the groups working to stop those measures of using overblown scare tactics and deception to win support.
It’s an interesting stance to take, given the cult-like secrecy that surrounds her side of the debate. An Aug. 30 story in The Denver Post says Menten became enraged by the proposed language describing the three measures to be used in the Blue Book because it offered an example of what would happen to the state’s budget if all three were passed. She claims the staff of the Legislative Council is biased against the measures, and suggests the Blue Book draft language be scrapped and the council resign. This after agreeing that the council’s numbers were correct in its fiscal impact statement.
The most obvious example of secrecy in this campaign is the mystery surrounding the invention of the three measures. Though he denies complicity in the whole affair, all three are pungent with the stink of former state legislator Douglas Bruce — the man known for creating the ill-conceived Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR). He also got a lot of attention for kicking a photographer during a prayer in the state House. Yes, he’s a classy guy. After spending a good bit of the summer dodging subpoenas and stalling court proceedings to avoid appearing at a campaign finance complaint hearing, Bruce’s dirty laundry was aired by one of his own: Michelle Northrop, one of two sponsors of Amendment 61. She testified that Bruce gave detailed advice to the sponsors not only about the language of the ballot measures, but other intricate processes associated with the signature-gathering campaign and getting the ballot approved by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The similarities between TABOR and these new measures — how the campaign is run, the wording and the proposed end result — are too similar to ignore. Bits and pieces of some of Bruce’s past initiatives including Amendment 13 (petition rights, 1996), Amendment 21 (a laundry list of tax cuts, 2000) and Amendment 38 (a basic rehash of Amendment 13, 2006), are also obvious in the language of 60, 61 and 101. If Bruce himself didn’t write the measures, he was clearly the hero of whoever did. And that pool of people is drying up faster than a sidewalk in August. Finding someone who supports 60, 61 and 101 is like picking lice off an Old English Sheepdog. They are scarce and not exactly willing to offer them selves up.
As far as scare tactics go, Menten and whoever else is behind these measures haven’t a leg to stand on. Putting a measure that promises taxpayers cash in hand during one of the worst financial periods our state and nation have ever seen is dirty pool, plain and simple. It’s like offering a starving man rotten meat: He knows it’s bad for him, but isn’t in a position to quibble about what might happen down the road.
If the reaction to TABOR is any indication, few people want to eat this new batch of decaying flesh. In 1992, when TABOR was introduced for the third time after losing in 1988 and 1990, anti-tax sentiment was high. There was a recession that year, too. The measure was endorsed by 71 percent of the delegates at the GOP state assembly.
And why not? The amendment requires voter approval of all new taxes and limited government spending, both things disenfranchised voters can get behind. It’s the real-world result of the amendment that took so many voters — supporters and detractors — by surprise.
Here’s what the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., had to say about the effects of TABOR:
“While there is some limited evidence that TABOR had a positive effect on employment growth in the five years immediately following passage of the law, this short-run effect was not sustained into the second half of the decade. Indeed, Colorado’s employment growth between 1998 and 2003 was far below those of comparable states.”
By 2005 many Coloradoans were fed up. Referendum C — an initiative that allowed the state to spend the money it collected over its TABOR limit for five years on health care, public education, transportation projects, and local fire and police pensions, as well as eliminate refunds on taxpayer overages for five years and reduce these refunds thereafter — passed narrowly. In the years following, a number of groups, including all but four of Colorado’s 178 school districts, the state library system and numerous municipalities and counties, passed de-Brucing measures to get out from under the restrictive rules of TABOR.
Conservative supporters of tax reform are generally well-meaning folks who just want to reduce the size of the government and give hard-working people a fighting chance at success without having to fork over nearly half their income in taxes. It’s a noble cause. But voting for any measure that promises those things, despite the consequences, is folly.
Measures 60, 61 and 101 don’t come off looking like a misguided effort to help Coloradoans get their piece of the pie. Rather, it seems like the vindictive reaction to all the de-Brucing that’s been going on the past decade. Sore losers are the worst kind of politicians.
It’s also a bit misguided, as conservative values go, in that the measures, if passed, would require constant voting to get even the most basic things done. How is that “small government?” More than anything, 60, 61 and 101 endanger much of what makes Colorado run: our schools, our higher education system, roads, bridges — you name it. It’s true that citizens can spend their money more efficiently than the government. But how many people, given the opportunity, would elect to pony up their tax rebate to build a new jail or pave a decaying road? Ask the good people of Minneapolis, where the I-35 bridge buckled and fell into the Mississippi, if taking care of bridges is something they’d rather leave to chance. All this to save some taxpayers $500 a year per household. A renter with only one car would get far less — only the car registration fee plus the telecom fee and a 0.13 percent income tax reductions in the first year.
Those behind 60, 61 and 101 are preying on the honest and well-intentioned ideology of conservatives who will be equally hurt by its consequences. The measures benefit no one, save a handful of megalomaniacs who are willing to trade public safety and security for personal vindication. That’s not nearly enough to make this deal worthwhile.