Colorado Dems Ram Through Bill, Snub Voters, Raise Taxes

Today is one of those sad days when I must take upon myself the duty to highlight a clear example of the dangers of putting Democrats in charge. This example involves the Democrats’ underhanded scheme and arrogant attack on your pocketbook to appropriate your money into a bloated state budget in the name of “the children.”

Earlier, a bare majority of 18 Colorado state senators approved Governor Bill Ritter’s cleverly named “Children’s Amendment” to set in motion a school district property tax increase that will raise an estimated $1.74 billion in new taxes over the next 10 years. The proposal came as part of S.B. 199, the annual School Finance bill. The bait-and-switch backdoor tax hike was rammed through the legislature and soon will be shoved down the throats of Colorado taxpayers – including senior citizens on fixed incomes.

A few pertinent facts:

1) Despite the advertisement of its proponents, the bill has no guarantee that any additional funds either: a) will be spent on public schools or b) will be used to shore up the State Education Fund.

2) Amendment 23 already protects funding increases for K-12 education.

3) Between 2001 and 2005, Colorado school districts received 11.6 percent more per student in inflation-adjusted dollars. From property taxes alone, Colorado school districts received an 8.5 percent increase.

4) The passage of Referendum C – now bringing in more revenue than originally advertised as needed to “restore” funding to higher education, transportation, and other areas – has enabled the Democrats already to set up spending for a record $18 billion budget.

5) The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires a vote of the people to approve a tax increase.

To the last point, the arrogant state legislature today has invited costly and time-consuming litigation from the people it purports to represent. Despite partisan attacks against him, the Attorney General’s opinion on behalf of the people makes the clear and credible case that a popular vote is needed.

The argument that a vote isn’t needed because nearly all school district voters have chosen to “de-Bruce” and bypass TABOR revenue restrictions simply does not hold water. Those elections were about whether individual districts for various purposes – sometimes specific, sometimes broad – could spend what they collected, not whether they could collect more. Somehow, though, Bill Ritter and Cary Kennedy and Joan Fitz-Gerald and Andrew Romanoff and Sue Windels and Jack Pommer have a special ability to divine the will of the voters in these matters, such that elections aren’t really needed. Maybe they can also tell us who the people of Colorado mean to vote for in 2008.

For those of you with busy lives who didn’t get a chance to catch the intense debate on the Senate floor this morning, here are some highlights:

- Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, observed that this was the first time in her 9 years as a state legislator that the annual School Finance bill was not brought to a conference committee for the Senate and House to work out their differences. Since the property tax hike wasn’t introduced until it reached the House and citizens didn’t get a chance to air their concerns on this proposal in the Senate, the two houses should have had an opportunity to work out this and other differences. But legislative leadership shoved the bill through, and said take the whole proposal or don’t fund our schools this year.

- In an angry and indignant speech, Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, sought to claim the tax proposal was about whether “the state wants quality schools.” He wasn’t able to respond to the point that this tax revenue would do nothing to affect education funding, nor to the point that increased education funding alone is no guarantor of improved student outcomes.

- Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, in addition to concisely and eloquently making many of the points I’ve made in this post, summed it up nicely: “This does not save schools. It saves legislators from the fiscal restraints of the state constitution.”

- Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, angrily exclaimed: “Yes, it’s for the children, d@#$ it!”

- Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, recounted how 5 separate proposals were offered to the Governor that could be made to shore up the State Education Fund without incurring the “largest property tax increase in a generation.” They were all rejected, many because it would have made work a little harder for lawmakers to generate revenue somehow besides on the back of property taxpayers.

- Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, also highlighted the fact that the House version of the School Finance bill cut capital construction funds to charter schools.

- Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, noted that his hometown school district would face an estimated 68 percent property tax increase next year under the proposal.

- Romer returned and said his party would be the one to show political courage by supporting the tax increase, again insinuating that the money would somehow be used to support “21st century schools.”

- Spence responded that it doesn’t take much courage from a Denver legislator to support a tax increase for his constituents.

- Penry also quipped back: “I appreciate Senator Romer’s courage with somebody else’s money.”

- Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, made the clear and insightful point about the proposal: “It’ll cost you more to stay in your own home.”

- But the best line of the day went to Shawn Mitchell, who implored his fellow senators: “Don’t let the state budget hide behind our children.”

My duty here is done. Just don’t forget May 1, 2007, and what it means to have Democrats in charge: MORE TAXES. How simple is that?

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