Democrats and Marostica: “Forget the Constitution, California, Here We Come”

When talking politics or economics, it’s usually a powerful rhetorical tactic to compare our own Colorado to California – especially these days. In that light, here’s a fitting and timely reminder from state senator Ted Harvey:

The lesson Colorado’s legislators must learn from this recession is clear: fiscal responsibility works. Even though the legislature collectively fell short of creating a rainy day fund, TABOR and the Arveschoug-Bird 6% spending cap forced Colorado legislators to keep spending low. Had the government enjoyed free rein in ramping up spending – which is a great temptation to many lawmakers tasked with spending other people’s money – Colorado’s budget crisis would be as serious as California’s. [emphasis added]

But many still haven’t learned the lesson.

Today, Senate Bill 228 (PDF) gets its first committee hearing at the state legislature. As aptly summarized at Face The State, the legislation “would take money previously devoted to transportation and transfer such funds to entitlement programs, effectively growing them”.

Currently, appropriations from the state’s general fund are capped annually at a 6 percent increase. Appropriations required by federal mandate, court order, voter-approved tax increase, and appropriations “for fiscal emergencies” are exempt. The measure is known as “Arveschoug-Bird”, or the 6 percent cap for short. SB 228 would eliminate the cap and the accompanying provision that requires additional funds to be dedicated to transportation projects.

Initially, the cap was created as a matter of statutory law, meaning legislators could go back and change it. But the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), approved by Colorado voters in 1992, effectively made it part of the state constitution. It’s interesting, therefore, that Democrat legislators and Don Marostica think that a legislative bill can override the constitutional check on state government growth.

Even the state legislature’s official legal advisers – who are supposed to provide the best case interpretation of legislative prerogative – have published a memo (PDF) saying that “a court would probably conclude” voter approval is needed to remove – or even “weaken” – the cap.

The Democrats running our state legislature and their useful Republican Don Marostica have Al Jolson on the brain: California, here we come. Meanwhile, I can “Colorado” dream about a little fiscal responsibility.

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