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Analysis: After Prop CC defeat, TABOR’s gatekeepers know more challenges are on the way

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The gatekeepers of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) knew when they beat Proposition CC Tuesday night that it didn’t mean opponents’ attempts to diminish or repeal the constitutional amendment would end anytime soon. 

TABOR, approved by voters in 1992, aims to limit government growth by capping the amount of revenue it can collect and spend, and it requires voter approval for all tax increases.

The constitutional amendment has been a key point of frustration for Democratic lawmakers and left-leaning policy organizations, who say it hamstrings the ability to raise revenue and properly fund education and transportation.

Proposition CC was Democrats’ latest attempt at diminishing TABOR by asking voters to allow state government to permanently keep excess tax revenues that currently are required to be returned to taxpayers, effectively removing the revenue cap. The measure would have split excess revenue between K-12 education, higher education and transportation.

The ballot measure failed Tuesday by almost 10 percentage points in an off-year election. 

“We’re going to have to deal with a full repeal of TABOR. We’re going to have to deal with the next session that comes up, but tonight this is a big win,” Michael Fields, executive director of the conservative advocacy group Colorado Rising Action, said in a victory speech Tuesday night. 

Amy Oliver Cooke, a member of the No on CC coalition and vice president of the Independence Institute, said if Democrats attempt a full repeal it will be “absolutely crushed.”

Douglas Bruce, known as the “father of TABOR,” acknowledged that a full repeal of TABOR would be on a ballot soon in an interview a week before the election.

“We need to be prepared to say no every single November,” Bruce said.

Opponents of TABOR were somewhat positive following their Proposition CC defeat, acknowledging their work isn’t done.

“I’ve been around Colorado long enough to know this is just a blip on the radar,” said Dan Ritchie, who donated $1 million to the Yes on Prop CC campaign. “We are looking to the future with confidence that voters in our great state will soon realize that we cannot increase investments in education and transportation without additional revenue.” 

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said that despite the election outcome, Coloradans still want fiscal policy in the state to be reformed.

“After decades of disinvestment, TABOR continues to strangle our public services,” CEA President Amie Baca-Oehlert said in a statement. “Coloradans want to see bold, structural changes in tax and budget policy that benefit everyone, not just the wealthy few.”

The Colorado Sun reported on Wednesday that Bell Policy Center and Colorado Fiscal Institute, which have long argued TABOR should be reformed, have polled voters on a progressive income tax. 

The Sun reported that a poll from the organizations shows among likely 2020 voters, 57 percent supported raising the income tax on earners making above $300,000 annually, while 39 percent were opposed.

The Bell Policy Center on Wednesday also took the position that Proposition CC was “not a referendum on TABOR or the fiscal future of our state,” citing lower turnout numbers and polling showing 42 percent of 2020 voters aren’t familiar with the constitutional amendment. 

A spokesperson for the organization said it’s “considering all options.”

The groups have flirted with a full repeal for some time, the question being whether Colorado voters could stomach repealing the government-limiting measure the state has become known for.

The Colorado Fiscal Institute earlier this year also submitted 18 drafts for petition language, among them a full TABOR repeal. 

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that a proposed measure to repeal TABOR – which was backed by the Colorado Fiscal Institute – doesn’t violate the state constitution’s single-subject requirement, paving the way for a question asking voters to repeal the constitutional amendment they approved in 1992.

The Colorado Fiscal Institute did not respond to a request for comment.