State of Colorado Proposition CC: TABOR Refunds, Education and Transportation

Prop. CC would provide funding for Colorado institutions of higher education, including CU-Boulder. (Photo by Casey A. Cass)

Colorado Proposition CC would end “TABOR refunds” in Colorado, and revenue that would have otherwise been refunded to taxpayers would instead be split evenly three ways, between K-12 education, higher education, and transportation. Existing tax rates (for example: sales or income tax) would not change. The State Auditor would be required to produce a report on CC revenue every year, which will be publicly available. CC is a statutory measure, not constitutional.

Part of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), passed in the 1992 election, includes a formula that allows yearly state revenue retention to increase by a factor of population growth and the rate of inflation. Refunds are issued if revenue collection subject to TABOR in a given year is greater than the revenue cap established under this formula.

The state Blue Book notes that the state has only collected revenue in excess of the TABOR cap in nine of the 26 years since TABOR passed. However, the most recent estimates say collections could exceed the TABOR cap by $310 million in Fiscal Year 2019-20, and $342 million in FY 2020-21. If the FY 2019-20 estimate is correct, each of the three departments specified in CC would receive about $103 million if CC passes.

Today, the departments that would split CC revenue have needs. State support for public higher education in Colorado consistently ranks close to last in the nation. K-12 education fares better than higher ed in many category rankings, but current weighted per-pupil funding amounts are at about $2,700 below national averages, and readers might find this Great Education Colorado list of current statistics interesting. Last year, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) said it had a priority list of unfunded projects worth about $9 billion. Supporters of CC say issuing TABOR refunds on top of these consistent shortfalls would only exacerbate existing problems.

Critics of TABOR point out that its revenue retention formula of inflation plus property growth does not take into account the true costs involved in public projects, programs, or other factors. For a few basic illustrations: the cost of certain materials for construction projects could increase at rates significantly greater than inflation, or the high cost of housing in parts of Colorado could leave publicly-funded salaries for professions such as teachers or law enforcement officers inadequate to pay for housing or other components in cost of living.

According to the state Blue Book, projected TABOR refunds could be $26-79 in FY 2019-20 for single filers, and $30-90 in FY 2020-21. TABOR supporters will say that taxpayers could use this money for their own needs, especially Coloradans of lesser means, and that TABOR in general is meant to help limit state spending increases – so refunds could help Coloradans keep money in their pockets, instead of keeping that revenue in the hands of government.

Prop. CC: Clearly Labeled Editorial Content

Personally, I proudly support CC but could respect someone voting against it because they want the money. I’ve cashed very small TABOR refund checks and used the money for oatmeal, and I really like oatmeal. But there are three arguments you’ll probably hear against CC that I hope readers will recognize as nothing but partisan talking points.

* “It’s an attack on TABOR”: Sorry, it’s not, because proponents are working completely within TABOR’s rules. TABOR allows citizens or the legislature to ask voters for permission to increase taxes or allow public entities to retain revenue. It’s right there in the Constitution. Fundamentally, CC is no different than the hundreds of ballot measures voters approved in local jurisdictions over the years to “deBruce,” eliminating the need to issue refunds or deal with other administrative actions should revenue come in above an arbitrary formula cap.

* “It’s a tax increase”: This is simply playing semantics for partisan purposes. Prop. CC opponents will message to voters that letting the state retain and spend CC revenue is a tax increase since people would otherwise get TABOR refunds in years where they’re available, but this is a moot point. As mentioned above, TABOR expressly allows proponents to float a ballot issue asking voters for permission to increase taxes or retain revenue, and if CC passes voters will have given said permission, no matter how opponents choose to brand the issue at hand.

* “The state has plenty of money”: The state’s budget could be expressed two basic ways – as a total budget, or a General Fund budget. CC opponents will message the state’s overall roughly $32 billion budget, but they won’t mention that more than $18 billion of this involves cash funds or federal funds typically meant for specific purposes. About $6 billion of the federal funds Colorado receives go toward health care programs alone – for example, Medicaid contributions to states, which literally helps Coloradans of lesser means stay healthy or alive. The General Fund, basically made up of general revenue sources such as income or sales taxes, is at about $12 billion and that’s what’s most relevant in the CC debate, since only about $15 billion of the state budget is actually subject to TABOR. It’s geeky, but if political operatives who should know better are talking about a $32 billion budget in the context of CC, please recognize that they’re trying to pull your leg.

CC PRO:
* Transportation and education are underfunded in Colorado, and CC money could help the state move forward or avoid cuts in these core services of government.
* Issuing TABOR refunds when departments throughout the state may already be underfunded could make bad situations worse.
* The TABOR formula is basically inflation plus population growth, and does not take into account actual expenses state agencies may face.
* Other departments beside transportation and education may have tight budgets, and allocating money from elsewhere in the budget to shore up education or transportation may reduce availability of funds for other services and programs Coloradans may depend on or use.
* There’s a human cost to underfunding transportation and education, including short-changing kids at K-12 schools, making it tougher for students who aren’t from wealthy families to access higher education, and congestion or safety or climate issues regarding transportation.

CC CON:
* Prop. CC does not sunset, so it may still be in effect at a time when it’s not really needed (though parties could always run a ballot measure to repeal CC at some point).
* Coloradans of lesser means could use even small refunds to help meet needs.
* Prop. CC would allow for expansion of state spending, when TABOR was passed to limit spending growth.
* Specific projects are not listed in the ballot measure, only how the money is to be split by departments, leaving actual funding decisions up to budget processes in which many Coloradans will never directly participate.

More Info on CC

Colorado “Blue Book”: http://leg.colorado.gov/content/initiatives/initiatives-blue-book-overview/ballot-information-booklet-blue-book

Yes on CC Website: https://yesonpropcc.com

No on CC Website: https://votenooncc.com

State of Colorado Proposition DD: Sports Betting and Water Projects

I would’ve bet lots of money on the Denver Nuggets to lose this game with a minute left, but Jamal Murray went off, the Nuggets won, and I would’ve lost good money on sports betting!

Passing Prop. DD would: a) legalize sports betting via online or mobile platforms operated by Colorado casinos; b) implement a 10 percent tax on a casino’s net sports betting proceeds; and c) devote the tax revenue primarily to fund water needs envisioned in the Colorado Water Plan, or other water projects including those involved in interstate compacts or federal projects.

According to the ballot measure language, the state would be authorized to collect up to $29 million annually in sports betting tax revenue, although the Blue Book anticipates actual collections to be closer to $16 million for the first five years. Up to $27.2 million of this yearly revenue would be used for water projects, with $130,000 to fund gambling addiction programs, and up to $1.7 million for a “hold harmless” fund – in which existing gaming operations could apply for some of this money in case they believe sports betting has cut into their existing revenue stream.

Also according to the Blue Book, under DD sports betting would be allowed on professional, collegiate, international, Olympic, and sanctioned motor sport events. Gambling on collegiate sports would be limited to betting on individual performance statistics or events during the game. Betting will not be allowed on high school sports or unsanctioned video game competitions.

Prop. DD would also allow Colorado casino towns to run a future separate ballot measure that, if passed, would allow them to offer in-person sports betting.

The Colorado Water Plan was adopted in 2015, and the state has provided money to fund grants for some projects since then. The Colorado Water Conservation Board has a webpage, linked here, with listings as to how current funding is distributed, with examples of projects that qualified for grant funding in the past.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board approves Colorado Water Plan grants for projects. Prop. DD does not list or identify any types of Water Plan projects. Under existing state law (CRS 37-60-106.3), only the following types of projects qualify for Water Plan grants:

(1) Water storage and supply projects, including projects that facilitate the development of additional storage, artificial recharge into aquifers, dredging existing reservoirs to restore the reservoirs’ full decreed storage capacity, multi-beneficial use projects, and those projects identified in basin implementation plans to address the water supply and demand gap;
(2) Conservation and land use projects, including activities that implement long-term strategies for water conservation, land use, and drought planning;
(3) Engagement and innovation activities, including activities that support water education, outreach, and innovation efforts;
(4) Agricultural projects, including projects that provide technical assistance or improve agricultural water efficiency; and
(5) Environmental and recreation projects, including projects that promote watershed health, environmental health, and recreation.

DD PRO:
* Colorado is already a semi-arid state and climate change might make the state’s water situation worse, plus the state’s population is growing, so the water projects DD would fund could help the state have a more dependable water future.
* Sports betting might not be the most desirable behavior, but it happens anyway in Colorado, and DD would help the state retain some of the money.
* Colorado has legalized other forms of gaming, so it has mechanisms and experience that can help make sure sports betting is a well-regulated activity.

DD CON:
* Gambling carries with it some undesirable social consequences. Gamblers may lose money they can’t afford to lose, possibly impacting personal or family financial health, and requiring state funding of gambling addiction programs is an acknowledgement that there is some danger in gambling.
* DD will fund only a small portion of Colorado’s water needs, and passing it could create a false sense of security that it “solved” the problem. Also, the projects to be funded are not identified specifically.
* If the state has dire water needs, it should find consistent and dependable ways to fund core responsibilities like this, not rely on “sin taxes.”
* The Broncos are 2-6.

More Info on DD

Colorado “Blue Book”: http://leg.colorado.gov/content/initiatives/initiatives-blue-book-overview/ballot-information-booklet-blue-book

Colorado House Bill 19-1327 (sports betting law, much detail here): https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb19-1327

Colorado Water Plan Grant Information: http://cwcb.state.co.us/LoansGrants/Colorados-Water-Plan-Grants/Pages/main.aspx

Colorado Water Plan Implementation Working Group: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cowaterplan/2019-implementation-working-group?fbclid=IwAR3lLuMNu264VJE1RE_P6Rr9e0PnfUAHzpXuGKdYTev8WOnoADWkAl2cr0A

Yes on DD Website: https://yesondd.com