‘Yes On CC’ Is Here: Will Voters Let Colorado Keep Their TABOR Refunds?

Supporters of a ballot initiative that would let Colorado keep tax revenues beyond limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights launched their “Yes on Prop CC” campaign Tuesday. 

Currently, the state constitution caps the annual growth of spending at inflation plus population growth. Any tax money above that amount has to be returned to Colorado taxpayers, using a variety of methods. Proposition CC would permanently remove the cap, allowing the state spend all the tax money it brings in and ending the practice of TABOR refunds.

If CC passes, the state estimates lawmakers would have an extra $310 million to spend in the next budget year. The measure requires the money to be divided equally among higher education, transportation and K-12 schools. 

The Democratic-controlled state legislature referred the measure to the 2019 ballot this spring. Republican Sen. Kevin Priola was the only Republican to back the proposal. 

“It doesn’t raise taxes,” Priola said. “We’re tired of sitting in traffic. We’re tired of our teachers being paid relatively less compared to neighboring states.”

The campaign is already running online ads and just made a television ad buy. It’s also expected to send out mailers once ballots go to voters later in October. Gov. Jared Polis spoke at the campaign kickoff before a relatively large crowd at the Metropolitan State University student center in Denver. A representative from Great Education Colorado, which promotes investments in public schools, and Dan Ritchie with the business leadership group Colorado Concern also spoke. 

“We’re going to win this one,” Ritchie told the crowd. 

According to the latest report from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, the ‘Yes’ campaign has raised $1.7 million. Meanwhile, the “No on CC” side has $17,000 cash on hand. However, small government group Americans for Prosperity has provided nearly $500,000 in non-monetary contributions for the ‘No’ campaign. 

“What the proponents won’t tell you is that this is a huge tax increase,” said Michael Fields with Colorado Rising Action, a group working to oppose the initiative. “It’s also a blank check with no guarantee where the money will be spent. The legislature should prioritize fixing our roads without taking away our TABOR tax refunds forever.”

Even though the language of Prop CC says where the money has to go, opponents note that lawmakers could change where the money is spent at a later date and redirect any existing money spent in these areas to other purposes. They also argue that, while off-year elections typically favor a conservative crowd, the specific CC ballot question helps supporters, because it doesn’t directly mention TABOR or refunds. 

Instead, it reads: “Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects…”

Supporters say one of their biggest hurdles is just to remind voters that there is an election coming up in November, given all the election noise already surrounding the 2020 presidential year. 

“People are very focused on even-year elections,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of the non-profit Great Education Colorado. She said voters need a nudge to remember the ballot sitting on their counter is also important. But she believes once they do pick up that ballot, they won’t need much convincing about CC. 

“When people read it. It makes a lot of sense. And this is one of those times where one of the most effective communications about Prop CC is actually just reading the ballot.”