Prop CC’s Loss Sets Up A 2020 Tax Overhaul Showdown Over TABOR

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David Zalubowski/AP
A lawn sign calls for voters to cast ballots against a measure to dismantle part of Colorado’s state tax laws, Oct. 18, 2019. Prop CC lost in the off-year election held Nov. 5, 2019.

Progressive groups are not discouraged by the defeat of a tax question — Proposition CC — at the ballot box. Now they'll launch an even more comprehensive tax overhaul effort.

The goal is to put a ballot proposal before voters in 2020. It may seek a full repeal of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which limits government growth and requires that voters approve tax increases. Other options are modifying TABOR or adopting a graduated income tax.

“The whole idea of Vision 2020 is to really try to develop the kind of grassroots conversation that we know is necessary to try to figure out how do we fix the challenges that this state faces when it comes to the paradoxes that we've all gotten used to,” said Scott Wasserman, the executive director of the left-leaning Bell Policy Center.   “Whether it's underfunded schools, whether it's crowded highways, whether it's inadequate resources for health care and college.”

Wasserman said a loose coalition that has been working together for years will become more formalized. 

“This whole process is about is informing people, helping people understand, getting their input about how can we talk about this in a way that actually communicates to you,” said Carol Hedges the executive director of the progressive Colorado Fiscal Institute. “Because while the rules are complicated, the concepts are pretty simple. You can't get something for nothing and maybe you want well-funded schools and you want a transportation system that works and if you want access to higher education for more people, somebody, and somehow it's got to be paid for.”

Under TABOR, voters have defeated all statewide tax increases other than so-called sin taxes — a tax on things considered harmful, like gambling, alcohol or tobacco. And conservative groups are coming off a successful campaign to defeat Proposition CC, a much more modest proposal that would have allowed the state to keep all of the tax money it collects that would normally be returned to taxpayers because it exceeds revenue caps. It handily went down in swing counties such as Jefferson.

“Prop CC didn’t lose because it wasn’t bold enough. It lost because voters want the legislature to prioritize the current $32.5 billion budget it already has,” said Michael Fields with Colorado Rising Action, which opposed the measure. “Polling shows TABOR is very popular, so conservatives would welcome a debate on the full repeal of TABOR on the 2020 ballot.”

In fact, conservatives also might try a ballot measure of their own in 2020. A coalition is researching a ballot question that would give voters more power over large, new fees. Legislators have used fees on government services as a sort of replacement for tax money because fees are less limited by TABOR.

And liberal supporters of a major overhaul say the electorate will look much different during a presidential election year where turnout could be twice as high as it was in 2019, and the Democratic base will be motivated. They say they’re glad the conversation is already underway. Still, some backers of reforms are concerned that it’ll be even harder to drown out all the noise from a national election.