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Proposition CC: Breaking down the November ballot question on TABOR refunds

Proponents and opponents argue for and against
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Posted at 10:40 AM, Oct 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-05 10:31:03-05

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DENVER -- On the eve of the November elections, some big money is starting to pour into Colorado on the Proposition CC campaign.

Prop CC would end TABOR revenue limits and put the excess money toward roads and education. All totaled, out-of-state interest groups on both sides of the debate have spent more than $3 million on their respective campaigns, according to TRACER documents. The out-of-state money is known as dark money.

Prop CC reads:

TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, doesn't allow lawmakers to raise taxes on anything without voter approval.

Colorado can't raise your property taxes, sales taxes or income taxes unless you vote on it.

The second part of TABOR involves revenue limits. If the state takes in too much tax revenue, you get a refund – theoretically.

Every year TABOR sets a "revenue cap" based on this formula: population growth + inflation, which equates to about 4-6% a year, on average.

So, if for example, the state collects 4-8%, that other 2 percent is supposed to come back to you and me.

It's that second part of TABOR that Prop CC would reverse. The proposition wipes out your refund and allows the state to keep all taxes collected.

We spoke with the architect of TABOR, a group that still believes TABOR works, a university that says Prop CC would be a huge cash infusion and an activist group that says Prop CC pick-pockets taxpayers.

Sen. Julie Gonzales

But, we start with one of the Democratic state lawmakers who helped get the proposition on the November ballot.

"The idea here is exactly what TABOR calls for: To go to a vote of the people and ask for the ability to retain these dollars," said state Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver.

Gonzales says TABOR may have worked in the '90s, but that it handcuffs the state today.

"It is limiting our ability to actually fund our state's priorities," Gonzales said.

Under the proposal, Prop CC would allow the state to keep all taxes above those revenue caps and split them in thirds.

"Divide that by a third to K-12 funding, a third to higher ed and a third to transportation funding," Gonzales said.

Michael Fields

Michael Fields with the conservative group Colorado Rising Action, which is actively campaigning against CC, says that's not true.

He believes Prop CC is too vague and would allow lawmakers to put the money in a big pot and divide it however they see fit.

"It can't go to teacher pay,” Fields said. “It's not allowed to go to teacher pay. It can't go to bonding for roads because we don't know how much money that's going to be."

He also points out that Prop CC already has some major opposition.

"The two biggest newspapers in our state, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Denver Post, both said to vote 'no' on this,” Fields said. “The Post called it ‘fatally flawed,’ and the Gazette called it a blank check to politicians."

CSU Board of Governors, Henry Sobanet

On the flip side, Colorado State University’s Board of Governors has come out in support of Prop CC.

"Our mission is to serve students and we know that we'll be able to put this money to work for students," said Henry Sobanet, COO of the CSU System.

Sobanet is a TABOR expert and says the Prop CC money could improve buildings on-campus and offset tuition increases.

He also supports Prop CC personally.

"Using existing taxes to pay for the needs of the state is what 49 other states do,” Sobanet said. “And we're asking voters – by following TABOR rules – to do this."

Jesse Mallory

But Jesse Mallory with Americans for Prosperity argues Prop CC is misleading, specifically this portion ballot language:

"Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads ... May the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects."

Mallory says Proposition CC destroys TABOR, which he says most Coloradans still support.

"Recent polling shows over 70 percent of Coloradans love the idea that we're the only state in the nation to have it," Mallory said. “They say they’re going to spend the money on transportation, education, but there’s nothing that makes them do that. It goes into the general fund and it can be dispersed wherever the legislature wants to.”

Douglas Bruce

And that brings us to the architect of TABOR.

"I wrote it. It's excellent," former lawmaker Douglas Bruce told Denver7.

Bruce says any challenge to TABOR is a win for government and a loss for taxpayers.

"If it comes from the government, don't believe it,” Bruce said. “Grab your wallet and walk the other way."

"The formula in TABOR doesn't work for the needs of the state anymore," Gonzales said.

"There's no guarantee where this money would go,” Mallory said. “Future legislatures could change it, but they're going to take our TABOR tax refunds forever."