The Common Good

What's Wrong with a 'Taxpayer Bill of Rights'

Voters in Maine and Washington state are being asked to vote this November on whether they want impose a rigid formula limit on state and local revenues and services. Although the question is not posed in these terms, citizens will be voting to determine whether they want to live in a state in which all children get a good education and access to health care and a chance to escape poverty, or a state that is so starved for funds that it cannot provide even the basics.

The type of limit on the Maine (Question 4) and Washington (I-1033) ballots, known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or "TABOR," exists in only one state -- Colorado. TABOR has contributed to a significant decline in public services and increase in human suffering there. Just a few examples:

  • Colorado declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percent of personal income under TABOR;
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in the percent of women receiving adequate prenatal care, and was dead last in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations;
  • Poor children are less likely to have health insurance in Colorado than in any other state; the share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled after TABOR. The share of uninsured adults also rose sharply.
  • In addition, business leaders found that TABOR was harming the business climate.

These problems led a huge coalition of faith leaders, human services organizations, and businesses to successfully promote a statewide measure in Colorado in 2005 to suspend TABOR's formula for five years. Even so, Colorado still lags behind its neighboring states; its quality of services has never recovered.

This is the worst possible time to adopt a TABOR. Both the Maine and Washington proposals would require those states to maintain permanently their current, shrunken level of state expenditures. In other words, these states would be locked permanently into the budget cuts they have had to institute to deal with the sharp decline in state revenues because of the recession. Under TABOR, when revenues rebound as the economy recovers, virtually all of the increase in revenues will have to be used for tax cuts. The state will essentially be prohibited from using part of the increase in revenues to undo the cuts it has instituted during the recession in services for people in need.

Another major concern is that if TABOR wins in these states, we will see it taken up in many other states next year. Anti-government forces already are working to put it on numerous state ballots for 2010.

There are national dimensions to the TABOR debate as well. Should this pass, it will strengthen the efforts of anti-government forces to rally against government spending (e.g. the Taxpayer Tea Parties) and oppose initiatives to help those in need.

TABOR has caused immense damage in the one state that has tried it. There is no reason for any other state to go down that road.

You can join the efforts to stop this extremely dangerous initiative in these two states. With only days remaining, there are things you can do to stop this extremely dangerous initiative in these two states.

  1. Get the information. Below are links to research. Learn more about what is at stake.
  2. Get involved. Forward the link to this blog to your friends and family members in Maine and Washington. If you live in these states, sign up to volunteer and find out what you can do to help. The website in Maine is www.votenoontabor.org and in Washington it is www.no1033.com.
  3. Get out to VOTE. For those in Washington, ballots are in-hand. Voters need to deliver them to drop-off locations. For those in Maine, be sure to vote and urge your friends and neighbors to exercise their right to vote as well.

Maine: see http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2927 and http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=2954

Washington: see http://www.budgetandpolicy.org/documents/i1033_080509.pdf

Bob Greenstein is the founder and executive director of the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities.

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