By Karl Peterjohn
Governor Bill Owens won a Pyrrhic victory in his campaign to eliminate the Taxpayers Bill Of Rights (TABOR) limits on government growth in Colorado. Owens’ short lived Proposition C victory will lead to a host of long term consequences that are mainly negative for Coloradans looking for a better economic future for themselves and their families. Passage of Proposition C is huge defeat for economic freedom across the country and a setback for fiscal responsibility.
The passage of Proposition C will mark a key political and public policy turning point that ends Owens’ career as a fiscally conservative Republican. Owens is truly now a political lame-duck who will be known forever more as the individual primarily responsible for the demise of TABOR. Among fiscal conservatives nationwide he is now a political dead-duck. A couple of years ago National Review featured Owens as a potential presidential model for GOP conservatives. Now he is nothing more than another Republican office holder who “grew in office.”
While it is certainly true that the entire Colorado Democrat Party, their mainstream media allies, and the usual leftie academic types also bear significant responsibility for the outcome of this vote, the face on the evisceration of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights will be, and should be, Governor Bill Owens. Now, TABOR is wounded but it not dead. Here’s what the Left will target next based on the Kansas model.
The Left’s next step will be to figure out a similar evisceration of TABOR’s provisions affecting local governments spending in Colorado. Naturally, extending the time limit for TABOR’s evisceration at the state level will be needed, but that can wait for a couple of years until Democrats return to running all levers of power in state government in Colorado.
Owens success November 1 in passing Proposition C and possibly (the preliminary vote indicates a very narrow defeat for Proposition D that a re-count may reverese) Proposition D will lead to a host of long term negative consequences for Colorado. In the short run the state will be free to go on a spending spree. They will.
The state spending Bacchanalia will be certainly be followed by a fiscal hangover. The spending will be short run stimulative and long run drag on the state. This is not unexpected and in fact, there is a model for this pattern: California. Almost 20 years ago the Gann Amendement that limited state spending growth was a 1970’s (the Gann Amendment was enacted in the wake of Proposition 13) forefather of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. The spending lobbies in California hated it and roughly a decade after passing it, they succeeded in eliminating Gann.
California has fiscally struggled ever since this cap on government was terminated. Massive fiscal uncertainty was created and the California fiscal climate clouded up in the wake of this policy change. Next week a very pale imitation of a state spending limit will be voted upon in California as part of the four initiative package promoted there by Governor Schwarzennegger. A narrow, 52-48 percent Colorado majority has decided that California is the fiscal path to follow instead of the tried and true Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
As the fiscal hangover appears following the Colorado state spending spree in a few years this is will help my state, Kansas, compete with Colorado. The model Governor Owens and his bipartisan spending coalition has adopted is very similar to the pattern of higher spending adopted by Kansas’ nominally Republican Governor Bill Graves and a bipartisan majority of the Kansas legislature during his second term here (1999-2003). Record spending leading to more taxes leading to more economic stagnation leading to more Kansans leaving for states with more fiscally prudent policies. Kansans number one destination state to move to today is Texas according to census figures. The most delicious irony of the anti-TABOR campaign is the fact that the leading TABOR critic touring Kansas these days is Carol Hedges. She is one of many Kansans who have moved to Colorado which has a large number of expatriate Kansans.
These economic and demographic changes will take years and possibly even decades to fully play out. It is possible that a taxpayers bill of rights will eventually stage a comeback in Colorado, but that is unlikely for the rest of this decade. What is likely is resurrection of the Democratic Party as the Republicans fracture because of Owens’ fiscal apostasy in abandoning TABOR. The next governor of Colorado will be a Democrat.
In the decade before Coloradan’s adopted the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in 1992 there wasn’t much difference in economic growth between my state of Kansas and Colorado. Both states grew below the national average. Colorado did slightly better than Kansas. That lethargic growth ended in 1992 in Colorado with TABOR’s passage. The growth in Colorado compared to Kansas in the 13 years of TABOR was dramatic and compelling. Soon it will be gone. TABOR will be a memory for Coloradans and that state’s economy will drift back into the tax ‘n spend lethargy that is Kansas today. What a shame.