Guest Columns

HOLDEN: LOOK AT THE NUMBERS

TABOR protects Colorado’s taxpayers

Norman Duncan’s “lobbyist and current Democrat” point of view on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and its attenuating effect on Colorado government and legislative process was insightful and revealing. (“Rule by TABOR flouts the founding fathers,” Colorado Statesman, Jan. 16, 2009)

Let’s start with his premise, “We have rejected the government model our founding fathers gave us for the federal government — and Colorado is the only state that rejects that model.”

The founding fathers based their model of government in the Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution and its incredibly important Bill of Rights on a clear supposition of limited government and self-governing people. They gave no thought to putting in those documents that the government should not take too much in taxes and use what they take wisely. “Deficit spending” and growing “public debt” (and debt interest) were out of the question.

In other words, to the founders, spending too much government (taxpayer) money was unthinkable. But to those in today’s lobbying, elective, appointive and government employment circles, it is not just thinkable and doable, but desirable. And not just doable but re-doable, again and again, incurring more government outlays. As I have said repeatedly in speeches, “We’re having a party, they’re not invited, but they get the bill.’ “They” are our children, grandchildren and unborn, unrepresented generations in the future we will never meet. They get the shaft.

Those federal and state government constitutional founding documents not surprisingly begin with “We the people …” It is we the people who formed, authorized, established and created our governments. The documents only constrain government, not the people, with one exception. Those citizens who win public office are required to take the oath of office to uphold, defend and protect those documents, as well as abide by their letter, spirit and intent, to protect citizen rights, property
and lives.

In 1995, the Independence Institute published one of my issue papers, “Give the Taxpayer a Lobbying Break — a Little TLC!” (Taxpayer Lobbying Clout). It was a study of the 1995 Secretary of State publication “Registered Professional Lobbyists” and those who employed them to lobby the General Assembly. Fifty-two percent were professional lobbyists who “directly or indirectly represent government or government-related organizations”! For 1993, it was 43%, for 1994, 53%.

The 1995 edition had 520 listings, more than five lobbyists for each of Colorado’s 100 elected officials — 35 Senators and 65 Representatives. Yes these are government people, paid to lobby the legislature. None of these lobbyists, not one, wants a smaller government pie or piece of the pie. They want to assure more powerful and more expensive, expansive government, and subsequently, more laws, higher taxes and fees.

How many registered professional lobbyists represent the taxpayer? None. Why? Taxpayers are those working hard at a job or in a business to make enough money to pay their taxes; or those at home tending the family and property, trying to make do with what’s left after taxes. They don’t have the time, money, energy or expertise to lobby, in the legislative, lobbying and political process.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is their tool to contain government and slow tax growth.

Who keeps attacking TABOR? It’s those who benefit from registered professional lobbying and those in the legislature and government who want to make it more convenient to get more power and take more money from the taxpayers.

Duncan asks, “Did you ever see a term limit on lobbyists or on legislative staff?”

Knowing what we now know, that’s a perfectly good question.

Why keep TABOR? In order to keep government growth in check. For the ten years before TABOR, Colorado job growth was 18 percent (248,000), government, 21 percent (50,000), non-government,18% (198,000).

Ten years after TABOR, Colorado job growth was 35 percent (586,000), government, 20 percent, non-government, 38 percent (526,000). Per capita personal income grew 59 percent during the ten years before TABOR, and 65 percent, ten years after TABOR. During the latter 10 years TABOR returned $3.25 billion back to taxpayers, about $3,200 per average family of four.

Referendum C was, as supporters called it — including the Governor — a “5-year timeout” from TABOR to “catch up,” to let Colorado keep and spend all the revenues, estimated to be $3.7 billion over the five years. The latest estimate by the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting is $5 billion “from FY 2005-06 through FY 2009-10” (December 2008 Revenue Forecast). Even with that there is not enough money — and, there never is, or will be.

Duncan laments, “we have handcuffed our legislators to the extent that we can have no rational state budget,” despite the fact we now have a budget over $18.6 billion which has grown significantly every year for decades, even with TABOR.

Duncan’s TABOR detractors often say that if public officials don’t perform, throw the rascals out. That’s the American way. But afterwards we’re still stuck with their bad laws. (Note the quote from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.)

Of interest is the latest 2008-2009 Intercollegiate Studies Institute report, “Our Failing Heritage: Americans Fail a Basic Test on Their History and Institutions. ISI asked 33 straightforward civics questions of a statistically defensible “random sample of 2,508 American adults of all backgrounds.” Seventy-one percent of Americans failed the test, with an overall average score of 49 percent.”

ISI found that “Officeholders typically have less civic knowledge than the general public. On average, they score 4 percent, five percentage points lower than non-officeholders.” And don’t be shocked, “Thirty percent of elected officials do not know that ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.

Finally, how do we approach the state’s so-called budget crunch? It’s not that complicated, and it’s not easy. But this “thinkable” is “doable” — probably mostly through attrition. The 2007-08 Colorado Annual Financial Report calculates the average 2008 Colorado government pay as $58,231. That’s for its 61,915 full time equivalent employees, with an amount half again for benefits and perquisites. At that average employee cost of $87,300 a year, 11.45 employees equal a million dollars worth of annual expense. With a $600 million annual budget gap, that works out to be 6,869 employees, 10.9 percent of Colorado’s work force.

Some savings in programs can cut outlays to retain more employees. We should hold back pay increases and/or bonuses, or combine this with cutting or reducing programs and other expenditures. Other companies face the same financial and budgetary realities. As reported in the Jan. 29, 2009 Rocky Mountain News, “The governor has proposed the elimination of 540 state jobs.” Is that a decimal error, poor judgment or weak leadership? Incidentally, in the past three years Colorado has added 3,961 employees, per the CAFR.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that even giant Microsoft is laying off 5,000, 5.21 percent of its 96,000 employees, over the next 18 months. The same article showed Intel cutting 6,000 jobs, Motorola 5,000, Lenovo 2,500 and Yahoo 1,500.

So thanks, Norman Duncan, for bringing up the subject. It is a topic worth comprehensive exploring with all parties included, especially the taxpayers who bear these financial burdens with little or no say in the legislative, lobbying and political process.

Fred Holden is the author of TOTAL Power of ONE in America: Discover What You Need to Know, Why and How to be a More Powerful Person and Citizen. He was an Independence Institute senior fellow in fiscal policy for 12 years and has BS and MBA degrees from the University of Colorado.