As the Durango Herald’s Jordyn Dahl reports:
Leaders of TBD Colorado say the key finding of the initiative is that Colorado’s economy is “unsustainable without major fiscal and constitutional reforms.”
The eight-member board of directors of To Be Determined Colorado released its recommendations Wednesday to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who established the initiative to determine a grand plan for the state.
The board based its recommendations on 70 public meetings with 1,200 Coloradans across the state during the last year. The initiative, which had a budget of $1.2 million and was funded by donations, focused on five issues: education, health, transportation, state budget and state workforce.
Opponents of TBD Colorado said the initiative was a way for Hickenlooper to lay the groundwork for a tax increase. While the recommendations do not directly call for tax increases, it does say revenue options have to be weighed against public services Coloradans want. [Pols emphasis]
Here’s what the summary report from TBD Colorado itself says:
In recent years, the state’s revenues have not kept pace with the underlying growth in the Colorado economy because many of the fastest-growing sectors are either exempt from tax or are taxed at a lower rate than other sectors. Even though Colorado’s revenues are now increasing as the economy begins to recover, the state will be unable to grow its way out of the coming fiscal gridlock unless structural changes are made. Projected demographic shifts, such as an aging population and the increased medical costs that flow from that, will only accelerate the stresses on the state’s budget.
Respecting the role of Colorado voters, who have ultimate authority on increasing taxes, revenue options must be weighed against public services Coloradans wish to receive.
We haven’t had much to say about Gov. John Hickenlooper’s TBD Colorado initiative, because there hasn’t been much to say. Hickenlooper’s administration convened these facilitated meetings all over the state as their way of taking the citizenry’s pulse on a wide variety of fiscal issues, as well as asking what essential services citizens expect the government to provide.
The TBD Colorado initiative takes place against a backdrop of a known and very bleak fiscal reality for the state of Colorado. As a recent study by the University of Denver determined, revenues in Colorado are structurally insufficient to provide even the present level of services to the state’s growing population. By 2025, that study indicated the state will be billions short of basic needs. In addition, the Lobato education funding lawsuit has exposed a lack of “rational relationship” between the state’s funding mechanism for public education and the constitutional requirement to provide a “thorough and uniform” education to all students.
Bottom line: Republicans are increasingly wary of the TBD Colorado initiative, because it is just the latest in a series of findings that the state’s fiscal situation is not sustainable–and the only solution, once all efficiencies and waste have been squeezed out of the system, is to increase revenue. We’ve said it a hundred times, and we’ll say it again: Colorado’s tax burden is significantly below the national average, and that low tax burden has a direct relationship to the state’s chronic inability to fund essential services. Something has to give.
It will be up to Hickenlooper turn his focus groups into a tangible plan of action. After the humiliating defeat of Proposition 103 in 2011, a defeat largely attributed to the failure of Democrats like Hickenlooper to invest their political capital in investing in education, it’s clearer than ever what the key ingredient in any real solution is going to be.
And that ingredient is leadership.