Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When is a Tax Increase Not a Tax Increase?

How do you sell a tax increase as something other than a tax increase? These days Colorado Democrats are even having a hard time with it. Last week Governor Bill Ritter announced the unveiling of the cleverly-named "Colorado Children's Amendment," which somehow would do two things simultaneously:

1) Freeze scheduled property tax rate reductions, raising next year's tax bill for homeowners and business owners in many of the state's school districts - ostensibly to save the State Education Fund (created by Amendment 23 to finance only certain K-12 expenses). Of course, this is not an entirely new idea - one that has been shot down before because it violates TABOR by changing tax policy without a vote of the people, but it has been projected to bring in $65 million in new revenues a year.

2) Spend $84 million to fund additional slots for full-day kindergarten and preschool students, as well as raise general support to 11 school districts. Early childhood education is one of the softer sells, after all.

What the rest of us are trying to figure out is how Ritter's plan can save the state budget from ruin while simultaneously creating programs that spend even more money than is scheduled to be taken in.

Such a realization could only rob the plan of any remaining enthusiasm. Ritter's amendment was supposed to be added to the School Finance bill in the Senate, but bill sponsor Sen. Sue Windels (D-Arvada) said the amendment won't be added until the debate reaches the House.

The Democrats seem to be backtracking a bit, challenged by the sincere questions of one member of their own caucus during last week's committee hearing on the School Finance Act. From the Rocky Mountain News:

Even a member of Ritter's Democratic Party questioned the legality - and political feasibility - of mandating higher taxes without going to the voters.

"Explain to me how this is not a constitutional problem - because taxes will go up for somebody, whether it's the homeowner or the business or whomever," said Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder. "How do we get by that?"

Tupa added, "We're going to have to talk to our constituents in a way that's going to be explainable."

Tupa has a point: If they want to get this proposal passed, Ritter and the Democrats need to find a better way to explain away the tax increase. But trust me, it's not going to be easy. Colorado voters know better.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus


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