2011 Colorado legislation: Will the General Assembly tackle the vise grip of TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23?

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Here are some recommendations from former and current state budget wonks, from The Denver Post:

STRUCTURAL CHANGES: Colorado has some of the easiest requirements in the nation for citizen-initiated constitutional changes. This has led to problematic additions to the Constitution that have had unexpected and drastic consequences.

• Ask the voters to reform the state’s initiative process to make it more difficult for people to put changes to the state’s constitution on the ballot. The panel’s suggested changes are in line with 2008’s Referendum O. With no real supportive campaign, the measure failed 52 percent to 48 percent.

• Ask voters to revise the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to preserve the essential elements that were used to sell it to voters in 1992. The panel agreed that TABOR should be distilled to its basic tenet: no new or increased taxes without a vote of the people.

A revision would include keeping the requirement that voters have to approve tax rate hikes, any new taxes, and bonded indebtedness. The idea is to preserve voter approval while ridding our constitution of artificial restraints, such as the hard revenue cap, that prevent governments from keeping funds raised from existing taxes to provide core services.

• Ask voters to revise Amendment 23 (guarantees minimum levels of funding for K-12) that was passed as a response to TABOR and legislatively enacted permanent tax cuts.

Despite Amendment 23, the K-12 education budget is not protected. The majority of panelists supported amending the provision that directs 0.33 percent of state income tax to the state education fund as follows: reduce the amount to 0.25 percent and redirect the funds into the State Land Board Trust Fund, which is designated for education support in the Constitution. The interest from the collected funds would be used to support K-12 and could not be raided for other uses.

The Gallagher amendment was passed in 1982 as a way to maintain a constant ratio between property tax revenues coming from residential and business parcels. However, TABOR’s prohibition on assessment-rate increases without a popular vote has distorted the intent of Gallagher. One of the results has been a vast and unsustainable shift in responsibility for K-12 funding away from the local level to the state. Thus, funding for K-12 now takes up the lion’s share of the general fund.

• Ask voters to repeal Gallagher but freeze the assessment rate on residential properties at the current 7.96 percent. The ratio between the state and the local districts would remain constant, and there would be no increase in property tax rates, yet revenues could increase with increased values.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

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