Monday, September 05, 2005

Ballot Proposals Spark Uproar in Colorado - Marc Holtzman

Ballot Proposals Spark Uproar in Colorado - Yahoo! News: "Ballot Proposals Spark Uproar in Colorado By STEVEN K. PAULSON, Associated Press Writer
Mon Sep 5, 2:33 PM ET

DENVER - A pair of November ballot proposals aimed at fixing Colorado's financial woes has sparked a nasty campaign that has split the state's Republican base, already reeling from losses in last fall's elections.


Gov. Bill Owens, once touted in conservative Republican circles as presidential material, teamed with Democrats last spring in drawing up the proposals that will ask voters to give up as much as $3.7 billion in tax refunds over the next five years.

This from a politician who used to tout the state constitutional amendment that limits how much Colorado governments can tax and spend — the very amendment that would essentially be put on hold if the twin ballot measures pass Nov. 1.

The fight over the ballot proposals has become an issue in the bitter race to replace the term-limited Owens next year, as Republican Marc Holtzman says his likely primary opponent, Rep. Bob Beauprez (news, bio, voting record), is failing to oppose Owens' ballot plan strongly enough.

Their divisive fight comes as the GOP is trying to rebound from last fall's election, when it lost a Senate seat and one U.S. House seat to Democrats. The GOP also lost control of the Legislature for the first time in more then 40 years.

The turmoil centers on the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a constitutional amendment approved by 54 percent of voters in 1992. It limits the growth of government spending to 6 percent a year and requires voter approval for tax hikes. It holds down state taxes and fees through a formula based on population growth and inflation. Extra money must be refunded to taxpayers, and they got millions before the economy soured in 2001.

One of the ballot measures, Referendum C, would temporarily lift TABOR's government spending limits and allow the state to keep surplus tax revenue — an estimated $3.7 billion over the next five years — instead of giving it back to taxpayers. The other, Referendum D, would allow the state to borrow up to $2.1 billion for roads, school maintenance and other projects; it would take effect only if C is approved.

Owens acknowledges the plan does not have much support among Republicans, but says Colorado faces a fiscal crisis next year if voters refuse to give up surplus tax refunds.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said Colorado has been a national model of fiscal sanity. He says politicians who fail to support spending limits — he singles out Owens — are committing political suicide.

"The lesson to be learned from Colorado is that a governor who could have been president, once he turned on TABOR, ended his national ambitions," Norquist said. "Being on the wrong side of this issue is a career-ender."

TABOR has been held up as either a blueprint for limited government or the biggest reason Colorado lawmakers have cut everything from health programs to higher education.

California has a similar spending limit on the Nov. 8 ballot, proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Voters in Ohio, Maine, Nevada and Arizona are looking at similar measures next year.

Holtzman is attacking Beauprez for not declaring outright opposition to the two measures. Holtzman and his backers see any change to TABOR as an attempt to weaken it and have vowed to protect it.

Beauprez spokesman John Marshall insists the congressman has never wavered in opposing changes to TABOR as a "tax increase."

Owens and other supporters of the ballot measure maintain it is not a tax increase because they are not raising the tax rate, just using provisions of TABOR to ask voter permission to spend the tax surplus over five years.

The Democrats so far have only one official candidate for governor, former Denver prosecutor Bill Ritter. He supports the two measures.

Democrat Wally Stealey, a former lobbyist who helped kill two previous attempts to limit government spending, said neither party understood the full impact of TABOR until the economy slumped. He remembers Democratic former Gov. Roy Romer warning that TABOR would force the state to put up a "going out of business sign.""