Cherry-picking on TABOR

Posted on March 23, 2005
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If you want to know why a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a good idea for Arizona, see this Goldwater Institute report released yesterday. In it, you'll find out how TABOR maintains a fiscally responsible limit on the state budget, could have put $4.5 billion back in Arizonans pockets, creates predictable and sustainable budget projections, and shifts power away from budget-siphoning special interests towards voters.

The study does this by looking at over 10 years of budget history for Arizona, determining what the budget situation would be had TABOR been in place since 1992 (when Colorado, from which TABOR is modeled, passed theirs). What you won't find in the report, however, are responses to the various cherry-picked rankings which purportedly show how TABOR has sapped Colorado of its quality of life, promulgated by opponents of fiscal limits.

For instance, the Children's Action Alliance claims "Colorado adopted this measure in 1992. Since then, they have fallen from being ranked in the middle on key indicators of child well-being to being in the bottom." Although it is not cited, this claim is presumably derived from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' claim that Colorado ranks 48th in prenatal care. While this is true, it's utterly misleading. That ranking is taken from a study by the United Health Foundation, which includes prenatal care as one of 18 sub-rankings, in the total health ranking - Colorado, in turns out, is 13th healthiest state overall. In fact, that one sub-ranking is the only one which is cited as needing improvement, since Colorado does sufficiently or very well in all other categories.

Others have claimed that Colorado's teachers are paid poorly, again due to TABOR. However, according to the American Federation of Teachers, the average teacher salary in 02-03 ranked 22nd nationally, up five percent form the year before. Moreover, according to the National Education Association, Colorado had the highest average instructional salary of any Mountain region state in 03-04.

The false claims about TABOR go on and on, and it behooves anyone who hears one to question both its source and its logic. Like the claims above, both of which turn out to be false and/or misleading, they ultimately play a bait-and-switch on the issue. TABOR provides an overall limit on government, which is adjusted every year for population growth and inflation. Any revenue above that limit is automatically refunded to taxpayers. Those same taxpayers may choose to increase spending above the cap, overall or for specific purposes, but ultimately it will be at their behest and not that of politicians and lobbyists.

Any inadequate spending within the budget is not the direct effect of TABOR, but of misplaced priorities during the budgeting process. Thus, anyone could find an area of spending where Colorado falls "woefully short," but that would instead be an indictment of the spenders, rather than what they are given to spend.

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