Governor, school officials push for relaxing TABOR tax limits | AspenTimes.com

Governor, school officials push for relaxing TABOR tax limits

Jon Sarche
The Associated Press

Jon Caldara, president of the Independent Institute, makes a face at photographers before a debate on Referendum C with Gov. Bill Owens, right, in Denver. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

DENVER ” Not even guaranteed funding increases will protect public schools from Colorado’s ongoing budget crisis, Gov. Bill Owens and a group of educators said Thursday.

Noting they have had deep disputes in the past, Owens and more than a dozen school superintendents said they are united in asking voters to pass a measure temporarily relaxing Colorado’s tax limits to help the state out of its budget crunch.

An opponent accused the group of “fearmongering” and said the state budget has room for more cuts and efficiencies.

Owens said some social services would disappear and schools would face funding cuts if voters don’t approve a measure on the November ballot that would relax the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

A voter-approved constitutional provision, Amendment 23, requires annual funding increases for public education, but educators said such services as literacy programs, before- and after-school programs and meals would be in jeopardy unless TABOR is loosened.

One measure on the November ballot, Referendum C, would allow the state to keep $3.7 billion that otherwise would have to be refunded under TABOR. A companion measure, Referendum D, would allow some of that money to be spent on transportation and building projects.

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Lawmakers have said they will have to cut $365 million to $500 million from state funding if Referendum C fails.

Owens said the state is demanding more of public schools, and “I don’t think it’s fair to require these things from our schools and then pull the rug away.”

Jon Caldara, president of the Golden-based Independence Institute think tank, called the comments “absolute fearmongering.”

He said education is fully protected from financial cuts and the rest of the state budget is healthier than referenda supporters argue.

“To a bureaucrat, a budget cut means you don’t get as much of an increase as you wanted,” he said. “The state and the general fund are set to have sizable increases without Referendum C. … They must be getting really desperate if they need to scare kindergartners into passing this tax increase.”

Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Monte Moses said schools need the protection offered by the referenda to provide services the public demands.

“Referendum C won’t deliver a monetary windfall to K-through-12 education, but it will keep us level and keep us from losing resources,” he said.

Owens sounded a dire tone, saying higher education in particular is at risk if the referendum fails because it represents the only large pool of money legislators can tap for use elsewhere.

Amendment 23 prevents cuts to primary education; spending for Medicaid, the second largest item in the state budget, is set by the federal government; and the state prison system is largely untouchable as well, he said.

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