John Colson: Let us de-Bruce Colorado — please!
Hit & Run
On Tuesday, Nov. 5, along with a number of local issues and races, local voters will be asked to approve or reject two ballot questions put forward by the state Legislature.
Proposition CC involves lifting the decades-old tax collection and revenue-spending constraints imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Proposition DD would legalize, regulate and tax sports gambling and use the revenue to fund water projects and water-related “obligations” concerning the Colorado River.
I’ve been reading through the little blue book on the ballot questions, put out by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly, in an effort to figure out exactly what they mean and what they would do.
For the sake of simplicity and brevity alike, this week I will tackle only Proposition CC, with the plan of examining the second question at a later time — though I will note here that I don’t think too highly of Proposition DD’s premise or plan.
First off, however, I should note that I wholeheartedly support Proposition CC, mostly because it is a statewide “de-Brucing” of the state Constitution, so called in reference to the tax-cheating slumlord and anti-tax, anti-government right-winger named Douglas Bruce, the originator of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR act.
Before Bruce hit upon his formula for throttling state government, he was best known as a frustrated candidate for elective offices in California (where he lived for a time) and in Colorado, though he did serve briefly in the Colorado Statehouse; and for his indictment and conviction on tax fraud charges after he cheated the state out of millions in tax revenue through fraudulent charities and tax-fighting schemes.
Specifically, he was convicted of money laundering, attempted improper influence of a public official, and tax fraud after being caught using a small-government charity, which he founded, to bilk the state of millions in taxes.
It was in this same vein that he conceived of TABOR.
I’ve been writing about this nasty bit of legislative sleight-of-hand since 1992, when it was approved by the state’s voters after two previous attempts failed.
I call it “sleight-of-hand” because Bruce, a notorious owner of distressed and dilapidated rental properties in Colorado and California, who has been cited by various governmental bodies over the condition of his properties, essentially duped the state’s voters.
Bruce and his allies riled up the anti-tax and anti-government activists around the state, who wanted to cripple state government in any way they could. And at the same time, thanks to the murky wording of the question and his virulent anti-government rhetoric, he seems to have put the rest of the electorate to sleep while his supporters surged to the polls.
The result was a law that over time has robbed Colorado’s state government of its ability to adequately fund just about everything, from education to transportation, from staffing in state offices in rural areas to keeping up with rising costs in goods and services critical to allowing the state to do its job, and a lot more.
His real reason for getting TABOR passed in Colorado, though, was nothing less than an attempt to get the state off his back over his slumlord proclivities, and to cut off revenue to state coffers.
Aside from provisions that cap the state’s ability to collect the money needed to run state government, TABOR contained a poorly explained and little-understood provision to “ratchet down” the amount of money collected by the state every year by tying one year’s tax-collection cap to whatever was collected the previous year.
The net result was shown clearly whenever the economy went into recession. Tax collections necessarily fall during such downturns, and TABOR’s provisions reset revenue caps to the new, lower level, and then prevented the state from making up for lost revenue in a recession even after the economy rebounded.
In reaction to TABOR’s more pernicious effects, it has been interesting to watch as most of the state’s governmental districts have gone through their own “de-Brucing” over the years in order to ease the strangulation of local governments.
I hope that at this point it is generally understood throughout the state just how harmful TABOR has been to Colorado, and that the voters of this state are tired of seeing their state government wither thanks to the machinations of a duplicitous, irresponsible political hack.
And I hope that, as of Nov. 5, we will have seen the last of Douglas Bruce and his ilk, though I fear they will not go quietly into the good night of the future.
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