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Statehouse Dems Struggling to Give Taxpayers Even a Small Break February 27, 2008

Posted by bendegrow in Colorado Legislature, Referendum C.
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With ever more of Colorado taxpayers’ money in hand at the State Capitol these days, following the Referendum C “forever tax increase,” the Denver Post reports the Democratic majority is having a hard time deciding whether to give us even targeted small breaks – out of fear that a few tax incentives now may cut into future state revenues:

For the past several weeks, Democrats in both chambers have been quietly debating a thorny issue: Should they vote for bills that reduce the state’s tax revenue while Referendum C is in place?

Ref. C is a five-year timeout from constitutional state spending limits. When that window closes in 2010, the highest amount of yearly revenue during the five-year period becomes the new figure on which to calculate future spending limits.

The quandary, then, is whether voting for small tax incentives now will bring spending constraints later. And what makes the question all the more difficult, the Democrats say, is that most of the tax-incentive bills — which range from economic development packages to encouraging people to mitigate fire danger around their homes — are worthwhile.

“I like most all of the tax credits,” Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said at a Democratic caucus meeting last week. “But it’s easier for us to take a position that we support none than picking and choosing.”

At the same meeting, Sen. Ken Gordon, D-Denver, said it might be better to vote down the tax incentive proposals and use the money saved to fund programs that accomplish the same thing.

The remarks of Sen. Isgar and Sen. Gordon give evidence of the sort of mentality that remind us how out of touch some state lawmakers have become. At least they have counterparts showing a modicum of common sense:

Other Democrats, though, said it would be wrong to take a blanket position of voting against tax incentives.

“The best thing to do,” said Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, “is to consider these bills on their merits.”

In the House, Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said Democrats are struggling with similar questions.

“We’re trying to balance a series of competing concerns here,” he said.

Among Republicans in the Senate, no such conversations are taking place, said Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton. Instead, Kopp said lawmakers should give taxpayers a break, in light of Ref. C and Gov. Bill Ritter’s controversial property-tax freeze that is expected to bring in an extra $3.8 billion by 2017.

“We’re trying to protect the taxpayers,” he said.

Based on the most recent CUT legislative ratings, Sen. Kopp makes a mostly accurate point. With a rating of 76 out of 100, Kopp is one of the leading taxpayer champions in the state senate. And the lowest-rated Senate Republican (Sen. Ken Kester, 33.33) is considerably more taxpayer-friendly than the highest-rated Democrats (none scored higher than 12).

Still, there is room for improvement on all sides – albeit a lot more room for improvement among the majority party. Of those Democrats highlighted in the article, Sen. Shaffer was the highest with an 8, while Isgar, Gordon, and Speaker Romanoff each tallied a highly anemic 4.

Stories like the one in the Post today remind us how poorly taxpayers are being represented at the State Capitol.