Taxpayer protection; Conservative group flunks Legislature for raising taxes during the recession
Denver Daily News
A government watchdog group gave the Legislature an "F" this year for not crafting policy that aligns with the will of Colorado taxpayers.
The Colorado Union of Taxpayers said that despite facing an economic downturn, lawmakers passed a budget this year that is 2.6 percent higher than the previous year's budget. The group said that the majority of lawmakers voted in favor of tax and fee hikes, which does not mesh with the desire of taxpayers.
But a local government policy think tank questioned the conservative Colorado Union of Taxpayers, arguing both that their figures are wrong and that the group looks at government policy through a narrow scope.
"I think they have a pretty clear view that any sort of government spending is bad in their book," said Rich Jones, director of policy and research for the Bell Policy Center.
Still, the Colorado Union of Taxpayers gave "Senate Champion" scores to two Republican senators, and a "House Champion" score to a Republican representative.
Sens. David Schultheis and Bill Cadman, both of Colorado Springs, earned a score of 97 percent for most often voting in favor of the taxpayer. Rep. Kent Lambert, also of Colorado Springs, earned a score of 100 percent for voting with taxpayers.
With a score of 91 percent, Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, earned the position as "Senate Guardian;" Republican Reps. Cory Gardner, of Yuma, and Jerry Sonnenberg, of Sterling, earned the ranking of "House Guardians" with scores of 90 percent.
Democrats, not surprisingly, were placed at the bottom of the list. Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, was ranked the "House loser," earning a 0 percent ranking from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers.
Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter scored a 9-percent ranking from the group.
"The Legislature continues to pass bills which re-distribute dollars to special interest groups, increase fees, raid cash funds, eliminate spending caps, and attack your liberty!" wrote CUT President Marty Neilson in a news release announcing the ratings.
She says that despite the economic downturn, lawmakers passed a budget that is 2.6 percent higher than the previous year's budget.
"What crisis?" asks Neilson of the state's current budget woes, as lawmakers face a shortfall next year of $384 million. "In an economic downturn when Colorado citizens must tighten their belts, government must be expected to do the same."
But Jones questions the Colorado Union of Taxpayers' numbers. He said that when the Bell Policy Center examined the overall budget, the increase over last year was closer to 1.9 percent.
That being said, Jones does not believe an increase in the budget during an economic downturn is reason for concern. He points out that during such downturns, the need for government services actually increases.
"Given the severity of things, we think the Legislature and the governor did a good job of balancing the budget," said Jones. "Government, many times, runs counter to the economic cycle. In down times, the demand for a lot of government programs and services goes up."
In fact, enrollment in community college is up, Medicaid rolls have increased and requests for unemployment insurance have spiked - all results of the economic downturn, explained Jones.
He added that as lawmakers debate how to close the budget shortfall, "everything should be on the table." That could mean eliminating tax breaks enjoyed by businesses. Lawmakers are already considering eliminating a wide variety of exemptions - everything from breaks for newspapers to feed for livestock.
Ritter today is expected to outline his budget-balancing plan.
Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Mike May, of Parker, yesterday appointed Lambert to the powerful Joint Budget Committee to act as a protector of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
Lambert replaces Republican Rep. Don Marostica, of Loveland, who acted as a maverick this year, voting with Democrats on controversial fiscal issues, including eliminating a 6 percent general fund spending limitation. Marostica was appointed by Ritter to act as director of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
Republicans have become concerned recently over tax and fee increases, arguing that Democrats are out to repeal TABOR. Some Republicans have said the Long-Term Fiscal Stability Commission - which is currently meeting - is a ploy by Democrats to eliminate TABOR.
Schultheis said he is honored by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers' ranking of him, but said it is his job to protect taxpayers.
"The real value of these rankings year after year is to hold all lawmakers accountable to the taxpayers," he said. "The power to tax is the power to take away our freedom as Americans."