Tuesday, August 2, 2011

“Bright Colorado” Faces Poor Prospects

Senator Rollie Heath, the grandfather of Colorado liberals, the patron of lost causes, has a new one – raising state taxes in November 2011.

Heath’s last foray into hapless campaigns was to challenge Bill Owens in his 2002 re-election. Heath got 35 percent, or the core vote of partisan Democrats and liberal independents, the same groups that will likely give him their vote this year.

Although Heath unconvincingly claims he expects to win, in fact, his apparent main motivation is to get a conversation going about the well-recognized structure shortfall in state revenue compared to state expenditures.

To the extent Heath wants a statewide dialogue on long-term revenue shortfall, he has some advantages, but ultimately we have had these discussions before with even more articulate advocates, such as former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, with no long-term effect.

Romanoff spoke clearly to the state’s financial challenge in 2008 supporting a ballot issue to modify TABOR and fund education – the same year Bill Ritter, then governor, advocated for a severance tax charge to fund higher education. Both items were defeated and the conversation stopped.

Heath will likely make ballot gathering more than 100,000 signatures, which goes to his advantage this year.

  1. The government class is in panic. The third of the economy that works for various levels of government or receives pensions realize their income is in danger. They are prepared to work and vote to hang onto their positions.
  2. The case for a structural default is well made. Numerous studies have been conducted by reputable sources that some choices must be made and there is a broad consensus, including among much of the business community, that more revenue is needed.
So, Heath has a core group to help petition and a general stock of studies to draw arguments from. But, he is handicapped, most likely fatally by the fact that a substantial bloc of potential supporters do not believe this is the moment to go to the ballot.

Governor Hickenlooper specifically pronounced no tax increases in the short-term as part of his effort to position himself more in the center of the electorate. There is also a body of opinion that this moment in recovery is not the time to raise government revenue and reduce consumer and investment revenue (sales and income tax increases).

Nationally, of course, the argument has shifted to less spending, no new taxes and reduced debt. It is likely the Colorado Republican Party will be united against new taxes. And what scares many Democrats hoping to hold control of the State Senate and regain the State House is being labeled pro tax and pro more government.

Heath will receive a polite reception, but little help.

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