Georgians interested in constitutional limits on local and state government taxation and spending should hope GOP state legislative leaders rethink a decision to table TABOR- the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights that is successful in Colorado (though recently tweaked by voters) and under consideration in other states.
Georgia would clearly benefit from having “fiscal guardrails” in the state constitution. Longtime Colorado legislator John Andrews says, in the 12 years since passage, it helped working families by putting $3.4 billion back in taxpayer pockets via refunds. He also notes TABOR restraints on taxing and spending during the ’90s growth boon protected the state from a California -style deficit crash after 9/11.
The TABOR formula would:
-Limit spending growth for the state and schools to the growth in population, plus the growth in inflation, and limit the growth of county and municipal spending to inflation plus new growth. (It does not apply to federal funds, private gifts and a few other sources.) In Colorado, incidentally, TABOR has a statutory 6 percent cap on general fund spending.
-It creates a rainy day fund, and requires all tax surpluses be returned to the taxpayers.
-It would stipulate a two-thirds vote in each house of the General Assembly to declare an emergency to exceed spending limits, and then a two-thirds vote in each house to approve a tax hike.
-It requires referendums any time the state or local government wants to either exceed the spending limits outlined in the constitution or raise the rates of taxes affecting individuals or businesses (income, sales or corporate taxes).
This model has worked well for Colorado, leading the American Enterprise Institute to rank its economy as the strongest in the nation every year since it passed.
Of course, some state and local officials carp that they shouldn’t be required to live within their means, and liberals warn against putting government in “a straitjacket.” But that’s nonsense. Enactment would allow for generous spending increases while accommodating growth, and emergency appropriations can be obtained through voter approval. Finally, TABOR leaves local control intact, it just would apply the same rules to city councils and county commissions as it does to legislators under the Gold Dome.
TABOR passage in Georgia will, in the end, make government far more accountable. Isn’t that something voters and politicians of all stripes say that want?
Phil Kent is an Atlanta author, media consultant and pundit on WAGA TV’s Georgia Gang.