Women Beware: Colorado-style TABOR Coming to Maine
In November, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights will likely be on Maine’s ballot, pending certification of petition signatures. TABOR, as it is commonly known, is legislation designed to place a cap on all state and local spending and limit increases in taxes and fees. Its effects go far beyond that. TABOR would shrink Maine government every year and tie the hands of elected officials, constraining critical public programs like transportation, higher education, and emergency services. Colorado, the only state to adopt the legislation, learned this lesson the hard way.
TABOR is defined primarily by its spending growth formula - annual population change + inflation. If population grows 1% from the past year and inflation grows 2% then spending may increase by 3%. If I spent $10 last year, I could spend $13 this year.
TABOR is also defined by its restrictions on how money is raised. First, restrictions require that all money collected in excess of the spending limit be refunded to taxpayers. For example, if I collect $15 in taxes and fees this year and my spending limit is $13, I have to give $2 back, regardless of whether it is needed. Second, restrictions require that if officials either want to raise the spending limit or increase a tax or fee the proposal must first pass a super majority of the ruling body (two-thirds approval) and be put to a popular vote -every single time. This would cover everything from raising a sales tax to increasing a fee at a local transfer station.
The Colorado experience shows us that the TABOR formula consistently underestimated the cost of services and set spending limits well below public need every year. Undesirable outcomes like the loss of public programs, the closure of community colleges and state parks, and the deterioration of roadways resulted. Elected officials were unable to react quickly because of TABOR’s restrictions. Even the refunds, in good years, did not help. Taxpayers ended up spending more out of pocket for lost services than their refund checks offered. As a result, Colorado, in a bipartisan showing, voted to suspend TABOR in 2005.
As voters consider this legislation, they must remember that Maine’s TABOR is essentially the same as Colorado’s – it uses the same formula - and would have the same effects. These effects would be felt by everyone, but would have a particularly devasting impact on the programs Maine women depend on. The bottlom line: TABOR threatens services valued by Maine communities. In the end we would end up spending more to make up for what was lost.
Along with the potential threat of TABOR, Mainers will undoubtedly be affected by the recent federal budget cuts to programs that assist low-income families, children and individuals. The state of Maine can not afford to pass TABOR, compensate for these budget cuts and expect to maintain social programs that protect our way of life.