TABOR Summit Generates State Action Plans

Published July 1, 2005

Nearly 70 public policy leaders, activists, and scholars met in Richmond, Virginia on June 8-9 for a two-day summit to discuss the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). In a roundtable setting, attendees compared notes and outlined action plans on TABOR and Tax and Expenditure Limitations (TEL) in their respective states.

Particular attention was paid to the enactment of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in Colorado 13 years ago, one of the most effective tax and expenditure limits in the country. Other topics included state updates, working with political leaders, marketing the TABOR message, and confronting opponents.

Colorado Threat Discussed

Jon Caldara, president of the Colorado-based Independence Institute, explained that TABOR’s proven success in reining in new taxes and out-of-control spending is currently threatened in that state by Referendum C, scheduled for the November 2005 ballot.

“Referendum C would endanger the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by removing all excess spending limits for five years and permanently ratchet up [spending] limits,” explained Caldara.

The referendum would effectively serve as a tax increase by preventing tax refunds resulting from excess revenues for at least five years. Taxpayer refunds are an integral component of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, serving as an indicator of government excess, he said.

Consensus Revealed

The summit’s roundtable-style discussions revealed a consensus on the benefits TABOR provides for both taxpayers and good governance, but attendees recognized the circumstances of each state would require different tactics and techniques to pass and protect tax and expenditure limits.

John Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute, enjoyed hearing from people from so many states. “I learned a great deal by listening to people who live in states where the TABOR effort is further along than here in Virginia,” Taylor said.

Mike Thompson of the Thomas Jefferson Institute concurred. “Though every state is unique, getting to know what’s going on in other states helps us to craft a successful TABOR plan for Virginia.”

The event included a dinner appearance by Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board. In his remarks, Moore expressed confidence in the strength and potential of the American economy but warned that, absent TEL or TABOR legislation, state governments could frivolously spend rising revenues instead of giving the money back to its rightful owners the taxpayers.

State, National Groups Represented

Groups from 35 states were represented at the event, with several national free-market organizations in attendance to lend their expertise. These included Americans for Limited Government, the American Legislative Exchange Council, Tax Foundation, National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, Reason Public Policy Institute, and The Heritage Foundation.

“Having 35 states represented in the room provided terrific depth to our strategic brainstorming,” said Tracie Sharp, president of State Policy Network.

“It’s obvious that TABOR is a big issue right now in the states,” Sharp said. “In fact, we had to close our event registration two weeks [before the event] due to the overwhelming response. The timing was perfect for a national summit.”

Growing Importance

“From the perspective of state-based think tanks and national interests, this was a great opportunity to discuss one of the most important issues in the tax debate,” said Scott LaGanga, federal affairs manager for Americans for Tax Reform. “With a growing economy and rising revenues to state government, it is important now more than ever for a measure such as tax and expenditure limitations to be put into place as a check on government. The representation of think tanks from across the country at the summit is indicative of the growing importance of this issue to the Center-Right community.”

Barry Poulson of Americans for Prosperity, a nationally known expert on tax and expenditure limitations, provided attendees with lessons learned from previous TEL efforts. The Heritage Foundation’s Becky Norton Dunlop presided over a discussion on attracting more investment to TABOR efforts and improving outreach to citizens who share a commitment to prosperity and limited government.

“The TABOR Summit was the most informative and impactful conference I’ve been to in a long time,” said Michael Sullivan, vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “I greatly appreciated the discussion format, which allowed an opportunity to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the challenges and opportunities we have in all the states in enacting limitations on government.”

AP Interviewed Attendees

A reporter from the Associated Press was on hand to interview attendees during a break in the summit. No news media were allowed during the closed-door, day-time strategy sessions of the event.

The conference, held at the 110-year-old Jefferson Hotel, was hosted by State Policy Network and the Atlas Economic Research Foundation of Arlington, Virginia, and cosponsored by Virginia’s free-market state think tanks: the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and the Thomas Jefferson Institute.

Patrick McDougal ([email protected]) is program coordinator and Tonya Barr ([email protected]) is program assistant of State Policy Network, a professional service organization for state-based think tanks.

For more information …

More information on Colorado’s TABOR and Referendum C is available online at

More information on the TABOR summit can be found at