TABORs Receive New Attention

Published October 1, 2005

This year’s Reason privatization report includes a section on TABORs–Taxpayers’ Bills of Rights–which limit taxes and spending. As the first state to fully enact a modern TABOR 13 years ago, Colorado is the poster child for successful implementation. Many experts say TABOR saved Colorado from massive deficits akin to what California experienced just after the dotcom bubble burst.

Twenty-six states have enacted some variant of a tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) to date. More than a dozen states incorporate voter approval or legislative “supermajority” mechanisms in their tax policies. And roughly two dozen states limit all or part of their budget increases to economic measurements such as inflation or personal income growth.

In 2005, a large number of states have begun considering the benefits of enacting the full array of protections embodied in TABOR.

Overwhelming Citizen Support

Three key themes are driving the move for TABOR:

  • Citizen Involvement. Voters like the idea that they should be asked before government takes more of their money. In a poll of Virginia residents last year, the National Taxpayers Union found strong support (76 percent to 19 percent) for the idea that citizens should be given “the right to vote directly on most tax increase proposals by the Virginia State Legislature.”
  • Tax Relief for Families. Under the leadership of State Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Green Bay), the idea of TABOR is moving forward in Wisconsin. Central to Lasee’s argument for a Wisconsin TABOR has been the increasing tax burdens on families at all income levels in the state. By one estimate, if a TABOR had been in place in Wisconsin in 1990-2001, Wisconsin families would have saved a total of $10,241 per household.
  • Economic Growth. The TABOR era has been part of a great economic success story in Colorado. In “A Taxpayer’s Rill of Rights (TABOR) for Kansas,” Barry Poulson, senior fellow in economic policy at the Independence Institute and professor of economics at the University of Colorado, wrote in December 2004, “The contrast between Colorado and Kansas in that time is striking: While the two states experienced similar economic trends in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a major divergence in the ’90s, when income per capita increased 70 percent in Colorado, while it only increased 53 percent in Kansas.”

The TABOR movement has even taken root in Washington, DC. The Heritage Foundation, Tax Foundation, and other groups are promoting the idea of a federal TABOR to rein in Washington’s spending excesses.

— Geoffrey F. Segal