Research & Commentary: TABOR, The Taxpayers Bill of Rights

Published July 8, 2008

Introduction by Steven Stanek
Managing Editor
Budget & Tax News
The Heartland Institute

The more government spends, the more it taxes. The more government taxes, the more it spends.

That is why tax and expenditure limitations increasingly are being viewed favorably by tax and government watchdogs. Measures to limit how much government officials may tax and spend hold the growth in government spending and taxes to reasonable levels.

As we’ve all too often seen, surging property values, strong retail sales, and other factors that drive up government revenues are often used as an excuse to expand government. Before long the locked-in spending drives the need for still more tax revenue. Higher taxes anger homeowners, weaken businesses, and act as a drag on the economy.

Critics of tax and expenditure limitations, sometimes called Taxpayers Bills of Rights (TABOR), falsely claim they hamstring government and threaten vital services. The example of Colorado, which enacted the nation’s first statewide constitutional TABOR in 1992, shows the exaggeration and falsehood behind the claim.

Colorado citizens in 2005 voted to suspend for five years the spending limits in their TABOR. Opponents of TABOR, mainly government employee unions and agencies that receive government funding, claim the vote was a repudiation of TABOR. The claim is laughable.

Colorado citizens voted to do suspend the limits because a weakening economy in 2000-2001 reduced state revenues, and the TABOR growth limits would have held spending lower than many people liked.

The vote proves that tax and expenditure limitations do not hamstring government if the citizens who pay for government agree there is a need to surpass the limits. Citizens had the right to suspend the limits, and they exercised that right. The vote also left the TABOR intact. After five years, the limits go back into force.

Linked below are articles and research papers on TABOR to give you a better understanding of how tax and expenditure limitations work and how they can benefit citizens and help keep the state’s economy strong.

New York State Needs Tax and Spending Caps
Thirty years ago California citizens overwhelmingly approved Proposition 13, which cut property taxes, limited future property tax increases, and required a two-thirds vote of lawmakers to approve tax increases. It was the first statewide measure of its kind. Today more than two dozen states have some sort of tax and spending limitation. This commentary explores the growing revolt among taxpayers and the effect Prop 13 had on leading the way. Published in the San Jose Mercury News on 07/07/2008

Nuts and Bolts of TABOR
Ronald K. Snell of the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Economics Division explained in State Legislatures the nuts and bolts of TABOR and why it is needed as public policy.

Tax and Expenditure Limits and the Second Tax Revolt
Legislators are encountering a resistance to increased taxes that amounts to a second tax revolt. The circumstances of this tax revolt are not unlike those that triggered the first tax revolt in the 1970s. As Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, we are experiencing déjà vu all over again.

Property Tax Revolts and Tax and Spending Limits
Efforts to provide property tax relief through legislative measures have too often proven to be short-lived and ineffective. This study reviews the important linkage between the property tax revolt and TELs in several states.

School Districts Not So Different
Michael Van Winkle, former legislative specialist at The Heartland Institute, examines the effects of TABOR on school district budgets.

Spending Limit Amendment
The Republican Study Committee explains the effects that spending caps can have while citing comparisons to Colorado’s TABOR.

Maine Voters Will Weigh in on TABOR
Jason A. Fortin, director of communications at Maine Heritage Policy Center, advises Budget & Tax News about a citizens initiative for TABOR in Maine.

Dispelling the Myths: The Truth about TABOR and Referendum C
Michael J. New, assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, and Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the Cato Institute, discuss the fact that TABOR reforms in Colorado do not discredit TABOR as a strategy.

Tennessee Town’s TABOR Pays Off for Taxpayers
Steve Stanek, managing editor of Budget & Tax News, reviews the Tennessee TABOR efforts.

Analysis: In Defense of Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
Chris Atkins, staff attorney at The Tax Foundation, refutes Colorado critics of TABOR in Budget & Tax News.

A Decade of TABOR – Ten Years After: Analysis of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
Fred Holden, public policy specialist and author of Total Power of One in America, prepared this white paper about the 10-year experience of TABOR.

For further information on the subject, you can visit The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, where you will find articles on the issue available through PolicyBot, Heartland’s free research database.

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, you may contact Legislative Specialist John Nothdurft at 312/377-4000 or [email protected].