Here's What's At Stake In The Debate Over Prop CC

Oct 14, 2019

Proposition CC is pitting lawmakers who are seeking more money to pay for roads and education against residents who think government spending should have a limit.

At the heart of Prop CC is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment. Passed by voters in 1992, it limits spending by capping the amount of tax dollars the state can keep each year. Anything above that gets refunded to taxpayers.

But some state lawmakers, including House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, want to remove the revenue cap permanently.

"Our constituents are saying they want to see more investments in transportation. They want to see more investments in K-12 especially. So, why not just ask them to keep the revenue we're already collecting from them?" Becker said.

Becker said the revenue cap from TABOR is preventing Colorado from making important investments in its infrastructure.

If CC is approved, the state would get to keep and spend an estimated $300 million during the next fiscal year. Lawmakers say the money would be split evenly among K-12 and higher education, and transportation.

Republican state senator Kevin Priola is also hoping voters will see the value in letting the state keep the money.

"Understanding the hole we've dug in transportation funding in the prior two, three decades, depending on how you slice it, we're looking at a $7 billion structural deficit with projects," he said.

Traffic backs up on Interstate 25 in south Denver. Lawmakers want to remove the TABOR revenue cap and spend some of that money on transportation projects.
Credit Scott Franz

But even with TABOR, taxpayers have only gotten refunds nine times since it was enacted. So, even if the spending gap is removed, Prop CC isn't seen as a stable and reliable source of funding. And revenue projects in the coming years have varied.

Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a conservative group that opposes CC. Fields said the money state lawmakers want to keep can't go to teacher pay or recurring education expenses.

"So, you won't see more teachers, so class sizes will not go down or any of that," he said.

And Fields thinks if CC is successful, lawmakers will be back to remove the rest of TABOR, including the part that stops the government from raising taxes without voter approval. He also questions the state's track record of spending the money it already has.

"TABOR has done good for us," he said. "We're number one economy in the country. Why don't we stick with this instead of making these drastic changes that I think starts with Prop CC? So, I would tell voters, you know what, this is not a good plan."

But more than 90 organizations are in favor Prop CC, including the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies, or CASTA.

CASTA executive director Ann Rajewski said the funding could help bus agencies around the state purchase new vehicles and bus barns.

"We're all hoping (Prop CC) is part of the puzzle of getting some more funding into the transportation system in Colorado," she said.

But she acknowledges there are limits to what the proposal could bring.

"Because CC isn't funding you know you're going to get every year, it probably isn't the most appropriate funding source for operating funds, which is frankly what most of our agencies are desperate for at this point," she said.

If Proposition CC fails, economists are predicting taxpayers will get a TABOR refund next year totaling between $26 and $79 for single filers, and $52 and $158 for joint filers.