February 17, 2009

Haven't you heard? Spending limits were a "mistake"!

The big spenders in the state legislature and their supporters just will not drop their attempts to “fix” the “spending constraints” set forth in Colorado law. The Denver Post reported today that some members of the state legislature are now declaring that the legislature’s legal advisors made a “mistake” when they assumed that Arveschoug-Bird was a spending limit like TABOR. Arveschoug-Bird is a 1991 appropriations limit that sets a 6 percent cap on increases in general fund spending; some say that its passage was a last-ditch attempt to prevent activists from moving forward with TABOR. Sort of like saying, “See, we can police ourselves! No need for TABOR!” The voters were unconvinced and passed TABOR in 1992.

The latest outrage from the pro-spending spin doctors is that the legislature can simply declare Arveschoug-Bird to be something else, namely a law that tells lawmakers how to spend money, but didn’t set limits.

The issue with Arveschoug-Bird is that it now stands in the way of Colorado being able to “maximize” the federal “stimulus” dollars. Approximately $2 billion is slated to come Colorado’s way. Arveschoug-Bird’s limits mean that the General Fund appropriations can’t exceed 6% more than the previous year, or 5% of personal income, whichever is lower. So far, the 6% has always been lower. Arveschoug-Bird has its own ratcheting effect, which Referendum C eliminated on TABOR by setting new baselines for the 2011 fiscal year.

The drive to get rid of Arveschoug-Bird is nothing more than a prong of the larger movement to eliminate all spending restrictions. Liberals, and others with an agenda, are moving forward to kill Arveschoug-Bird, TABOR and anything else that stands in their way. They use phrases like “outdated constraints,” “leveling the playing field,” and “cannibalizing one priority for another.” They are masters at the old trick: repeat something often enough, and people start to believe it. The people of Colorado, however, have proven themselves to be pretty smart. Coloradans keep turning down the big spenders. This is why repeated attempts have been made to cloak spending limit gutting in flowery language and feel-good causes (the failed Amendment 59), or even to circumvent the people altogether (the Ritter property tax debacle, now tied up in court).

Most of liberals’ pet causes are funded by General Fund expenditures. The major things that fall under the General Fund include K-12 education, health care and human services, corrections and judicial, and higher education. If the 6% is exceeded, then the money is mandated to fill the General Fund reserve account (4%), and then excess goes into transportation funding and, in some cases, capital construction projects. If appropriations limits were removed, then Colorado’s lawmakers could cut the budget, use the stimulus money and not have to worry about constraining themselves to 6% over the cut figure when there are no more federal bonus dollars left.

It remains to be seen if the legislature will get away with following a constraint for 17 years, and then suddenly declaring this course of action to be a “mistake” and just voting the constraint away. Jon Caldara promises legal action if the legislature pursues this path. The spenders chose not to save during fat economic times. Now that we are facing down a couple of lean years, they still do not want to consider saving. It is easier to do away with spending limits.

More on the attempts to gut TABOR later.

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