December 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - El Salvador: Politics: Election2006 - Kefalas: Center For American Progress: John Kefalas writes: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

Peace Corps Online: State: Colorado: February 8, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: Colorado: December 12, 2005: Headlines: COS - El Salvador: Politics: Election2006 - Kefalas: Center For American Progress: John Kefalas writes: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

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John Kefalas writes: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

John Kefalas writes: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

"Colorado voters rose above the opposition’s misinformation and fear tactics – spread by such anti-public sector luminaries as Grover Norquist, the Club for Growth, Dick Armey, and others – to make a resounding statement in support of public investment in Colorado’s people and communities." John Kefalas was a candidate for Congress in 2004 and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador.

John Kefalas writes: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

Rolling Back TABOR: Colorado Voters Say YES to Public Investment

By John Kefalas
December 12, 2005

On November 1, Colorado voters went to the polls and passed the major piece of the TABOR rollback Colorado Economic Recovery Act, Referendum C, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. This means that the state that brought you TABOR has now officially expressed its buyer’s remorse. We’ve seen what TABOR has done to our state and it was not a happy vision. It is our hope that Colorado’s victory will now help to take the wind out of the sails of TABOR efforts nationally.

Colorado voters rose above the opposition’s misinformation and fear tactics – spread by such anti-public sector luminaries as Grover Norquist, the Club for Growth, Dick Armey, and others – to make a resounding statement in support of public investment in Colorado’s people and communities.

This was a major victory for progressives and all people in Colorado who believe in effective government that provides for the common good. And, of national significance, it was a serious setback for TABOR proponents pushing artificial tax and spending limits that create structural budget deficits and force the elimination of vital public services.

With the passage of Ref C, the state can now keep all of the projected TABOR surplus revenue over the next five years – the current estimate is $3.7 billion – and invest these funds primarily in the areas of education (pre-school through post-secondary) and health care. Since Ref D (a companion $2.1 billion bonding measure) was voted down narrowly (51 percent to 49 percent), there is now great pressure to use some of the funds for transportation and other capital construction needs as well as pension fund obligations. How the funds are prioritized will dominate the proceedings of the 2006 legislative session and perhaps fracture the diverse coalition that fought to pass Referendum C.

Ref C also raises the budget baseline or revenue limit in year six and changes one of TABOR’s many fatal flaws requiring the state budget to grow from one year to the next based on actual, rather than allowed revenue, and of course the infamous TABOR formula – inflation plus population growth. With C, the TABOR formula still applies – after the five-year timeout – but the state will be better able to rebound from the next economic recession because of the change from actual (reduced in the case of recession) to allowed revenue.

Had Ref C failed, Colorado would have been forced to spend more on prisons than on colleges and, over time, would have become the first state in the nation to not fund public colleges and universities. Had Ref C failed, the state would have had to cut $365 million from next year’s budget, forcing the elimination of state support for the Colorado Indigent Care and the Aid to Needy Disabled Programs, delays in restoring the senior property tax exemption, increased tuition and the possible closure of rural colleges, closure of state parks, elimination of state arts council funding, and the list goes on. Colorado’s state planning and budgeting office said “this subsequent round of reductions would diminish public safety and result in higher tuition for families and reduced consumer protection and services to the elderly.”

For fellow activists dealing with TABOR clones in other states, it’s critical that your message focus on how potential budget cuts would affect the general public and essential to make the impacts real and tangible – ‘how will budget cuts impact my ability to pay the bills and get to work?’

So, how did we win this historic election? What does this mean for Colorado and the country? I believe that we are seeing the beginning of a genuine and sustainable shift in the political winds that will expand our tax fairness and economic justice movements, especially if we present a clear vision that is relevant to wage-earning families and responsive to race, gender and class issues.

Here’s some context to understand how we won this election. The two referenda were companion measures that came out of our legislature as a result of a much touted bipartisan budget compromise between the Republican governor and the Democratic majority legislature. All the Democrats and 40 percent of the Republicans voted to refer Colorado’s Economic Recovery Plan (C&D) to the electorate, which was significant because past attempts to address Colorado’s budget crisis had failed. The fact that C&D had bipartisan support with a surreally broad coalition of over 1,100 endorsing organizations was critical for a win. At the same time, such a coalition proved to be occasionally problematic as the campaign leadership decided early that their way to win was through TV ads and talking-head messaging meant to appeal to the so-called political center and mainstream Republicans.

As a result, there was no messaging directed to low-income and people of color communities and less emphasis on grassroots field work – going door to door and speaking to voters from the heart about why C&D mattered and how they and their families would benefit. Therefore, it was critical that groups like the Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC) were active in the campaign’s steering committee and coalition structures to raise these issues – with support from allies – and get the campaign on board. The campaign eventually prioritized a get out the vote effort and implemented a door to door field campaign led by groups like CPC and relying on volunteers that came from the coalition organizations. Reaching voters in targeted precincts in a neighbor to neighbor fashion was critical. Helpfully, the campaign did allow organizations to create their own literature with constituency specific messaging.

Defeating TABOR is very challenging because the issues are complex and not sound-bite friendly for voters who don’t pay much attention to budget and fiscal matters. In Colorado, we’d fallen behind in so many quality of life indicators because we had stopped investing in our communities due to TABOR. Coloradans had a choice to make and when they were made aware of how poorly we ranked in K-12 and higher education funding, high school dropout rates, post-secondary enrollment of minority youth, percent of people without health insurance or funding for prenatal care, they made the right choice.

For Colorado, this victory means that we now have much greater capacity to restore past budget cuts and prevent future ones, and we can begin to proactively invest in our infrastructures – health care, education, jobs, transportation and environment. Politically, this victory has advanced our progressive agenda and continues to build our momentum for future successes while the opposition remains in stunned disarray. This victory is a great example of what can be done to put major kinks in the machinations of the anti-public sector forces here in Colorado and beyond.

John Kefalas is Colorado Progressive Coalition’s ( Colorado Tax Fairness Project Coordinator and a long-time advocate and organizer for social justice. He can be reached at 303.866.0908.

When this story was posted in January 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Center For American Progress

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