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Politics and Government

Colorado voters leaning toward approving the elimination of state spending caps under TABOR, poll finds

Republican pollster Magellan Strategies found that 54% of likely general election voters intend to approve Proposition CC in November

The Colorado State Capitol on Jan. 19, 2019. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)
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Colorado voters are leaning toward approving the elimination of state spending caps under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in November’s election, according to a new poll. But supporters of the ballot question might not want to celebrate quite yet. 

A survey conducted by Republican firm Magellan Strategies found that 54% of likely 2019 general election voters intend to approve Proposition CC, while 30% said they were going to reject the question. And 15% said they were undecided. 

The telephone and online survey of 486 likely 2019 voters was conducted between Aug. 5 and 7. The projected outcome of the ballot question was within the poll’s 4.5% margin of error. 

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“You have to give the Democratic legislature and governor credit, because the language of the ballot question is very simple and very good,” said David Flaherty, who leads Louisville-based Magellan. “It’s not your typical ‘shall taxes be raised by $10 billion for transportation or roads?’ It’s a very simple ask and it doesn’t even mention TABOR.”

He pointed to the fact that 32% of Republicans said they intended to support the measure as proof of the well-written language by proponents, given that conservatives are typically fierce defenders of TABOR, Colorado’s complicated tax law limiting government growth and mandating that voters approve any tax hike. 

MORE: A citizen’s guide to how spending works in Colorado

Those polled were read the exact ballot language and then asked if they would support the measure when they vote in November.

What Proposition CC asks is: “Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”

What that would mean, if approved by voters, is that the possibility of refunds under TABOR’s constraints on the size of government for tax year 2020 and beyond are eliminated. The tax law calculates the cap through a formula based around population growth and inflation.

But Flaherty cautions that, typically, support for ballot measures needs to begin polling in the high 50% or 60% range to be successful, and if people don’t understand the question they could reject it or simply not cast a vote. 

“The bottom line is I don’t think either side has engaged in just yet,” Flaherty said.

Americans For Prosperity, the Koch-backed conservative action group, has begun sending out mailers encouraging Colorado voters to reject the ballot question. Additionally, a “No on CC” coalition has been formed by a group of top Republicans. 

It’s worth noting that a Democratic effort to strike a deal to amend the ballot question during a special legislative session and win broader bipartisan support fell apart last week.

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And, so far, no organized campaign has popped up among Democrats to support Proposition CC, which was referred to voters by the Colorado General Assembly this year with only one GOP lawmaker’s support.

The results of the Proposition CC question released by Magellan are based on a model weighted on past odd-year election voter-turnout demographics in Colorado, where Republican respondents make up 36% of the sample, Democrats 34% and unaffiliated voters 29%. Turnout in odd years can be difficult to predict and is often much lower than in even years, when statewide, congressional and presidential contests are decided. 

The poll also asked 500 likely 2020 general election voters about their sentiments toward TABOR in general, finding that 46% have a favorable opinion of TABOR.

Conversely, 36% reported having an unfavorable opinion of the policy while 18% said they had no opinion.

“That’s not overwhelming, that’s a plurality,” Flaherty said. “TABOR’s not beloved.”

Overwhelmingly, however, those polled supported the idea of weighing in on tax increases or bond questions. 

Denver voters cast ballots on Nov. 8, 2018 (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

The pollster also asked about a potential full repeal of TABOR in the 2020 election cycle, finding that only 36% said they would support it and 48% would oppose. The rest were undecided. Opponents of the policy are pushing to get that question before voters on next year’s general election ballot.

In addition, Magellan polled whether likely voters would support a ballot question permanently eliminating state spending caps — exactly what Proposition CC aims to accomplish. However, under the change in language and without a specific purpose for removing the limits, only 47% said they would vote yes on such a question, while 39% said they would oppose it and 13% were undecided.

Carol Hedges, who leads the Colorado Fiscal Institute, said the disparity was “particularly interesting.”

“I think it shows that people want the things that their taxes buy but they are not confident that elected officials will use it for their priorities,” she said. “Naming public education, higher education and transportation helps give voters an idea of how their money is used and those polled seem to like that.”

Finally, the poll asked respondents about whether they thought Colorado is headed in the right direction. Nearly 50% said they did while almost 40% said they thought the state was going down the wrong track. And 12% had no opinion or were unsure. 


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