As legislators, we start every new year thinking about how to build a brighter future for every Coloradan.
But as we look ahead, we must also be mindful of history in order to make sure the future is better than the past. That’s why the op-ed Gov. Jared Polis authored in The Colorado Sun on New Year’s Eve left us a little confused.
Let’s start with what the governor got right. Making full-day kindergarten free for every Colorado family and creating a reinsurance program for people who buy their own health insurance are big accomplishments.
These new publicly funded improvements will make a real difference for many families, but they are also new financial obligations for our state budget, even as we wrestle with ongoing education and transportation needs.
When it comes to taxes, my colleagues and I share the governor’s goal of creating a more equitable tax code by closing loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy, and doing what we can to right some of the wrongs done in Washington with the failed Trump tax cuts.
Those tax cuts disproportionately benefited the wealthiest, did little to spur growth and absolutely did not “pay for themselves.”
When we do close loopholes, most Coloradans expect us to use the money to make investments in things everyone knows we need to meet the challenges of our growing state — like giving teachers and students more resources, or improving state highways and transit.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in Colorado. The state constitution forbids legislators from paying for new investments by closing tax loopholes during good economic times.
Given those constraints, we’re forced to use the new revenue from closing loopholes to cut taxes instead. But we have a choice: we can bluntly cut taxes, even for the wealthiest, or we can do it in a more targeted way.
The governor proposes the former — an across-the-board reduction in income taxes. History shows that just doesn’t work: our neighbors in Kansas are only just now rebounding from that kind of reckless, imprecise slashing of rates. Even in a blue state like Massachusetts, broad tax cuts haven’t delivered broad benefits.
The governor’s approach would actually worsen Colorado’s already upside-down tax code, which allows the wealthiest to pay less of their income in taxes than everyone else.
Every across-the-board tax cut means 40% of the benefits go to the richest 5% of Coloradans — with a handful of billionaires reaping the biggest rewards.
It also means the 25% of families and individuals who don’t earn enough to pay any income tax (despite paying many other types of taxes) are left out altogether.
Instead of repeating past failures, let’s do what we know works.
We can very easily target tax cuts in ways that help lift families out of poverty and make our tax code more fair. For example: by expanding our state Earned Income Tax Credit and finally funding the state Child Tax Credit, we can follow the successful lead of states like California, Maine and Ohio, all of which expanded their tax credits for working families last year.
This year, our resolution is to keep saving people money; to keep improving the lives of hardworking families; and to make our tax system less slanted toward billionaires — and more supportive of workaday Coloradans.
That’s the kind of bold, forward-thinking leadership we need in order to deliver a future where everyone in our state can thrive.
We look forward to working with the governor to make that happen.
Colorado state Rep. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, is on Twitter at @EmilyForCO. State Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, is at @senadorajulie.
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