Any time a politician tells you something “isn’t about raising taxes,” it’s about raising taxes.
That is the key to understanding Proposition HH, the misleadingly phrased ballot initiative being put before Colorado voters this November. And it unmasks Prop HH’s true purpose: bailing out profligate state legislators, sticking working Coloradans — Latinos in particular — with the bill, and piercing the ironclad protections embedded in the state’s popular, longstanding Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
From taxpayers’ perspective, everything about Prop HH is suspicious.
First, there’s the cynical way it was passed. The bill was not brought up for a vote until the very end of the legislative session. The final hours of session are the traditional “me time” for political elites — when leaders of both parties ram through the bills they know could not survive public scrutiny and debate.
Second, there is the silly way it is written. You have to read it to believe it: “reduce property taxes,” “tax relief for seniors,” money for “water districts, fire districts,” ambulances and hospitals? If Prop HH were as good as it sounds, no politician in the world would have hidden it from the public until the final hours of the legislative session. In this debate, if your shoes feel wet, it’s not because it’s raining.
And third, there is the sketchy way it is being promoted. Readers of Prop HH’s puppy-dogs-and-ice-cream ballot language will search in vain for the words “taxpayer,” “bill,” or “rights.” (In fairness, there is one “of.”) And for good reason. The politicians don’t want Coloradans to be reminded of TABOR when they are in the voting booth. They don’t want to prompt anyone to start wondering where all this magical new money is going to come from. Prop HH is specifically designed to make Coloradans think all the “benefits” of Prop HH will be free — right until the moment they get stuck with the bill.
And according to a new study, that bill will be prodigious, with minority and lower-income families shouldering the brunt of it.
Proposition HH: The Taxpayer Dilemma, published in August by the non-partisan Common Sense Institute, finds that Prop HH “could produce a $21 billion net tax increase” between now and 2040 (emphasis added). That raises the question of who will be paying for the proposal’s increased spending. The institute estimates that in that timeframe, Colorado taxpayers would see a $21 billion reduction in property tax, but a $42 billion increase in state taxes, including foregone TABOR refunds.
For people who own property, this tax swap would result in a tax bill that is $478 greater than it would be otherwise, through 2032. Then again, if most homeowners would almost break even under Prop HH, that raises the question of who will be paying for the accelerated state spending that the proposal would unleash.
The answer, as usual, is people further down the income scale: renters, immigrants, and minorities. For them, swapping property tax cuts for increases in other state taxes is a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation.
Compared to TABOR, Prop HH is a massive transfer of wealth from Colorado’s younger, more diverse, lower-income working families to more established, affluent home- and business-owners — with the state government collecting $9 billion in “transaction fees” as part of the deal. That’s what Prop HH is really about. The General Assembly resents TABOR’s cap on state spending and especially its mandatory annual refund of surplus revenue.
Of course, that’s exactly why Coloradans like it. Public opinion polls have consistently confirmed TABOR’s popularity since it was first enacted — by the people — in 1992. More than 70% of the state supports its most important elements, which guarantee voters a say in tax increases or bond issuances.
Prop HH’s authors say it is necessary because TABOR precludes the state from making necessary public investments. But that’s pig slop. Coloradans support funding for education, utilities, and public services. The state’s budget is $40 billion, after all.
What they oppose is undisciplined politicians manipulating the legislative process to strip-mine the middle class to finance their wasteful overspending. It’s no coincidence that pollsters this year are finding that the more Coloradans learn about Prop HH, the less they like it.
That’s what happens when you look a Trojan Horse in the mouth.
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