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If Tax Increases Are The Answer, You’d Better Ask A Good Question

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Tax filing for 2010

Tax filing for 2010

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The University of Denver released a study this week that showed that without tax increases, the Colorado state budget will not be able to pay for anything but Health Care, Prisons and K-12 education by 2025. That scenario is based on the study seeing our overall economic picture as a state in far worse shape than previously expected.

I don’t know much about the experts who did the study at the University of Denver, but I trust a school with their history and tradition to handle a study like this with the customary balance and expertise. So I don’t think these claims would be made in haste or with unjustified drama.

With all that being said, announcing that tax increases are needed is the easy part. The hard part comes now as elected state leaders ponder exactly how to go about taking the study’s advice.

Coloradans are generally a reasonable bunch of voters. As a community, we like being unpredictable, independent and thoughtful. So getting a tax increase passed in Colorado is not an impossible task. However, to be successful, especially in this economy, the request must be carried out with the greatest amount of political acumen possible.

Coloradans will support a tax increase if they can be told, and more importantly, believe where the money is going. Colorado voters do not like signing a blank check. Blank checks are what helped get the Taxpayer Bill of Rights passed in the first place.

Voters will also get behind a tax increase that appears to have at least some balance of support. If there are not at least a few members of each party that can get on board, it’s likely that almost any idea will seem partisan and unbalanced.

Most of this analysis is pretty basic and most Colorado voters already know these qualifications. The more important question to answer at this point is that can any tax increase question meet these qualifications in our current political scenario.

In a word, no.

First of all, the majority of voters in Colorado, in this economy, may not see more revenues as the option for state government since it is not an option for them. Families who are struggling to make ends meet can’t simply get more revenue. Even if they don’t like it, they need to cut spending. It will be extremely difficult to convince families that can’t increase their own revenue to voluntarily raise the state’s revenue.

Secondly, finding that magical political balance that was found during the Referendum C ballot fight is not possible with current Republican leadership. Moderate Republicans have taken a back seat in power in today’s Colorado GOP. Republicans like Bill Owens and Norma Anderson are gone, and in their place are either Republicans that rode to power with support from the Tea Party, or somewhat moderate Republicans that are smart enough to not want to tick Tea Party loyalists off at this time.

Finally, while Colorado’s budget is by definition a state issue, government spending is a national issue. It’s hard for most voters right now to really separate their point of views on spending locally from spending nationally. And while Colorado’s elected leaders can point to much greater efficiency in spending in Colorado compared to the spending on the federal level, if voters are angry at federal level spending, it’s hard to support state government spending.

The researchers at the University of Denver may very well be right on the money about their prognostications about Colorado’s grievous budget situation. However, their advice will likely lay fallow until another panel of college experts are summoned to figure out how to successfully sell this to voters.
About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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