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N.C. Taxpaper Bill of Rights? Colorado Has Cautionary Tale

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North Carolina lawmakers are considering a so-called TABOR amendment that would limit the state government's ability to raise taxes. Colorado has had such an amendment since 1992. Credit: Darren Hester/Morguefile.
North Carolina lawmakers are considering a so-called TABOR amendment that would limit the state government's ability to raise taxes. Colorado has had such an amendment since 1992. Credit: Darren Hester/Morguefile.
 By Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC, Contact
August 25, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. – Colorado may be almost 1,500 miles from North Carolina, but Tar Heel State lawmakers are looking into a constitutional amendment already in place there.

The North Carolina State Senate recently approved what is often referred to as a Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which would amend the state constitution to require a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to override a strict spending cap.

Colorado is already living with a version of TABOR, which remains controversial more than 20 years after its passage there. Similar legislation has been rejected by 30 other states.

Tim Hoover with the Colorado Fiscal Institute says his state's experience with TABOR should stand as a cautionary tale for others.

"It has been a complete and unmitigated disaster for the state of Colorado," he says. "The only good news to come out of it is that Colorado has served as an example of what not to do."

Hoover says Colorado has seen a decrease in per-pupil spending on education when adjusted for inflation, and the state now ranks 50th in higher education spending. TABOR supporters say its formula, which takes into account population growth with average inflation, allows states to maintain public services while keeping spending under control.

The constitutional amendment would have to pass the North Carolina House by a three-fifths majority to get onto the ballot for voter approval. Coloradoans rejected TABOR four times before it was passed in 1992, and Hoover says North Carolinians should consider Colorado's experience.

"I can't think of anything good to say about TABOR, other than it has a snappy name," he says. "It has completely taken away the legislature's ability to adapt to changing economic circumstances."

According to analysis conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, while TABOR's funding formulas account for a state's average population growth, the segments of the population needing the most services, such as seniors and children, often grow more rapidly than the population as a whole.

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