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Here's What's At Stake In The Debate Over Prop CC

The new School Safety Committee will aim to come up with five new bills to make schools safer.
Scott Franz/Capitol Coverage
The new School Safety Committee will aim to come up with five new bills to make schools safer.

Proposition CC is pitting lawmakers who are seeking more money to pay for roads and education against residents who think government spending should have a limit.

At the heart of Prop CC is the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment. Passed by voters in 1992, it limits spending by capping the amount of tax dollars the state can keep each year. Anything above that gets refunded to taxpayers.

But some state lawmakers, including House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, want to remove the revenue cap permanently.Capitol Coverage reporter Scott Franz talks to supporters and opponents of Proposition CC to learn what's at stake.

"Our constituents are saying they want to see more investments in transportation. They want to see more investments in K-12 especially. So, why not just ask them to keep the revenue we're already collecting from them?" Becker said.

Becker said the revenue cap from TABOR is preventing Colorado from making important investments in its infrastructure.

If CC is approved, the state would get to keep and spend an estimated $300 million during the next fiscal year. Lawmakers say the money would be split evenly among K-12 and higher education, and transportation.

Republican state senator Kevin Priola is also hoping voters will see the value in letting the state keep the money.

"Understanding the hole we've dug in transportation funding in the prior two, three decades, depending on how you slice it, we're looking at a $7 billion structural deficit with projects," he said.

Traffic backs up on Interstate 25 in south Denver. Lawmakers want to remove the TABOR revenue cap and spend some of that money on transportation projects.
Credit Scott Franz
Traffic backs up on Interstate 25 in south Denver. Lawmakers want to remove the TABOR revenue cap and spend some of that money on transportation projects.

But even with TABOR, taxpayers have only gotten refunds nine times since it was enacted. So, even if the spending gap is removed, Prop CC isn't seen as a stable and reliable source of funding. And revenue projects in the coming years have varied.

Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a conservative group that opposes CC. Fields said the money state lawmakers want to keep can't go to teacher pay or recurring education expenses.

"So, you won't see more teachers, so class sizes will not go down or any of that," he said.

And Fields thinks if CC is successful, lawmakers will be back to remove the rest of TABOR, including the part that stops the government from raising taxes without voter approval. He also questions the state's track record of spending the money it already has.

"TABOR has done good for us," he said. "We're number one economy in the country. Why don't we stick with this instead of making these drastic changes that I think starts with Prop CC? So, I would tell voters, you know what, this is not a good plan."

But more than 90 organizations are in favor Prop CC, including the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies, or CASTA.

CASTA executive director Ann Rajewski said the funding could help bus agencies around the state purchase new vehicles and bus barns.

"We're all hoping (Prop CC) is part of the puzzle of getting some more funding into the transportation system in Colorado," she said.

But she acknowledges there are limits to what the proposal could bring.

"Because CC isn't funding you know you're going to get every year, it probably isn't the most appropriate funding source for operating funds, which is frankly what most of our agencies are desperate for at this point," she said.

If Proposition CC fails, economists are predicting taxpayers will get a TABOR refund next year totaling between $26 and $79 for single filers, and $52 and $158 for joint filers.

Copyright 2019 KUNC

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.
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