Governor’s volunteer board urges tax reforms

Colorado’s path is “unsustainable” without major fiscal and constitutional reforms, including changes to TABOR, the chairman of a nonpartisan volunteer board initiated by Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday.

“Analysts from across the political spectrum may disagree on the proper course for the state, but they agree that the current fiscal structure cannot be maintained,” TBD Colorado Board Chair Greg Maffei said in a statement.

TBD Colorado Board members based their recommendations on conversations with more than 1,200 Coloradans during 70 public meetings statewide during the past year. Hickenlooper, seeking to solve Colorado’s problems with the aid of broad civic engagement, formed the nonprofit group in January last year. The group’s recommendations were presented to Hickenlooper and the TBD Colorado Advisory Group during a meeting Wednesday at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

“We have never before seen a statewide community engagement on this level in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We are grateful to the thousands of Coloradans who participated in TBD Colorado and to the outstanding community leaders who helped oversee the process.”

“We know the path forward is not easy, but we are committed to building on this effort to help seek the right changes for Colorado,” he said.

The group is particularly concerned with three state constitutional amendments: TABOR, Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23. The measures have constrained flexibility of elected officials to adjust the state’s tax structure to respond to essential revenue needs, the group said.

The laws have created an imbalance between commercial and residential property taxes, leading to reduced local control of school districts. They also have hamstrung transportation funding.

The group acknowledged that Colorado revenues increased as the economy recovered, but stressed that the state could not emerge from the coming fiscal gridlock “unless structural changes are made.” An aging population and its resulting medical expenses would stress the state’s budget, the group said.

Seeking to address those problems, the group made a series of recommendations on education, the state budget and other topics.

On education, it recommended that legislation should be considered to expand the number of children in the Colorado Preschool Program so that all families with at-risk children have the option to participate. the Governor’s proposed budget reflects this recommendation.

The group also recommended increasing the availability of full-day kindergarten. Colorado funds only half-day kindergarten and in most cases parents who enroll their children in full-day kindergarten must pay additional tuition. Hickenlooper’s budget includes money to do this, as well.

On the budget, the group noted that some of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy are either exempt or taxed at a lower rate than others. Changes to the tax system that are revenue-neutral on a current basis, reduce marginal rates, exemptions and deductions, but simplify the tax code and broaden the tax base should be considered, it said.

TBD Colorado also recommended an increase in the number of signatures needed to place an amendment to the state constitution, and that a supermajority of voters should be required for changes to the constitution.

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