Brighter economic times call for TABOR re-examination

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It appears that Colorado Springs’ economic tide has begun to turn.

City budget officials reported this week that sales and use-tax collections jumped 14 percent in May compared to the previous May and that the 2010 city budget is projected to have a surplus.

Hallelujah.

Let’s turn on the streetlights again. Let’s fill up the swimming pools. Let’s put trash cans in parks. Let’s open park restrooms. Let’s water the parks — and, hey, let’s mow them, too.

But perhaps not so fast.

Before we all begin dreaming of the return of the city we used to know, let’s remember there are still some serious financial issues to consider and hard questions to be asked.

The first thing to consider is this:

Thanks to the city’s TABOR laws, the 14-percent revenue increase is really something more like 2.3 percent.

That 2.3 percent won’t restore all the city services that were cut — not to mention the police and fire jobs.

The TABOR laws limit the amount of revenue a jurisdiction can keep. The limit is based on a calculation of inflation and local growth during the previous year.

If tax collections are below the TABOR limit during a given year, then the lower collection level becomes the next year’s cap — TABOR’s infamous “ratchet” effect.

Whatever tax revenue that is collected over and above the cap must be returned to voters, or the city must ask voters to keep it and spend it.

According to 2010 projections, the surplus will remain below the TABOR cap, but if tax revenue continues to grow next year, the city will not be able to keep the excess.

So much for that city we used to know.

Colorado Springs is the only city in the state to be subject to two TABOR laws — a state law and a city law.

Even if the state law were to be relaxed, Colorado Springs would still suffer under the local law.

We’ve long known that TABORs ratchet effect would inhibit economic recovery, but now it’s time for us to ask ourselves a few questions.

Is it time to change the city charter and end these TABOR growth restrictions?

Hasn’t the city suffered enough? Hasn’t our national public image been tarnished enough?