Colorado needs fiscal and constitutional reforms, according to TBD Colorado, a group set up by Gov. John Hickenlooper to encourage civic engagement in solving the state’s problems.
“Our state has endless positive potential,” said TBD Colorado Board Chairman Greg Maffei. “Important, forward-facing actions and decisions must be made to ensure a vibrant future. 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.”
Three constitutional amendments – TABOR, Gallagher and Amendment 23 – have created an unsustainable fiscal structure. The measures have constrained any flexibility to adjust the state’s tax structure to respond to revenue needs for services.
TBD Colorado said combined, the three amendments have created an imbalance between commercial and residential property taxes, shifting the responsibility for funding primary education from local school districts to the state. They’ve also made it difficult to fund transportation infrastructure needs and have “required the impossible – increased spending while reducing revenue options.
The state’s revenue has not kept pace with economic growth because the fast-growing sectors are exempt from tax or taxed at a lower rate. The state will be unable to grow out of the fiscal gridlock, the report said. Demographic shifts, including increased medical costs for an aging population will only accelerate the stress on the budget, Maffei said.
TBD Colorado met with 1,200 residents in Colorado to come up with a series of recommendations.
“We have never before seen a statewide community engagement on this level in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said. “We are grateful to the thousands of Colorado who participated in TBD Colorado. We know the path forward is not easy.”
TBD is focused on five issues: education, health, transportation and state budgets and workforce.
Below are the policy recommendations from the group.
• Legislation should be considered to expand the number of children in the Colorado Preschool Program so that all families have the option to participate. The Governor’s FY 2013-14 proposed budget request reflects this recommendation.
• Legislation should be considered to increase the availability of full-day kindergarten for those parents who want it. The Governor’s FY 2013-14 proposed budget request reflects this recommendation.
• Policymakers and Coloradans should continue a conversation that focuses on how additional revenue could be targeted to improve outcomes for students.
• Coloradans must choose how best to finance substantial investments in Colorado’s system of higher education. Options such as mill levy increases, special districts, sales and severance taxes should be considered. The Governor’s FY 2013-14 proposed budget request reflects this recommendation.
• Legislation should be considered to support the expansion of home and community-based services to increase patient satisfaction, create value and save money for elderly and people with disabilities.
• Legislation should be considered to support additional utilization of managed care approaches in Medicaid to better coordinate care and control costs.
• The Governor and members of the General Assembly should continue working with private organizations that are studying and developing options to address long-term spending and revenue issues, including the projected structural budget shortfall.
• Continue to undertake initiatives to create cost savings and increase efficiency such as combining the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
• Consider specific, targeted revenue increases, for purposes such as those discussed in the recommendations on education and transportation.
• Consider changes to the tax code so that it more accurately reflects Colorado’s changing economy.
• The state’s existing merit pay system should be funded to provide meaningful incentives and to reward performance.
• Coloradans must choose how best to finance substantial investments in Colorado’s transportation system, including how to maintain existing roads and bridges and to undertake new projects that help relieve congestion in urban and suburban areas and to improve safety and reliability in rural areas.
• Public/private and public/public (intra-governmental) should be pursued to relieve congestion and provide better travel time reliability on congested corridor. Toll, managed lanes, such as HOV, should be implemented to offset a portion of the cost.
• The Colorado Department of Transportation should continue to educate the public about the status of transportation funding in Colorado and the current condition of the state’s aging infrastructure.
• New transportation funding mechanisms should be explored as alternatives to the current system that relies heavily on gasoline tax. Options should include a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, indexing the gas tax to inflation and greater regional funding authority.
• Additional public engagement should be undertaken with the goal of identifying a package of reforms to the state Constitution that will keep faith with Colorado’s tradition of direct democracy but also recognize the unique importance of the Constitution.
• A process, such as a newly created review commission, to periodically review the Constitution and recommend changes to voters should be explored.
• The process for amending the Constitution should be changed so that a higher bar must be met for new amendments. The number of signatures required for ballot access should be increased. A super majority of voters should be required for changes to the Constitution.