A Taxpayers' Bill of Rights — sounds good, doesn't it? The phrase alone reminds us of the Bill of Rights written by our Founding Fathers. But that's where the similarities end.
Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is considering placing a Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, or TABOR, on the November ballot. But TABOR is not written in the spirit of America's Founding Fathers. Instead, it's an erosion of the ideals laid out by those who established our representative democracy.
TABOR is a national movement to set revenue and spending caps on governments and place oversight of those caps in the hands of the electorate. It still sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. No matter how good it sounds in theory, in practice TABOR stunts economic growth and slashes funding for education and critical services.
Since June 2007, Florida has instituted local property tax cuts and caps totaling more than $24-billion. Those reductions need the opportunity to take hold. In the meantime, the Florida Association of Counties would like to see a reduction in government not by imposing TABOR's arbitrary caps but by eliminating duplicative services; by keeping power with the government closest to the people; and by removing the state's ability to pass down unfunded mandates.
I hope Florida can learn from Colorado's TABOR mistake. Despite the national scope of the TABOR movement and its initiatives in 25 states, Colorado is the only state in the nation that has TABOR. Voters there approved the constitutional amendment in 1992, and it had such a debilitating impact on the state's economy that they suspended the measure in 2005.
TABOR would create many problems for Florida's economy and the way our government provides services. Typically, TABOR ties government revenue increases to the Consumer Price Index. The CPI is a tool of the federal government to measure inflation, and therefore great pains are taken to keep this number low. When this number rises to any degree then it also means that your cost of goods like milk, eggs and other necessities has risen as well. Therefore, in a time when people can least afford it, TABOR would require government revenues to rise. CPI is not an indicator of the health and viability of our economy or your personal income and should not be the economic factor setting government growth.
Second, TABOR requires any increases in government, such as imposing user fees or taxes, or surpassing the revenue cap, to be voted on by the electorate. This sounds great, right? Well regardless of if you are a believer in "direct democracy" or "representative democracy," the fact is that special interests and the almighty dollar determine the outcome of elections. More often than not it is the candidate or issue with the most money that wins an election. If every government budget decision is sent to a vote, it is not the people who will lead the charge but special interests investing their dollars to influence and sway your opinion with spin rather than the complex facts that often go into making these difficult budget decisions.
Finally, TABOR encourages a "big brother" effect from the state level down to local governments. Let's look at this analogy: Your family has a budget. You know exactly how much you bring in and what your expenses are. Now, let's add big brother to the mix. Big brother can arbitrarily decide to limit the amount of your income and can write checks on your account without your permission. Can you maintain a balanced budget? No? Can you plan for the future? Neither can local governments, but the state will ensure its budget is balanced by writing checks from local government's checkbook.
State and local leaders agree that government should not grow faster than the public's ability to fund it, but TABOR is not a responsible way to address this issue. TABOR sounds good at first, but it's a shallow solution, out of synch with our country's ideals and the reality of our state.
Christopher L. Holley is executive director of the Florida Association of Counties.