TABOR’s troubles

TABOR’S TROUBLES…. For a while, Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) measures were all the rage. Right-wing leaders like Grover Norquist would travel around, trying to convince state lawmakers to approve measures that made it extremely difficult to raise taxes and/or increase spending. Colorado was the only one to ever agree, and the law wreaked havoc on state finances. It was repealed a few years later*.

In time, the popularity of the TABOR crusade faded, and even conservative policymakers saw no value in trying to govern while being stuck in a fiscal straightjacket. (Daniel Franklin and A.G. Newmyer III had a great piece on this in the March 2005 issue of the Washington Monthly.)

A few years later, Norquist, Dick Armey, the National Taxpayer’s Union, and assorted far-right entities are still working the TABOR circuit. Fortunately, they’re still failing.

Out of all of the election results from [Tuesday], the anti-tax ballot measures in Maine and Washington (known as TABOR) provide a better political tea leaf into voter attitudes going into the 2010 election cycle than anything else. The good news is, progressives won big on a topic that will likely define the nature of the midterm election.

A central tenant of the right-wing agenda has been rejected with the defeat of TABOR (known deceptively as the “taxpayer bill of rights”) in these two states — states that are diverse from each other in almost all respects. Maine’s measure went down with a resounding defeat, 60% to 40%, while Washington’s campaign came from behind with a 55% to 45% rebuff. […]

If their ballot strategy wasn’t so dangerous, it would be comical. But the sad reality is that anti-government conservatives cynically tried to use the bleak budget picture as an opportunity to ratchet down even harder as states look to find the revenue necessary to protect priorities, create jobs, and get their economies going. TABOR would have slowed economic recovery and left Washington and Maine in a permanent recession. TABOR would have undermined the tradition of local control. TABOR would have threatened education and health care. But people voted their values and said no — not in our state. TABOR was a bad idea before, and is even a worse idea now in the middle of a recession.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Iris Lav added, “As states emerge from the current economic and budget crisis, they will need the flexibility to make much-needed investments in education, health, roads and bridges, and other areas that have been starved for funding during the crisis. If adopted in any state in 2010 or 2011, TABOR would prevent the state from making those investments, and leave it without the skilled workforce and solid infrastructure needed to prosper over the long term.”

Here’s hoping states continue to ignore Norquist’s snake oil.

* Update: Colorado readers remind me that it wasn’t so much a “repeal” as a “reprieve.” TABOR provisions were scuttled for five years, but that ends next year.