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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Colorado Reclaims Its Independence

In a special election yesterday, Colorado voters approved an initiative relaxing the requirements of TABOR (short for “Tax Payers’ Bill of Rights”), a robo-system of fiscal restraints imposed by an earlier ballot initiative.Over at TPMCafe, I’ve already posted an analysis of the greater meaning of this partial rollback of TABOR, which represents an important rollback of the national conservative effort to force states into a fiscal straightjacket protecting high-income and corporate tax breaks at the expense of public investments.But I’d like to add a personal note.]A few years ago I went to Denver to speak at a Democratic legislative retreat, and thanks to TABOR, it was like travelling to a foreign country.Everyone there carried around little books detailing TABOR provisions. Every policy discussion began and ended with extensive comments about “TABOR compliance.” TABOR had clearly accomplished the main goal of its Washington advocates: radically constraining state legislative powers and priorities, not just in terms of overall spending and revenue figures, but in terms of the basic ability to conduct long-term planning and make long-term investments.In a very real sense, TABOR made the very bright state of Colorado “stupid country,” and its advocates hoped to spread the gospel of fiscal idiocy elsewhere.So yesterday’s vote, whatever else it meant, represented one proud state’s declaration of independence from a scheme that made legislative policymaking impossible, and made the normal process of budgeting irrelevant. And TABOR’s defeated proponents got one more important warning that limiting government without making open and rational choices about what government should do is ultimately a self-destructive and ant-democratic exercise.Hats off to Colorado voters, and for those who worked for the passage of this new initiative. Reforming government is one thing; getting smarter and more effective government for the lowest possible tax levels is always a good idea.But arbitrarily and mindlessly promoting arbitrary and automatic spending cuts, with no real attention to setting priorities for what taxpayers should support, is what TABOR was about. And changing that situation is critical all across the country for Democrats, and democracy.

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