THE BLOG
10/23/2014 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2014

Taming TABOR

Talking about taming TABOR.

Last month Colorado's economists projected a 2016 TABOR surplus. This provokes alarm in some and delight in others while leaving many utterly befuddled.

TABOR is a 1992 citizen-initiated Colorado Constitutional amendment with about twenty provisions restricting government revenue and services. One provision requires refund of revenue exceeding a limit. The State's only experience with the limit dates to the late 1990's boom that concluded with 2000's dot com stock market collapse and ensuing recession.

Economists project revenue in excess of the limit for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2015, generating an $11 per taxpayer refund the following year. Marijuana taxes could generate a small additional refund.

As in the 1990s, a TABOR surplus may be an ephemeral phenomenon, ending with the next recession. While no one minds getting an $11 refund, neither does it generate much excitement. Instead, let's redirect that money to Colorado's chronically underfunded education system.

On the state income tax form we can create a check-off for the state's education savings account, the State Education Fund. Check the box and your $11 goes to K-12 education. While not for everyone, this Chekhov will be popular with those who admire The Seagull in The Cherry Orchard.

Now, how not to pay for education: a few (OK - two) people have asked me about the Arapahoe County casino proposal (Amd. 68). I voted no.

It would put a few dollars into schools, but the amount is small compared to the cost. Over the years I've encountered a variety of gambling addicts done in by Blackhawk casinos forty minutes drive from Denver. A casino right here in the city will destroy these folks.

Colorado spends about $8B a year educating 880,000 kids. At best, Amd. 68 will add $100 million. Put another way, we spend about $7,000 per kid. Amd. 68 adds about $170. While every dollar helps, this is the most expensive money we'll ever spend on these kids.