Brace yourself for higher taxes.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s public engagement effort, “TBD Colorado,” visited the Eagle Valley recently. TBD stands for To Be Determined, meant to convey open-endedness. There were three local meetings billed as attempts to gather citizens’ ideas on the future of Colorado’s public sector endeavors.
The state has perennial trouble balancing ambitious spending plans with limited taxpayer resources. Colorado’s government will spend $10,000 for every household in the state in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
The state capitol’s financial latitude is hobbled by Colorado’s Bermuda Triangle of Gallagher, Tabor and Amendment 23, so christened by political maven Andy Ball, of Eagle-Vail.
Gallagher and Tabor are both marginally successful citizen attempts to limit state and local taxing power. The third, Amendment 23, was a price increase for the public K-12 industry – unrelated to quality.
While ostensibly wide open, the policy choices offered by the framers of TBD Colorado were narrow. Education was posed as: “Do you want more early childhood public education?”
The governor’s people pointedly did not ask: “Would you prefer school choice, higher quality and lower cost?”
On health care, the governor’s framers offered “mandatory PE classes and health foods in schools” and “managed care for Medicaid” as policy choices. That’s a little light for a problem that costs $24,000 per family per year.
As medical costs eat into other financial priorities, the health sector is cannibalizing public and private budgets almost as fast as the notoriously carnivorous Alferd Packer could belch and pick his teeth.
Health is the state capitol’s second largest expenditure, deserving more than a punt to the feds.
The group was fed multiple-choice questions, as well. Two questions on revenue changes offered four possible answers: three different tax increases and one status quo option. There was no choice offered to lower taxes.
Of the state’s $20 billion budget, $14 billion is on autopilot and therefore of no use to discuss, we were told. Taxpayers apparently just have to suck it up.
TBD Colorado seems pointed at a pre-determined conclusion: pay more taxes.
Taxes are not small change. They are life-shaping expenses. A typical family making $70,000 a year will pay $1.3 million in taxes over its working career. Fed, state and local governments have racked up roughly $800,000 in additional bills for each family to pay. Ouch.
Politically determined expenditures have first claim on taxpayer earnings. The family that earned the money stands at the end of the line – behind hundreds of politicians.
After paying taxes, many local families cannot cover their mortgage. There have been more than 2,000 foreclosure proceedings in Eagle County since 2007.
Ironically, public policies gone awry are a central factor driving the Great Recession.
Families have every reason to question the value of the $1.3 million package of government activities for which they involuntarily pay.
Family budgets have to cope with a ruinously expensive health care system that is largely publicly funded and government dictated and poised to become more so on both counts.
A quick look at Program for International Student Assessment test results shows that the average taxpayer family’s children will receive an expensive but globally uncompetitive public K-12 education.
Despite the many fine people involved locally, the structure of the public system ensures that Eagle County is not much different.
To top it off, despite having paid a sum well north of a million dollars in taxes, an average couple is increasingly likely to retire to poverty.
Despite evidence to the contrary, this observer wants to believe that Hick is operating in good faith. Yet taxpayers can be forgiven for thinking that TBD actually stands for Taxpayers Be Darned.
Click HERE for a version of this story published in the Vail Daily on 21 June 2012.