- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Two Colorado Republican lawmakers say it’s time to talk about fine-tuning a 25-year-old constitutional restriction on how much the state can receive - and spend - without triggering tax refunds.

Rep. Dan Thurlow and Sen. Larry Crowder have introduced a bill that seeks to change the way annual revenue limits set by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights are calculated.

It’s a first step that could allow the state to keep millions of dollars for roads, education and other priorities, starting with an extra $175 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to legislative analysts.

Thurlow, of Grand Junction, and Crowder, of Alamosa, have asked: What’s the use of individual taxpayer refunds amounting to pocket change when, this year alone, lawmakers must close a $500 million gap to balance the budget that begins July 1?

That reasoning runs against longstanding party orthodoxy - reinforced by intense lobbying by Americans for Prosperity and other small-government groups - to defend the limits of the 1992 voter-approved amendment.

Three Republicans joined the Democratic majority Monday on the House Finance Committee to refer the bill 10-3 to the House Appropriations Committee.

While the bill might pass the Democrat-led House, it faces a tougher run in a GOP-led Senate that has resisted exempting revenue sources, such as a multimillion-dollar fee paid by hospitals, from the limits.

In 2005, voters approved annual adjustments to the revenue cap based on rates of inflation and population growth. The bill would use changes in Coloradans’ personal income to adjust the cap.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports Coloradans’ per capita personal income rose from $41,877 in 2010 to $50,410 in 2015, or nearly 17 percent.

Under current budget projections, mandated taxpayer refunds would total $280 million and $287 million in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. Thurlow said his bill could cut those amounts to $130 million and $209 million.

“My premise is that the voters are smart enough and should be trusted to make that decision,” he said of the proposed change.

The original intent of the TABOR amendment was two-fold, Crowder said in a recent newsletter.

“First, the citizens wanted a constraint on the growth of government,” he said. “Secondly, we wanted to be able to vote on tax rate increases.

“Has it worked? As a constraint on government, it has worked on overdrive.”

Crowder said Colorado has:

-Gone from 23rd to 40th among states in per-pupil K-12 spending;

-Ranks 45th among states in high school graduation rates;

-Ranks 48th among states in higher education spending.

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