- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

RICHMOND — Anti-tax activists from across the country met in Richmond yesterday to discuss their strategy for persuading states to adopt a taxpayer’s bill of rights, similar to one that Colorado voters approved in 1992.

The sessions, which were closed to the public and the press, covered such topics as “battle updates” and “preparing for the opposition.”

Colorado’s law restricts government spending growth and requires the state to return surpluses to the taxpayers. Some state officials and economists say the taxpayer’s rights law worsened Colorado’s fiscal problems during a recession a few years ago.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and state lawmakers have asked voters to suspend the spending limits for five years and give up a projected $3.1 billion in refunds, which the state would spend on services that got short shrift during the recession.

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, Colo., said during a break in the Richmond sessions that Colorado doesn’t have a fiscal crisis. He said a 2000 constitutional provision requiring the state to increase education spending each year is having more of an effect than the taxpayer rights law on Colorado’s bottom line.

“Governments don’t spend their money on pizza and beer,” Mr. Caldara said. “They put it into government programs.”

He said that when the recession hit, Colorado’s budget was “at a reasonable level” because of the spending limits and therefore was better positioned than other states to withstand the blow.

The taxpayer law saved Colorado’s budget, Mr. Caldara said. “That’s why there are so many other states now looking at a taxpayer’s bill of rights.”

The idea is being discussed in about 20 states, and about a dozen have proposals pending, Mr. Caldara said.

In Virginia, a conservative coalition called the Tuesday Morning Group is pushing for such a law as part of an 11-point agenda that also includes eliminating the car tax and a constitutional amendment basing real estate taxes on the property’s sales price rather than its assessed value.

The taxpayer’s bill of rights “may be the most important of the 11 planks,” said John Taylor, executive director of the conservative Virginia Institute for Public Policy and leader of the coalition.

He said voters like the idea of reining in government spending.

“Those with the problem … are special interests for whom the spigot has been turned off,” he said.

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