Tapia Part III: Winning Hard Hearts With Specifics

This is the last in a three-part interview with Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Abel Tapia, who sat down earlier this week to talk with Colorado Confidential about some of the complexities of the state’s proposed $17 billion budget, which was unveiled last week after months of fine-tuning.

CoCo: There have been some mixed opinions over piecemealing projects, that is, going to voters and saying, ‘we want you to pass this tax to pay for X’. On the other hand, in Colorado Springs as well as statewide, this has been done – and when voters have been presented with a package, they’ve said, ‘sure, we’ll pay for open space, sure we’ll pay for more law enforcement and firefighters but nope, we’re not going to pay for that.’

What are your thoughts about this approach?

Sen. Tapia: Voters are very discriminating when it comes to their taxes and how they’re going to be spent. And they won’t give government carte blanche on anything. We saw that on the water projects bill – which we could have done a lot of good things with, but [voters] just didn’t have trust in us.

I think the only reason Referendum C passed was because we said, ‘one-third is going to go for higher education, one-third to health care and one-third to K-12’ and they were OK with that. And I think that’s what we have to do. If we went out saying, ‘we want to raise government spending in general’, they wouldn’t go for it.

CoCo: So what do you have in mind?

Sen. Tapia: We want to do away with the six percent gap [as specified in TABOR]. We’re growing at a higher rate than six percent and that’s why we’re seeing the inequities that we’re seeing. We should have another measurement for growing government. You talk to anybody on the Joint Budget Committee – either Republicans or Democrats, past chairs Brad Young or Dave Owens, and everyone says you have to grow faster than six percent if you don’t want to fall behind.

Six percent is not some magic … it’s just a number. It doesn’t reflect how our state is growing and there are essential items that government needs and you’ve got to allow it to grow. As I said,  if you went out and you tried to pass something on the ballot and you want to get rid of the six percent it would probably get defeated. But it might be different if you went out and you said, ‘we want to raises taxes specifically to get our higher ed funding up to the 25 percent level of education so that we can compete nationwide’. You have to tell people what you’re going to do with it.

CoCo: Is the next request going to address higher education specifically?

Sen. Tapia: The governor has a task force together on almost all

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Cara Degette

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