New STAR to Guide TABOR

Fifteen years ago, the battle lines were drawn in blood red ink. Innocents became cannon fodder amidst the ensuing economic chaos. Media accounts raged about secret agendas and needed fiscal belt-tightening. An insurgent campaign led by a charismatic leader described his nemesis as a terrorist hell-bent on destroying government.

Now, a rising STAR is working to put citizens back in control. Colorado’s budget battles are the stuff of political legend. And with that, Doug Bruce and his spawn, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), soon became household words beloved and begrudged alike by politicians, economists, government workers, voters, and then Gov. Roy Romer, one of the highest profile rivals of the 1992 constitutional amendment that would wreak havoc on the state budget for years to come.

Today, the state continues to grapple with the annual budget that limits the amount of revenue the state can retain for spending based on a draconian formula of the previous year’s allowed revenue multiplied by yearly population growth and the current inflation rate.

TABOR combined with a constitutionally-mandated balanced budget can make for some cranky negotiations between the governor, state departments, and the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), a powerful group of six state legislators from both chambers who write the annual appropriations request known as the Long Bill. After some legislative loop-di-loops and the possibility of line item vetoes by the governor, the JBC delivers the final funding report for the state’s forthcoming budget year.

Both republicans and democrats have long used “fiscal responsibility” as a political weapon to reward favored programs and punish others. And through that process citizens were completely dependent upon lawmakers and policy wonks to sift through the fuzzy math on the state’s financial outlook.

Recently, Governor Bill Ritter, state treasurer Cary Kennedy, and state controller Leslie Shenefelt introduced the State Taxpayer Accountability Report (STAR) Report [PDF], the state’s first-ever fiscal report to arm citizens with the facts. Hopefully, it will also counter the tedious political wrangling come election season when voters will once again be faced with local mill levies and ballot measures.

Colorado Confidential talked to state treasurer Cary Kennedy about the report, Colorado’s fiscal health in comparison to other states, and the looming question — what happens to the budget after Referendum C’s time-out elapses.