Civil unions bill would generate millions for depleted Colorado coffers

In a Colorado historically strapped for cash, where Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper is proposing deep cuts to elementary school education and the Republican majority in the House is pushing for business tax breaks, a new civil unions bill could generate millions in revenue for the state through sales taxes and fees and by moving people off of public assistance, according to a report released today by the UCLA Williams Institute.

Researchers at the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy calculate that the civil unions law proposed by Sen. Pat Steadman and introduced in the state legislature Monday would generate $5 million in revenue for Colorado’s busted budget over the next three years.

According to the study, roughly 3,500 gay couples and 2,500 straight couples will likely enter into civil unions within three years should Steadman’s legislation pass. The law would grant couples the right to share insurance policies, pass on property and make medical decisions for one another, for example.

Authors of the study say most of the revenue the legislation would generate would come from savings on public benefits program expenditures because the newly recognized couples would move into higher income brackets once they were able to combine their incomes on the tax rolls. The ability to share health insurance policies, for example, would also cut down on medical costs now taken on by the state.

“Since a partner’s financial assets are taken into account when assessing eligibility for public assistance, the state’s public assistance expenditures will drop,” explained study co-author, Craig Konnoth in a release. “The [financial] protections from civil unions might make public assistance less necessary, as well.”

Co-author Jody Herman estimated that “sales taxes obtained through spending on civil union ceremonies will bring in over $700,000 in tax revenues over three years. Civil union license fees would also add to state revenue gains.”

All of that may sound like small change in wake of news this week that Hickenlooper asked lawmakers to slash $375 million from the kindergarten-through-high school education budget, but the cash would come at a time when the recession continues to push down revenue from nearly every other stream and, just as important, it would come without the need to ask for it, an essential factor in a state where the budget is girdled by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights and in an era when government and the public services it provides have been devalued by the dominant political culture.

In announcing his budget plan, Hickenlooper nearly made a satire of Colorado budget politics. Public education is the single best anti-poverty program on Earth, he said ruefully, as he first described his plan to gut elementary school education and then added that he was by no means suggesting the need for a tax increase.

Download the Williams Institute study as a pdf here.

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