Sunday, February 25, 2007

Why would anyone be againt a "Bill of Rights?"

Nothing resonates better among Americans than to frame issues around one’s rights. If people feel that their rights are being curtailed, they well turn out in numbers and in voice to keep “their rights.” What’s troubling is when people fear that their rights are being curtailed, when, in truth, they aren’t. This is what’s happening right now with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) movements in several states, and likely why several legislators in Missouri recently introducted a TABOR as HJR 20.

There are lots of reasons why someone would want to vote down TABOR. But, on the surface, why would you? Why would you NOT want a bill of rights? While such movements may be needed in some states, frankly, in Missouri, TABOR isn’t necessary. The Missouri Budget Project has put together a very nice article and video on TABOR and why it isn’t a good idea.

TABOR sets ceilings on spending. A government can’t spend more than certain levels, set by formula. This sounds positive. Governments in Missouri are obligated to create a balanced budget. So, by law, they can’t budget to spend more money than they have. Second, Missouri has a revenue circuit breaker called “The Hancock Amendment.” This requires that all tax increases go before the people. It also requires that revenues can’t grow beyond a certain level…even if there is a natural increase in property values. Frequently, this will require taxing jurisdictions to LOWER taxes to keep below the mandated maximum growth. So, the revenue side is pretty firmly fixed.

So, why would anyone want to also clamp down on the spending side? Your guess is as good as mine. What might happen in a growth economy is that Hancock mandated revenue levels may generate more taxes than the TABOR ceiling. So, that creates a surplus. When this happens in our current environment, those funds are frequently used on one-time capital improvements, like a new parking lot or other put-off projects from when times were lean. However, with TABOR in place, the government agency would’t be able to spend the money above the expenses ceiling. So, the money would be collected…but just sit there, unable to be spent.

Since all tax votes have to go before the voters, and because all tax revenue can’t grow beyond a certain level, there is no real reason to have a control on the expenses side, too. Don’t be fooled by TABOR, it only gives you the right to be taxed and to receive nothing in return.

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