By: Neal Thompson | Source: AARP Bulletin Today | October 21, 2009
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Maine and Washington are the tip of the iceberg. The fight against so-called TABOR efforts (a small-government concept known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights) is expected to escalate in 2010, when similar measures might rise in a dozen states, prompted by frustration over the gloomy economy.
“It’s going to rear its ugly head again next year,” said Michael Murray, AARP’s senior director of planning and evaluation for state operations. “This issue is starting to surface in multiple states. It’s just not a good picture.”
TABOR initiatives are potentially surfacing next year in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Wyoming.
The Maine and Washington initiatives both seek to cap the amount of revenues that state, county and local governments could collect into their general funds. Unless voters specifically approved new spending, the caps would only increase to reflect rises in inflation and population growth. Any revenues collected above the caps (through taxes or fees) would have to be used to reduce property taxes.
Proponents in both states say the intent is to limit government spending; opponents acknowledge that, on the surface, the concept has voter appeal.
“Who wouldn’t want fewer taxes?” said Murray.
But the initiatives on the ballots in Maine and Washington are seen as dangerously restrictive by opponents. Because the caps would be set at 2009 levels—when both states already have made deep spending cuts because of the recession—the initiatives could lead to long-term damage to public schools, hospitals, libraries, nursing homes and adult day health centers.
“We’re not going to have the resources we need to climb out of this recession,” said Nancy B. Kelleher, the AARP Maine state director.
Things will get worse before they get better. Maine expects a $765 million budget shortfall in 2011; Washington faces a $2.1 billion gap. Both states already have cut health, education, services to the elderly and disabled, and the state workforce, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In Washington, Initiative 1033 was filed by an anti-tax group, Voters Want More Choices, whose co-leader, Tim Eyman, said he was encouraged by a recent poll that found 45 percent of likely voters would support the initiative, with 32 percent against and 22 percent undecided. But Doug Shadel, AARP Washington state director, said the gap has been narrowing as a coalition of 200 groups raised $2.5 million to ramp up its TV advertising. Among the donors: national labor unions and Microsoft Corp. cofounder Bill Gates.