On the July 13 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Independent Thinking, host and Independence Institute president Jon Caldara repeated misinformation about the 2005 voter-approved Referendum C, which allowed the state to retain tax revenues beyond those limited under the TABOR Amendment to the Colorado Constitution. In addition to misleading about the measure's cost, Caldara falsely claimed that the ballot measure passed "by a mere two percent." In fact, as Colorado Media Matters has pointed out, official results from the Colorado secretary of state's website show that 52.06 percent of voters voted in favor of Referendum C while 47.94 percent voted against, resulting in a 4.12 percentage-point margin of victory.
Caldara was discussing Ref. C with Republican state Rep. David Balmer (Centennial) and Republican former state treasurer Mark Hillman. After Balmer referred to funds collected under Ref. C as "taxpayer money" and stated that "refunds ... were supposed to be given to taxpayers," Caldara correctly pointed out that the cost of Ref. C was "[a]lmost double" what state officials originally had predicted. However, later in the broadcast, Caldara incorrectly implied that Ref. C carried a firm price tag, asking of Balmer, "Why don't you keep what you said it would cost ... the $3.1, or even the $3.7 [billion] -- go ahead, keep that, and what's left over, give it back to the citizens?" Caldara's comment about giving revenues "left over" from Ref. C "back to the citizens" echoed the language of the Independence Institute-backed Initiative 88. The measure, which failed to get on the 2006 Colorado ballot, proposed capping Ref. C revenues at $3.7 billion and returning any revenues above that figure to taxpayers "in order to offset home energy costs."
In fact, the 2005 Colorado Blue Book specified in its analysis of the measure that the $3.7 billion figure it cited was an "estimate" of the revenues the state could retain under the measure. Moreover, the Blue Book explicitly stated that the "exact amount of the spending increase could be higher or lower, depending on the economy and the amount of money collected."
As Colorado Media Matters has documented, Caldara repeatedly has misled about the cost of Ref. C. For example, during the February 13 broadcast of his Newsradio 850 KOA show, Caldara falsely stated that Ref. C "was told and sold to us as costing us about $3.7 billion" and that it now will "cost us ... an extra $2 billion."
From the July 13 broadcast of KBDI Channel 12's Independent Thinking:
CALDARA: Referendum C said, "We're gonna, we're gonna let the state take in as much money as it can for the next five years." We call this, "de-Brucing," if you will. And it gets to keep all that money. All right, that's fine, that's OK. But the nasty little secret was that after those five years, we're gonna take the fattest of those years, and that's going to become our new benchmark, which means government will be able to have that as a new level. Now, we heard back in '05, this really didn't have to do with anything except something called the "ratchet" effect; the ratchet effect was that we went through a small recession, and by TABOR, we would have to shrink the size of our budget. And so we were just supposed to get back that money to keep us from shrinking down --
BALMER: Yup. It was supposed to be $3.7 billion.
CALDARA: Really? When you guys -- when you guys passed it -- you weren't around at the time -- actually, you were -- when, it was supposed to be what, $3.1?
BALMER: Yeah, $3.1, then they changed it to $3.7. Now it's $5.9 billion, and this is taxpayer money. These are refunds that were supposed to be given to taxpayers. This is not some sort of special account; this is real money that would have gone back to the taxpayers underneath our -- our constitutionally passed TABOR Amendment.
CALDARA: That $3.1 billion, when you guys voted for it -- this was to help survive the ratchet -- the squeezing down of the budget. The only reason we needed to do this was to fix that ratchet that TABOR made, and we didn't -- we didn't want that. And that was going to be $3.1 billion, but did I just hear you say that's not $3.1 billion, it's going to be --
BALMER: $5.9 billion.
CALDARA: Almost double what they predicted.
CALDARA: If only, if only somebody out there predicted that this would happen.
CALDARA: This was a campaign that had over $10 million in the bank, they had a hundred and -- 1,200 organizations, the largest coalition in Colorado's history pushing it; they had every single daily newspaper in Colorado saying, "We need to do this, otherwise the state will, will melt down and it will be awful." And it only passed by about two percent. Referendum D actually failed, so we'll take credit for half of that. It passed; we're gonna have to live with it; we've got, we've got these next few years to live with it. And then I think, what you mentioned as far as raising the ceiling -- for a permanent ceiling -- that'll be challenged. We will challenge that, because you can't do that; you can't change a constitution with a, with a statutory change.
CALDARA: Why don't you keep what you said it would cost -- the $1. -- the $3.1, or even the $3.7 -- go ahead, keep that, and what's left over, give it back to the citizens? Any proposals like that?
BALMER: I haven't seen any. We, we had -- we tried to put an amendment on the budget bill to do something like that, and they wouldn't even allow it to be debated.
CALDARA: I'm willing to compromise. I wanna make this clear; I'm even willing to compromise. Instead of taking that money -- that extra $3 billion -- and giving it back to me, and my kids. How about this: For the next crisis -- because whenever we hear "crisis," it's a code word for, "We want a tax increase" -- how about we put it aside in a rainy-day fund so that then when the next crisis comes, when there's an economic downturn, you'll have nobody to whine to; you put it aside for a rainy day. How about that? I'm sure you guys have done that; that, that's a no-brainer.
BALMER: Well, we debated it, but they didn't pass it. And it even had bipartisan sponsorship, and it still didn't pass.
CALDARA: Who, who sponsored it by the way? They, they deserve a --
BALMER: A number of, of --
CALDARA: I know [State Rep.] Cory Gardner [R-Yuma] had an idea on that, and I know that --
BALMER: -- [State Rep.] Kevin Lundberg [R-Berthoud], [State Rep.] Bernie Buescher [D-Grand Junction] -- they all worked on it together. And, you know -- the legislature wouldn't pass it.
HILLMAN: Your friends at one of the liberal think tanks in town recently came out with a study that said that just for Colorado to get back to 25th among all of the states that we needed to raise taxes by I think $3 billion a year just to get to the -- and, and all they talked about in aiming for the middle --
CALDARA: You're kidding.
HILLMAN: -- is how much money we spend, not the return that we get. Well, if Colorado isn't getting its bang for the taxpayers' buck, why are so many people moving here? I think we're in a pretty good state and we're getting a pretty good value for state government; unfortunately, it's going to get more costly all the time.
CALDARA: Well, we've got a couple minutes, let me give you a couple predictions. I'd like to hear your predictions. We've got an election coming up next year, but we also have another legislative session. What kind of tax increases do you think are going to pop up? Let, let's assume everything stays the way it is. What's going to happen, what should we be alert for?
BALMER: I'm very concerned the Democrats are going to propose more taxes next year. Governor Ritter's already been talking about that. They don't seem to feel any accountability right now; because of the unpopularity of President Bush at the national level, they feel as if Republicans don't have much going for them, so they can do whatever, whatever they wanna do.
CALDARA: Unfortunately, they're right.
CALDARA: What do you think they're [Democrats] gonna do?
HILLMAN: I think they're smart enough to recognize that if they put three distinct tax increases on the ballot they, they probably will lose most if not all of them, and so they're trying to find some way -- a bond issue of some sort has been proposed -- that they can roll a couple of them that are politically popular up into one issue and try to run a Referendum C-style campaign for that. And that would be, I would suspect, the most politically pragmatic course that they'd take.
CALDARA: But aren't people going to remember that we just passed Ref. C by a mere two percent?