7 March 2006
Taxpayer Bill of Goods
I tend to be suspicious of anything that's labeled a Bill of Rights: the likelihood that any legislative package deserves this auspicious a title, I reason, is scant indeed.
The proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights has been kicking around a while, and actually got adopted in Colorado and promptly got suspended when the state ran up against a recession, which duly cut available funds for state spending. At the very least, the Colorado version of TABOR seems a bit inflexible; I am assured that the Oklahoma implementation, to appear on the ballot as State Question 726, will be different.
This is not to say better, though. If the Oklahoma legislature had carte blanche to raise taxes any time it wanted, I could see the need for TABOR; but in point of fact, the state has some fairly stringent spending limits already. Even the State Chamber knows this. Kent Olson of Oklahoma 21st Century, a think tank affiliated with the Chamber, made this clear last week:
"Oklahoma's TEL, Taxation Expenditure Limits, is one of the most stringent in the country," Olson explained.
He said the main problem with TABOR is that it does not take into account the effect of [the] state's aging population on population growth. With Oklahoma's continuously aging population, Olson said those residents will have different expenditure needs than younger Oklahomans.
Olson added that TABOR in its current form would drastically shrink Oklahoma state government, falling from a current level of 8 percent to just 3 percent, which Olson said is "frightening to say the least."
The bottom line, Olson said, is that the state needs to engage in a serious debate about what Oklahomans want government to do and how large it should be. He said adopting TABOR will not settle the issue and will make the problem more difficult to solve.
I'm not quite so frightened by this prospect and the State Chamber is under no obligation to accept this finding as its official position but I'm inclined to agree with Dr Olson: we need to find a proper size for government before we think about ordering a straitjacket.
Update, 14 March: Francis W. Porretto suggests that even TABORs aren't enough:
[A] TABOR measure is only a first step. Our spending mess is what it is because governments have seized many powers and responsibilities their enabling documents never granted them. To reverse the trend in government growth will require the reassertion of the principle of constitutionally enumerated and limited powers: each and every bill that comes before any legislature must begin with the specific Constitutional or charter clause that authorizes the relevant level and organ of government to do what it proposes to do.
To me, that is the more logical first step; we can work on (de)funding issues later.