Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TABOR - Maine Taxpayer Bill of Rights

TABOR opponents share a common description – they all profit from a lack of limitation on Augusta’s ability to dip into your wallet. If only for that reason, TABOR (Question 1) should be passed.

That said, all TABOR like attempts to control spending or taxes will have structural problems. Simply put, we live in a world where laws interact and legislative approaches to problems are historically blind to those interactions. Thus, a passed TABOR will be modified.

I have a perverse love for the paradoxical and TABOR offers the possibility of true passion. We start with the idea that TABOR is a law, not – as it was in Colorado – a Constitutional Amendment.

This is a good thing. It means that the legislature can make necessary adjustments, restructuring as necessary within the political realities of voter approval.

Absent TABOR, Augusta will function with “business as usual” – much talk, little action, and special interest groups would be free to dip into the treasury for every hair brained emotional hot-button issue.

If, in post-election implementation, TABOR means the budget will either echo the previous year, or increase based on inflation and population increase – there will be no horror stories.

If TABOR imposes budgetary decreases, it is seriously flawed in the same way the Colorado act was. Any surpluses should reduce bond debt, increase our reserves, or infrastructure improvements.

The problem is not in the formula, but rather in things outside the control of that formula – such as Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and using our National Guardsmen to destabilize Middle Eastern nations.

NCLB mandates educational goals and qualifications. We need “Highly Qualified” teachers, and teachers are paid based on academic credentials and years of experience. They are paid based on“steps”.

Regardless of the vote, decreases in student populations mean elimination of a teaching positions. But budgets will still rise with pay steps and improved credentials. With, or without TABOR, the state must pay it’s full 55 percent share and administrative costs must be reduced through a consolidation of districts.

Short answer to all budgetary options – formula budgets cannot succeed any more than budgets driven by special interest groups and pork legislation. At least not if they mandate budgetary decreases rather than creating debt free reserves.

TABOR is not perfect, it is not ideal, it is an attempt to address a timeless paradox of life – be it monarchy, theocracy, or democracy, politicians control government, and government requires revenues in order to preform its societal role. The sources of these revenues are the assets of the governed, and there must be constraints on the ability of politicians to divert those assets to meaningless hot-button causes.

TABOR places a restriction on the appropriation of assets. The Heritage Policy Center has estimated, if TABOR passes, Maine residents will, over the next 12 years, gain $3.25 for every dollar rise in personal income. Like the horror stories, why believe this?

The ability keep your assets means there will be more revenue moving through the economy to move economic growth and generate still more revenue. To enhance the process, we need mil rates which are uniform – regional surpluses could applied to regional deficits.

TABOR worked in Colorado – until mandatory decreases were triggered. Here, the newly elected legislature can address any such accidental misfortunes and paradoxes.

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