• WisPolitics
1/6/2005

Voters Like Having a Say

By Rep. Lasee

“The goal…is to begin building a movement that will change Wisconsin's political landscape, giving power back to people” instead of to the special spending interests who lobby our government for favors, at the expense of the taxpayers.

This quote is from this Wisconsin State Journal story about the People’s Legislature, Ed Garvey’s latest project. Power to the people, not the spending interests.

Glad to have you on board, Mr. Garvey. That’s exactly what the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is all about.

Garvey and his supporters say that state government is closed to the people – that only those with big wallets (they say the “corporate interests,” I say the “spending lobby”) can get the attention of our elected officials.

Their solution, create a symbolic “People’s Legislature” that will get some headlines, but little else.

Our solution: put that power where it belongs, in the people’s hands.

That’s what’s happened in Colorado, the first state to enact a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Government has to be more open, have more dialog, be more accountable to the people government serves, because the people have the final say. This is why TABOR remains popular in Colorado.

In a pair of articles earlier this week, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Steven Walters wrote about the state of Colorado, the first state to enact a TABOR constitutional amendment (part one, part two).

Here’s a sample: “After decades of residents getting hammered by rising taxes that were approved by elected officials, they (Don and Ben Eckhardt of Greely, CO) say it's only fair that any state or local tax increase now must go through voters.”

“The amendment's bedrock premise - Colorado governments at all levels must get permission from their voters before raising their taxes - remains so popular that, as officials scramble to fix state government's fiscal mess, leaders of both parties agree it must stay in place.”

“’Voter approval of tax increases is extremely popular, and politically untouchable,’ conceded House Speaker-elect Andrew Romanoff, the first Democrat who will lead the Colorado House since the 1960s.”

And the voters have approved more spending. Greeley officials complain about a lack of funding for schools, and social services. Yet they’ve asked for and received voter permission to keep tax income they would have otherwise had to refund; continue a local sales tax; and build a new police station, ice arena, museum, and rec center with a water park.

In fact, according to Walters’ story, 93% of municipal referendums pass. When government has to package new spending in some way the voters will approve, the voters approve it.

One of the most common arguments against TABOR is this: we elect people to make these decisions for us. The voters get what they vote for.

Yet we all know that’s not entirely the case. It’s not at all uncommon for a candidate to say one thing, then do another. Why? Because spending interests have learned how to put pressure on elected officials who want to keep spending down.

Garvey and his crew have noticed that, and they want to open government back up.

So do we. While Garvey looks for symbolism, let’s do something substantive. Let’s pass a Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

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