Taxpayers have rights too

Could a taxpayers' bill of rights come to New York?

In 1992, after several attempts had been foiled by the legislature, Colorado’s voters adopted by initiative the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR). This set a maximum amount by which state expenditure could rise and mandated that any state surplus should be immediately returned to taxpayers. It was a pioneering measure, and as it is written into the state’s constitution it is hard for legislators to get around it. This is important because, as Scott LaGanga of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) points out anything that restricts their right to spend taxpayers’ money.

But even legislators don’t hate TABORs as much as the special interests do. It is inconvenient that special interests don’t drop large checks into your campaign fund, but when you are legally restrained from spending money, they don’t fund your opponents either. The store is empty, and there is nothing for the money men to buy.

The results in Colorado have been remarkable. TABOR brought new business into the state, sucking in tech investment from California. It makes sense. If you are investing, you want a stable business climate. You don’t want taxes shooting up, or the state doling out subsidies to your competitors. But much as large businesses have benefited, Scott LaGanga argues that small Mom & Pop businesses have benefited more. Big business have always been able to afford the best accountants and attorneys. It is entrepreneurs, with their own money at stake, who really need the stable climate that TABOR brings.

So far, efforts to bring these sort of rights to New York’s taxpayers have been unsuccessful. The Republican Party remains pretty weak in the state legislature and the state has no right of voter initiative. Colorado is a long way off and has been sucking jobs from neighboring western states. In the heart of blue state America, New York borders only on other blue states, and high tax Canada.

But even in the North East, taxpayers are waking up to their rights. A powerful movement to enact a constitutional TABOR in Maine is gathering pace. At the moment it is making progress in the legislature, but if it stalls there, supporters are confident they have enough signatures to put the matter to an initiative.

Nor is the TABOR movement limited to small and medium-sized states. Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar are driving forward initiatives as well. This is just the sort of boost that Ohio’s struggling businesses need if the state is to see the sort of jobs growth that low tax states have seen.

And couldn’t we say the same of New York?

Bringing in such a measure in New York will not be easy. Without the right of initiative, it would require a leader of charisma and commitment on the Schwarzeneggar scale to win that fight. But then, opinion polls seem to suggest Rudi Giuliani would beat Eliot Spitzer by a thumping margin if both run for Governor next year.

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