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Ranking Colorado's Tax Burden

Rep. Lois Court sent out her blast email yesterday, trying to put in a few bullet points the fiscal tangle we're in.  Give her credit, she did mention Amendment 23.  But the bulk of the bullet points were about Bird-Arvescough, TABOR, and a claim that the Tax Foundation says we're 6th from the bottom in state tax burden.

Look again.  Maybe we're 6th from the bottom in state tax burden only, or in per capital dollars taken in by the state.  But what counts is state and local tax burden, since a large proportion of state outlays go to localities.  Unless you're freezing property taxes, local taxes can replace state funding, and vice-versa.

  • In 2008, according to the aforementioned Tax Foundation, Colorado wasn't 46th (counting DC), it was 34th in percentage of personal income taken for state & local taxes
  • According to a calculation I made from Census Bureau data, we were 40th in per capita dollars
  • According to Governing Magazine, in 2006, we were 20th in dollars, and 38th in percentage of personal income taken for taxes
Lois also stated that "we can't borrow our way out of the problem."  No, but the state can - and has - issued debt to pay for capital projects.  Oh, has it ever.  Also according to governing, we're 6th in the country in state & local debt as a percentage of state & local revenue at 97%.  According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, we're 48th in debt service as a percentage of the state budget, at over 11%.

No, we can't borrow our way of the problem; we've borrowed our way into the problem.

Finally, Lois claims that "Taxes + Fees = Revenues = Services."  Well, sort of.  A number of programs and departments have done little more than hire more staff, and a considerable amount of state government goes not to providing services but to writing and enforcing regulation and to re-distributing wealth.

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