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The Libertarian

Vin Suprynowicz

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Colorado led the way, a decade ago. History had shown that “voluntary spending limits” adopted by legislative bodies are easily (and inevitably) sidestepped, violated and/or ignored by the very same legislators who enact them.

Whether on the federal or state level, the “emergency of the year” is promptly declared, and the share of the nation’s wealth being consumed by bureaucratic parasites starts ratcheting up again.

But a decade ago, Colorado voters tried something different. Their “Taxpayers Bill of Rights,” or “TABOR,” was enacted as a Constitutional amendment, restricting government growth to a combination of inflation and population growth.

“Colorado voters passed a more ironclad version, and lawmakers there have not been able to find a way around it without voter permission,” admits the Los Angeles Times, a journal which seems to consider such restrictions on government growth with an anathema usually reserved for those who attempt to poison municipal water supplies.

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who used to claim to be a fiscal conservative, is now campaigning for just such “voter permission” -- a special exception to let Colorado’s state budget grow by a few billion dollars “just this once” -- a term familiar to any relative of a junkie or alcoholic.

Of course, after five more years of runaway spending, the plan would be for that level of profligacy to form the “new baseline” for future spending growth.

Dan Hopkins, a spokesman for Gov. Owens, says voters there are confused about this request for a huge tax increase. “They are calling this a tax increase,” he says with a straight face. “It clearly is not.”

(Perhaps Denver’s politicians only seek permission to spend money they have found in a pot at the end of the rainbow?)

Fortunately, the default setting in Colorado is now that government must live within its means. And the Times reports only 43 percent of Colorado voters now support the turncoat Gov. Owens’ “one-time exemption.”

What’s more, other states are starting to get the idea.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants voters there to approve his “Live Within Our Means Act” come November. The California version would limit budget growth to the average budget growth of the three previous years. But regardless of the precise formula, those who have begun to watch the growth curve and realize it’s only a matter of time before government paper-pushers consume the majority of the nation’s wealth now view such voter initiatives as “a centerpiece of a nationwide strategy ... to slash government spending in state capitals across the country,” the Times wailed in its lead new story on July 25.

(In fact, no measure now proposed would “slash state spending.” Not one of them would even freeze state spending. Every current proposal allows state spending to continue growing at the same rate the average taxpayer’s income is likely to grow, or more.)

“This is the next big thing at the state level,” declares Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist. “Soon you will see it on the ballot in every initiative state.”

Ohio will join California in considering a TABOR this fall. Petition passers in Maine and Oregon are on a pace to present such measures to their voters in 2006.

Make no mistake: Voter initiative is the only way to enact this vital reform. Twenty-three state legislatures (including Nevada’s) had a chance to enact some form of TABOR this year. None did.

“We citizen activists have got to find a way to put restraints on our legislators,” explains former House Majority leader Dick Armey, who now runs the FreedomWorks organization in Washington, D.C. “We think California is ... a trend-setting state. Getting it done in California will set a very good example for all these other states.”

Given the massive and unnecessary tax trauma Nevadans have sustained at the hands of their own supposedly “conservative” governor and state senate, Silver State voters cannot afford to lag behind in this trend.

Big-spending special interest groups who want government bureaucrats to control every aspect of our lives are quick to shriek that such modest limits on government growth “threaten to undermine the stability of state governments.” But levels of spending growth which any kid with a calculator knows must lead inevitably to bankruptcy can hardly be dubbed “stability.” All that is demanded is that the bureaucrats set some priorities -- if they talk of old people starving under the highway overpasses, they merely mean they would prefer that to any adjustment in their own luxurious retirement, overtime, and benefits package.

Nevada now enters a gubernatorial election season. A Nevada TABOR should be front and center as the dominant issue of that campaign.

Let the petition passers begin their work with a vengeance, now. Let every gubernatorial candidate and hopeful be called to account. Are they in favor of limiting future government growth to a sensible combination of population growth and inflation, with any surplus tax revenues being promptly and fully refunded to the taxpayers?

Or do they stand for waste and profligacy, for bankrupting us all in order to erect a police and regulatory state sufficiently massive to put the goose-stepping villains of yesteryear to shame?

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