Lam Quynh Vo, Outreach and Communications Fellow
Hi there, my name is Lam and I’m the new Outreach and Communications Fellow here at CCHI. For the past three months I have dived deep into the trenches of the American health care system and the health coverage landscape in Colorado. As someone who first set foot in the US roughly four years ago, I’m still trying to make sense of how this country works. What do you mean there is no universal healthcare? How can patients be billed (and expected to pay!) thousands of dollars? I’ve also been trying to understand the upcoming November ballot measure Proposition CC. Read along as I unwrap what the proposed changes might mean for the future of Colorado.
It all starts in 1992, when Colorado voters approved TABOR—one of the most restrictive tax laws in any state in the country—the main objective of which is to “reasonably restrain most growth of the government”, as mentioned in the Colorado Constitution. TABOR prohibits certain taxes altogether, sets requirements for how revenue questions appear on the ballot, prohibits the state legislature or other local governments from increasing taxes without voter approval, and limits growth in government spending. The growth limit is adjusted each year to account for inflation and state population growth; in the 2019‑20 state budget year, it is roughly $15 billion. Any revenue above this limit will be refunded to taxpayers as TABOR rebates, which are entirely different from the refunds we get when filing our annual tax return.
You may be thinking, “Of course I want my refund!” or “Well, isn’t it great that someone is keeping the government in check?”
The problem is that TABOR is an outdated tax policy that has outlived its potential. It unnecessarily ties the hands of our state legislature and limits their ability to serve their constituents. This is made evident in the way core public services, such as K-12 education, higher education and transportation, have suffered. For instance, despite having one of the strongest economies in the country, Colorado ranks 42nd in per pupil spending, 46th for teacher pay, and 48th in higher education funding. We also have backlogged transportation projects that would cost us an estimated $9 billion to fix, including poorly maintained highways, congested roads, and unsafe bridges. Although we have witnessed booming economic growth in recent decades, TABOR has prevented the government from taking advantage of a rising economy to necessary investments; instead, the money collected above the revenue cap has been refunded to taxpayers. Depending on income, the estimated refund ranges from $10 to $629 for single-filers for the 2019 tax year.
Proposition CC is a measure on November 2019 ballot that seeks to eliminate the state’s revenue caps (so-called “debrucing”) in order to solve these issues. If passed, Prop CC will invest in our communities by allowing the government to keep and spend the money it already collects from us to spend on K-12 education, higher education, and transportation. Prop CC will allow us to invest in our students and teachers, our roads and bridges, and our families and communities. The good news is we can do all this without raising taxes. The tax rate would stay the same and the state would simply keep revenue that exceeds the revenue cap instead of refunding it to individuals. And no, it is not a blank check: Prop CC requires annual, independent audits to show the public how the money was spent.
If Prop CC passes, a Coloradan earning the median income of $69,000 would forgo $27 of their 2021 state tax refund to support these public investments. $27 can certainly be a lot of money to some, but imagine what all the individual $27 refunds could do collectively if invested in our public services.
But why is this issue important to CCHI? Investments in education act as investments in health. People with limited education have more serious illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, which result to higher health care costs, and fewer productive workers contributing to the economy. Unfortunately when money runs low, spending and budget in education tend to be cut in order to have more money for curbing health care costs. However, investing in education addresses upstream factors and root problems to prevent high health care costs downstream. Colorado has the best economy in the country, but we need to stop drinking our own Kool-Aid. Addressing education as a social determinant of health will help us tackle health care costs at the root.
Passing Prop CC ensures investment in our education, community, health, and future. While Proposition CC is not a magical solution—nor will it fully resolve our school funding crisis or transportation issues —it will help move Colorado forward, and ensure that all Coloradans will have more equitable access to opportunities to improve their health.