This 1990 Chuck Asay cartoon in the Gazette, “Off with Meter Heads,” questioned whether, “tax revolt leader Douglas Bruce may be going too far with his latest tax limitation petition drive. What’s next…parking meters?” Conservative activist Bruce authored the 1992 Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights known as TABOR, a controversial spending limitation measure. The year before, Bruce authored a similar TABOR approved by voters in Colorado Springs. Proponents of these measures point to lawmakers’ inability to raise taxes without voter approval. Opponents cite many poorly understood consequences including revenue caps and the “ratchet-down effect,” which limits the delivery of vital government services.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is one of the most restrictive tax and spending limit laws in the United States and its first successful iteration came directly from Colorado Springs. When Douglas Bruce first proposed Amendment 6 to the Colorado Constitution in 1988 he called TABOR a “”moderate, responsible, comprehensive answer to the tax-and-spend approach to government.” The key to Bruce’s amendment was the belief that taxpayers should have the right to directly approve any new taxes and fees placed upon them. Opponents of Bruce said his measures would gut the government’s budget and prevent essential services from operating properly. Even though Bruce’s proposed changes to the Colorado Constitution failed at the ballot throughout the state voters did heavily approve of the measure in Colorado Springs. A similar statewide measure, again spearheaded by Bruce, failed in 1990.

TABOR finally found success on a local level in 1991. During the municipal election Colorado Springs’ voters approved the addition of Amendment 3 and Amendment 4 to the City Charter. Amendment 3 limited increases in city spending and required voter approval of new taxes and fees. Amendment 4 limited or cut taxes, such as sales and property taxes. The success of TABOR in Colorado Springs relied of the defiant Bruce finally creating a law that had mass appeal. Prior iterations of TABOR had been too extreme to attract bipartisan support. An early draft that required the removal of parking meters was abandoned when it was widely rejected by politicians and citizens alike. Bruce also added stopgaps, allowing for the delay of tax cuts depending on the city budget and for tax increases to be permissible with voter approval. By adding flexibility and more voter oversight into the law, Bruce finally had a successful blueprint for TABOR.

In 1992, on the third attempt, Colorado voters approved a statewide TABOR measure. Not only did this amendment require voter approval on tax increases, but it also capped the amount the state budget could grow each year based on population growth plus inflation. After nearly 3 decades TABOR has undergone many changes but remains Colorado state law. By passing laws like Referendum C in 2005, which allowed the state to retain the money above its TABOR cap for 5 years, Coloradoans have shown they do not mind taxes, as long as they have a say in them.

Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician

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