Jerry Kopel

Sept. 9, 2006
Brad Young and I served together in the House is 1991-92. It was his first term and my last term. Brad was laid-back, didn't talk at the mike very much, was respectful and quiet, sort of Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western.
Now I know the real Brad Young. He saved all his words for a book entitled "TABOR and Direct Democracy, an Essay on the End of the  Republic." The book is published by Fulcrum Publishing of Golden as part of as series called "Speaker's Corner Books."
If dispute over controversial issues is your forte, Brad is in good company: "God and Caesar in America" by Gary Hart; "Social Security and the Golden Age" by George McGovern; "Two Wands, One Nation" by Dick Lamm, are some of the series authors.
Brad came back to the House in late 1996, following the death of a fellow Republican legislator, and stayed for four more terms. Too bad we have term limits. Brad, 53 years old, an engineering and economic consultant and teacher in non-legislative life, is what the House is presently missing on the Republican side, someone to stand up and rationally debate the TABORites in his own party.
He chaired the Joint Budget Committee in his last year in office and knows what would have happened if Referendum C had not passed, and what will happen after the five year TABOR time-out ends.
A quote on the book cover tells what you will find inside: "the TABOR amendment has become a Trojan horse", and "how direct democracy has led us astray".
This column is not a condensation of Young's book. How he gets to his conclusions requires you to read the book.
The Immense TABOR Loophole
First conclusion: "The limit (in TABOR) of population growth plus inflation does not allow the growth of government to keep pace with the economy.  As a result TABOR is an annual tax cut and state government must continually shrink relative to the economy. TABOR eventually and inevitably leads to an ongoing degenerative direct democracy over the state budget." 
In other words, Young blames the failure to consider that economy is a factor will continue to reduce state  government after the Referendum C five-year period ends unless the issue is again placed on the ballot.
Young believes if Referendum C had not passed there would have been no revenue for transportation or capital construction. "By not taxing increases in productivity, the role of government can be slowly peeled away, year after year." (Think of an onion peeled, not sliced.)
Young targets Douglas Bruce, the author of TABOR, for the loophole. "The man who wrote TABOR understood it completely." The increase on the economy due to productivity that is left out of the TABOR formula "is the heart of TABOR and it is quite ingenious."
Direct Democracy
Second conclusion: Young states "The political premise of TABOR is that representative government is a failure."
Isn't direct democracy the tool to avoid the effect of TABOR by voting on tax increases? The book explains why "direct" isn't :direct".
Young responds: "Elective officials weigh arguments for and against issues and have the freedom to amend bills, come to compromise on complex issues and look out for their constituent interests."
By the initiative route, "special interests can write legislation without the need to be concerned about negotiating with competing interests. The winner is generally the one that is able to make the most effective thirty-second sound bite.
" Direct democracy only allows a yes or no vote on complex and competing interests. Special interests are  not constrained to telling the truth in the public campaigns. Obfuscation is a tool that is easy to use..."
"If voters distrust elected officials enough to take the revenue base away from their control, who would voters believe that elected officials are correct in their assessments that the money is needed?
"Preparing a state budget is the single most important and complex function of any state legislature. The budget encompasses the priorities of state policy more than any other document or bill.
"Direct democracy is ill equipped to plan or pass budgets. It is not that voters lack intelligence." (Brad lists the priorities of making a living and raising a family.) "Even if they try to stay informed about politics and government, sources of information are often random or concentrated on specific issues. Even legislators can't be experts on the needs of every part of the state budget."
Brad Young's book makes it as easy as possible to follow a complex issue. Complexity may drive away some readers, but it is worth the time for legislators. not only in Colorado, but in other states considering a TABOR approach to avoid the errors of Colorado's version.
Hopefully letters to this paper on the conclusions will draw responses from the author of "TABOR and Direct Democracy."
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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