AP falsely reported that “voters agreed to” $3.7 billion in Ref. C spending

The Associated Press falsely reported that Colorado voters “agreed to give up” $3.7 billion “from their state tax surpluses over the next five years.” In fact, in approving Referendum C in 2005, voters did not set a limit authorizing the state “to retain and spend all state revenues” through 2010.

In an August 11 article summarizing the positions expressed by gubernatorial candidates Bob Beauprez (R) and Bill Ritter (D) in an August 11 debate, the Associated Press reported that “Beauprez said the state should not spend more than the $3.7 billion voters agreed to give up from their state tax surpluses over the next five years” when they approved Referendum C in 2005. In fact, voters did not “agree[] to give up” "$3.7 billion." Rather, in approving Referendum C, voters authorized the state “to retain and spend all state revenues” through 2010, suspending the spending restrictions imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR).

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, the entry for Referendum C in the 2005 ballot information booklet known as the Blue Book “estimate[d]” that such retained revenues would amount to $3.7 billion, but explicitly noted that "[t]he exact amount of the spending increase could be higher or lower, depending on the economy and the amount of money collected."

Ritter made this fact clear during the August 11 debate. Referring to the $3.7 billion figure, Ritter stated: “That was the estimate in the Blue Book. It was clearly articulated as an estimate.”

Since the Blue Book estimate was released, Colorado's economy has significantly improved, according to a March 21 article by Rocky Mountain News staff reporter Lynn Bartels. The article reported: “Legislative economist Mike Mauer told the Joint Budget Committee that general fund revenues have been revised upward $165 million since the last forecast in December. The strong revenue picture -- after several years of an economic downturn -- means more money for state construction projects, including repairing higher-education buildings and more money for roads, state officials said.”

From the August 11 AP item:

TAX SURPLUS: Beauprez said the state should not spend more than the $3.7 billion voters agreed to give up from their state tax surpluses over the next five years, even though the estimated tax surplus has soared to as high as $5 billion because of the economic recovery. Ritter said voters knew what they were doing when they allowed the state to keep the money and it should be used to fix continuing problems in education, transportation and health care.

From the August 11 debate sponsored by Denver PBS affiliate KBDI Channel 12, Denver CBS affiliate KCNC and the Rocky Mountain News:

AARON HARBER (moderator): In regard to Referendum C though, and we certainly want Bob to answer the question too, Bill, the measure that passed was touted as bringing in $3.7 mill -- 3.7 billion in additional revenue to the state -- taxes already being collected by the state. There are some projections already that say that could be five -- $5.1 billion. Isn't it reasonable for voters to assume that once that $3.7 billion is reached, any additional amount should be returned to taxpayers, or is that unreasonable?

RITTER: That was the estimate in the Blue Book. It was clearly articulated as an estimate. And, in fact, the cap on Referendum C is five years. After five years, we're back into the TABOR limits, and that's what the voters knew and the voters understood. Everything else was treated as an estimate.


BEAUPREZ: I think it's a legitimate question. You I assume have to live within limits. My family does, small businesses do, everybody else in the real world has to live within limits, shouldn't government?


BEAUPREZ: I think it's a legitimate question to put on the table. I think it ought to be on the table always with government. Is when enough, enough? Look, I never denied, never denied that the state needed the money. I want to make that very, very clear -- that my opposition to Referendum C wasn't that they needed the money. I would have created the money, the short-term money, by looking at securitizing some of the tobacco receipts -- the revenue, by dealing with the $8 billion dollars of real estate assets we have and managing those more carefully, perhaps even liquidating some. I would create the money in the short-term but fix the problem. Here's where we are with Referendum C having passed. We still have exactly the same circumstances that got us into that predicament still out there.


BEAUPREZ: The premise that was put forward with C and D was that the state needed 400 million, plus or minus, for the next two years, to catch up. Seven hundred [million] came in. Guess what, [Rocky Mountain News reporter] Stuart [Steers]? They spent it all.


HARBER: You said you wanted it on the table. Will you lead an effort to refund anything over 3.7 billion?

BEAUPREZ: We're going to unroll a budget plan that does exactly that.

HARBER: And Bill, what would you do?

RITTER: No, I'm going to let the five-year cap take place, let it go for five years, spend that money according to the budget plan that we put out today in terms of running government in an efficient way, where we look for all the waste and inefficiencies, but I'd like to take our per-pupil spending in higher education and just get to the national average.

Get out of the pit. Get out of the base. Because that's fundamental too, not just to the kids of this state, poor kids and their ability to go to school, and other kids who struggle with tuition. It's fundamental to economic development.