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The Colorado Revenue Limit

The Economic Effects of TABOR

Kim Rueben, Therese J. McGuire

Published: April 06, 2006
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The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).

The text below is a portion of the complete document.


In November 2005, Colorado residents voted to suspend for five years the state's self-imposed revenue caps as outlined in the state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR, which was passed as a constitutional amendment in 1992, limits the growth rate of revenues to population growth and inflation. The effects of TABOR on government spending and economic growth have been hotly debated in recent years. Proponents attribute much of Colorado's economic prosperity in the period immediately following adoption of the law to the limit and its effect on government spending and taxes.1 Opponents of TABOR argue that TABOR-induced reductions in government spending have led to curtailed government services, including those that voters and businesses care most about.2

To understand TABOR's effect on Colorado's economic health and growth, we compare Colorado to other states, controlling for prior history and economic and demographic characteristics in order to disentangle the effects of TABOR from other factors influencing Colorado's economic performance.

We begin with a description of TABOR and Referendum C, the measure enacted in November 2005 that suspended TABOR for five years and modified some of TABOR's requirements. We compare TABOR to Tax and Expenditure Limits (TELs) in other states. TABOR is by many measures the most binding TEL in the country. We also describe how TABOR interacts with other Colorado budget rules. We then describe the mechanism by which TELs might strengthen local and regional economies, and review the extensive empirical literature on both the effect of TELs on taxes and spending and on the effect of taxes on business location and economic growth. The meat of our analysis compares the growth rate of personal income and employment in Colorado to the growth rates in other states in the periods before and after passage of TABOR. While we find some very limited evidence for short-term increases to growth, these were not sustained in the longer term. The lack of a sustained effect holds up after controlling for economic and demographic characteristics of the states. The results of these analyses show that there is little empirical support for the notion that TABOR had a positive effect on Colorado's economy.

Notes from this section of the report

1. See, for example, New and Slivinski (2005) and Poulson and Holcombe (2005).

2. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has summarized the direct effect of TABOR on government services (Bradley and Lyons 2005) and evaluated how Colorado's experience is different from other states (Bradley 2005).

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).