Missing from Fiscal Reform & the Ballot: Tax Fairness

Over the last few weeks, thousands of activists carried petitions and spread the word about the Fair Tax Colorado ballot initiative. The energy and commitment we saw was unbelievable and showed the power of what happens when we transform policy ideas into activism on the ground. 

As strong and exciting as this final push was, it wasn’t enough to overcome the unprecedented hurdles that came in the way of qualifying Initiative 271 for the ballot. Even still, we collected thousands of petitions, each carrying the names and signatures of Coloradans who stood up to be counted in support of a more fair tax system and better funded state. Even though Initiative 271 won’t be on ballot this fall, these Coloradans are the foundation of a much larger movement that isn’t going away anytime soon.

I firmly believe if the many obstacles we faced over the last few months — gathering signatures during a pandemic, a Supreme Court ruling that eliminated electronic single-line petitions — didn’t exist, not only would tax fairness be on the 2020 ballot, but it would win, too. 

There is simply no analysis of Colorado’s economic gaps that does not lead back to the regressive impact our state’s decline in funding for vital public services has had on economic mobility. Because of this, we’ve participated in every coalition, strategy table, and campaign that’s come together to address our state’s painful financial needs. We have, and continue to be, Colorado’s go-to resource for education, messaging, and analysis on fiscal issues. After 20 years of working on this challenge, it’s become clear to us this work must be done differently.

Aside from the notable exception of Referendum C in 2000, none of these efforts has been successful. That’s why the Bell began working with a coalition of organizations last year to begin thinking about this work differently. Together, we reached out to thousands of stakeholders and activists. We tested legal approaches to ballot design. We poll tested various options that included a repeal of TABOR itself and a limited authorization of legislative authority to set tax policy. After all of that, it became clear the missing link for voters in this conversation about fiscal policy is the issue of tax fairness. That’s why we decided to press forward with Fair Tax Colorado — a historic approach to fiscal health that would give 95% of Coloradans a tax cut while creating three new tax brackets for taxpayers earning over $250,000 in income. 

This idea of a fair tax system that adequately funds our schools, roads, health, and human services will endure well beyond Initiative 271. Beyond the ballot process, there are numerous opportunities for our legislators to make the tax code less unfair at the Capitol. That work must continue.

For the Bell Policy Center, our commitment to tax fairness isn’t just a political innovation — it’s a recognition of the degrading effects economic stratification and inequality have had on our communities. We won’t stop until those effects are reversed and Colorado truly lives up to its reputation as the best economy in the nation. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be rolling out more information about where this work is heading next and how you can bring your voice to the conversation. 

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