In April, in order to close a budget deficit brought on by the recession, the legislature cut $4 billion from its 2009-11 state budget. That included cutting $240 million -- or 40,000 people -- from the state's Basic Health insurance plan for the poor and $100 million from the state's trust fund that supports construction of affordable housing, to name two major reductions.
If Initiative 1033 passes, human services advocates say, it will make those cuts look like a walk in the park.
The latest measure to be put on the ballot by anti-tax crusader Tim Eyman, I-1033 starts with a simple premise: that the growth of government revenue shouldn't outstrip property owners' ability to pay. The initiative would cap how much annual property tax revenue the state could collect through a formula linking inflation to population growth. If tax collections exceed a certain point, the state would have to return the excess in the form of rebates to property owners.
To people who own homes, apartment buildings or offices, that might sound like a great idea: Who doesn't want a rebate check? But opponents of I-1033 say that passing such an initiative in a recession would keep revenue so low that the state would find itself in a permanent cycle of cutting education, healthcare and human services and, as a result, unable to reach economic recovery.
That, says Carol Hedges, an analyst with the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, is what happened in her state after voters approved a similar measure in 1992. After its passage, Hedges told Real Change in July, Colorado's spending on K-12 and higher education dropped through the floor, its ranking in prenatal care went from 23rd to 48th in the nation, and it is now dead last in the percentage of low-income children covered by health insurance, a drop from 33rd place.
The situation got so bad, she said, that a Colorado business coalition helped pass a 2005 referendum that suspended the law for five years because the state found itself lingering in the 2001 recession and unable to attract new jobs.
"It would slow down any economic recovery that we hope is coming," says Elaine Rose, chief executive officer of the advocacy group Planned Parenthood Votes! Washington. "We know it's a proven failure -- we just have to look at Colorado."
In Washington, Rose says, the consequences would be equally disastrous, resulting in cuts to family planning services, nursing-home care, education, children's health care -- "the list goes on and on," she says. In the current 2009-11 biennium, the state has already cut 70 percent, or $3.5 million, in funding to family planning clinics, Rose says. By the end of next June, that means roughly 15,000 low-income women will have lost family planning services that are in many cases the only health care they get, she says.
"If 1033 comes into play," Rose says, "we're not going to have any options. We're going to be cutting everywhere."
In radio and television appearances, Eyman has responded to such concerns by saying that voters can always raise taxes if they want. But, "We think that when the public learns about what this initiative can do," Rose says, "they will vote against it."