LEWISTON – A messenger from Colorado will visit Lewiston today with a dire warning about the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

State Sen. Steve Johnson, assistant minority leader of the Colorado State Senate, will talk about what he describes as TABOR’s negative affect on his home state’s economy.

The event, which is open to the public, begins at 6:30 p.m. today at the Colisee and is sponsored by the Maine Municipal Association, which opposes TABOR.

“TABOR did not work for the people of Colorado or for the Colorado economy,” Johnson said. “Even with the suspension of the TABOR spending limits, we have a lot of catching up to do to make up the damage that TABOR caused for our schools, universities, transportation and other needs.”

Johnson cited the declining support that the state has been able to provide to the University of Colorado and to its infrastructure.

“If we hadn’t repealed TABOR for five years when we did, our state would have been the only one in the country not to provide state aid to the university system,” Johnson said.

In the 14 years since TABOR passed, he said, the university system has seen a 40 percent decrease in funding, double-digit yearly tuition increases and the amount of general fund money spent on transportation dropped to zero.

TABOR would limit increases in state and local government spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth and require voter approval for any tax or fee increase. Increases beyond the limits would have to win support from two-thirds of the Legislature or governing body and then also be sent to voters for approval.

Colorado’s TABOR is the granddaddy of similar proposals around the country. It was enacted as a constitutional amendment in 1992. Johnson, a Republican, was elected in 2002 and was one of the leading advocates for the successful effort to suspend TABOR’s spending limits in 2005.

“When we first heard about TABOR, it sounded like a good idea,” Johnson said. “It’s very flawed.”

In Maine’s world of dueling think tanks, Johnson’s visit to Maine is being coordinated by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal think tank that opposes TABOR.

At noon today, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich will be the keynote speaker at the annual Freedom and Opportunity Luncheon, sponsored by The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a conservative think tank.

Gingrich’s remarks are titled “Fiscal Responsibility and Healthcare Transformation: Needed and Compatible Reforms,” a topic consistent with MHPC’s goals of promoting market-based reforms in the delivery of health care. The Maine Heritage Policy Center is also a strong advocate for TABOR and wrote Maine’s version, which goes to voters in November.

Tickets are no longer available for the event, the MHPC said Tuesday.

Two years ago, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens spoke at the Heritage Freedom and Opportunity Luncheon, and he delivered a very different message than Johnson’s.

Tax advocate Mary Adams, who has led the charge to enact Maine’s version of TABOR, was honored that year, and she encapsulates the message Owens has delivered in Maine.

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