LEWISTON – Colorado state Sen. Steve Johnson took sharp aim at Maine’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights Wednesday night.

For 14 years, Colorado has suffered from the painful effects of that state’s version of the spending and taxation limits that are now proposed in Maine, Johnson said.

Speaking to a mostly receptive crowd sprinkled with state and municipal lawmakers gathered at Lewiston’s Colisee, Johnson described how TABOR had transformed Colorado, forcing massive reductions in state spending on higher education, health care and government services.

“I didn’t come here to tell you how to handle this decision in Maine,” said Johnson, a Republican and assistant minority leader in the state Senate. “Our state has lived through the pain and damage. I’ve seen what it does in my state. … This TABOR amendment fundamentally changed everything we do in Colorado.”

Colorado adopted TABOR as a constitutional amendment in 1992. Since then the state has been forced to make difficult cuts across to government programs.

Johnson cited a long list of numbers to make his point.

• After TABOR, average teacher salaries went from 35th in the country to 48th.

• State spending on the university system dropped 40 percent while the student population was growing by 20 percent and in another 10 years it would have been the only state to provide no state aid to higher education.

• After TABOR, Colorado dropped from 24th in the country to 50th for the number of children immunized and was forced to suspend its school immunization requirement one year because the state couldn’t pay for poor children to get their shots.

• Funding for meals for wheels was cut 30 percent.

• No general fund money was spent on transportation.

“These aren’t just statistics. They have human faces,” Johnson said. “Whey you cut these programs, it has an effect on people’s lives.”

In 2005, 52 percent of Colorado voters agreed to suspend TABOR’s spending limits for five years. Johnson sponsored the suspension in the state Senate.

“TABOR produced very serious damage to our state,” Johnson said. “When it produces this damage in your state, it will be harder to get out from under.”

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.

TABOR will appear on the ballot in November as Question 1.

The event was sponsored by the Maine Municipal Association, which opposes TABOR. In addition to Johnson’s comments, the MMA’s Geoff Herman described his group’s interpretation of the proposed change in the law, which he described as unreasonable, unconstitutional and inconsistent.

Mary Adams, the leading advocate for TABOR, dismissed Johnson’s doomsday talk and Herman’s critique.

“I don’t know why people are sitting around having these esoteric discussions about what might happen when the patient – which is the state of Maine – is dying,” Adams said Wednesday night when reached at home after the event.

“To say something is going to be cut or not cut is absurd,” Adams said. “These decisions are still going to be in the hands of legislators.”

Some cuts, she said, are necessary.

“If we don’t draw the line on spending, we’re going to further destroy the economy, we’re going to further burden the taxpayer that’s No. 1 in the nation” Adams said. “What are we going to do to the taxpayer? Swamp them further?”

“Colorado has a nice situation,” Adams said. “They have economic health out there and we don’t.”


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