Moms tend to know best, and it’s generally because of the lessons they have learned from experience. Wisdom my Mom instilled in me that I have since passed to my four children says this: that many times, things aren’t what they seem and what looks like a good deal can end up costing you in the end.

This is much like what Maine is confronting with Question 4 on the ballot this November. Known as the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” Question 4 is big on promises, but it will fall short on being able to deliver and will end up costing Maine families in the long run. 

How do I know this? Experience.

I am a mom and a fiscally conservative businesswoman from Colorado who has lived under the failed promises of TABOR. When TABOR appeared on the ballot for the third time before it passed in 1992, it was sold as a way to control spending, boost our economy, and give citizens greater control over our taxes. It sounded great, but what we got was quite different.

Question 4, much like Colorado’s TABOR, is packaged as a simple idea. In truth, however, it is really quite complicated. It puts an inflexible and faulty one-size-fits-all formula into law that doesn’t account for the true costs of running complex state and local budgets.

Colorado is the only state in the country to have approved TABOR, and it forced drastic cuts in programs and services that impact families and businesses. Firsthand, I saw what happened to our schools under this measure. TABOR resulted in fewer public dollars for classrooms and higher costs for parents as they were forced to pay out-of-pocket for basic supplies and after-school programs.

Because of TABOR, our state fell to 49th in the country in K-12 spending and now ranks near last among states in high school graduation rates. Colorado also ranks 49th in state support for higher education. As a result, tuition has dramatically increased, causing a greater burden on students and families.

TABOR failed to boost our state’s economy as promised. As education and transportation funding was squeezed under TABOR’s arbitrary formula — just like the one found in Question 4 — it made government a weak partner in economic development. It left our work force untrained, weakened our transportation system, and cost businesses the opportunity to grow.

Colorado lost more jobs in the last recession than all states but three. After ten years of being in effect, our state’s growth rate was the lowest in the Rocky Mountain region. It is clear that TABOR failed to improve our state’s business climate.

We even found that the promise of greater accountability from our politicians was false. State and local leaders were less responsive and less accountable because their hands were tied by an inflexible formula.

So after 12 years of systematic disinvestment in K-12, higher education, health care and transportation, families and businesses began to take notice. This widespread concern about the rigid formula culminated into the biggest, broadest political coalition in Colorado’s history. We came together to set aside this failed idea. This effort came at the cost of thousands of hours of work from volunteers and an additional cost to families and businesses of about $9 million.

As you consider Question 4, think about Colorado’s experience and whether you want to go down our same path. Be wary of the soundbite. The inflation and population-based formula is guaranteed to limit your options at the time when your state is searching for a brighter economic future.

From my experience, TABOR is not the answer.

Kristi Hargrove is a Republican and small business owner from Crested Butte, Colorado, who has spoken against TABOR in Maine. Her visits were underwritten by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. 


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