George Will

     The second event was the intersection of the recession of 2001 after the bursting of the high-tech bubble (Colorado ranks first among the states in high-tech workers per 1,000 private-sector workers) with a drought and 13,000 forest fires that hurt Colorado's tourism. This caused a collapse of revenues -- a 16 percent decline over two years -- unprecedented in recent history and unanticipated by Tabor's authors.

     This confronted Colorado with Tabor's ``downward ratchet'': the budget's baseline of permissible spending was reduced to the recession-year level. This lowered spending for all subsequent years because it restricted the spending of revenues produced by economic recovery.

     Owens, who has traveled to 15 states advocating enactment of Tabors, believes Colorado's Tabor will be repealed in two years unless the November referendum prevents politically unpopular budget cuts. The referendum, of a sort that Tabor explicitly allows, would not raise any tax rate, but would suspend the rebates of surpluses -- $3.7 billion -- for five years. This would enable spending to return to the pre-recession trend line.

     For conservatives and other sensible people, it is doubt-inducing, not to mention excruciatingly unpleasant, to be on the same side of an argument with public employees unions, whose ravenous appetite for government growth is constant and self-aggrandizing. Explaining his temporary alliance with those unions, Owens points to a clock on his office wall. He says it comes from a Soviet submarine and that it is broken, but even it is right twice a day.

     Owens resisted the Legislature's demand to gut Tabor by indexing the growth of government spending to the growth of personal income rather than to population growth and inflation. Still, by advocating passage of the Tabor referendum, he has infuriated some conservatives. This in spite of his record of promoting school choice, cutting taxes, opposing other governors' attempt to grab revenues by imposing Internet taxation, and using the line-item veto to cut 50 times more spending in his first five years than other Colorado governors cut in the preceding 24 years. He vetoed 47 bills this year, half of which, he says, promoted organized labor's agenda.

     Those now calling Owens an apostate from the church of conservatism need to answer two questions. Is one deviation from doctrinal purity sufficient grounds for excommunication? Is a political creed that is so monomaniacal about taxation that it allows no latitude for tacking with shifting fiscal winds a philosophy of governance or an ideological fetish?

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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