Paul Jacob

Once after comparing big spending congressmen to drunken sailors, Ronald Reagan apologized to the sailors; they at least spent their own money. He could have added that sailors eventually sober up — something most politicians never manage, at least when it comes to fiscal politics.

So, year in, year out, virtually everywhere, our already quite corpulent governments — local, state, federal — just keep growing and growing and growing. Despite campaign promises to the contrary. Regardless whether it's the Democrats or Republicans who are in charge.

Except in Colorado. There it really doesn't matter how much money politicians want to spend, since only voters can make that decision. With their Taxpayers' Bill of Rights law, Colorado voters have more control over the growth of their state government than voters anywhere else. The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, called TABOR for short, was placed on the ballot by citizen initiative and passed by voters back in 1992.

TABOR is simple: it mandates that government spending, year to year, can increase no more than the rate of inflation plus population growth. If surplus tax dollars come into state government coffers, they must be rebated to taxpayers. However, a vote of the people can permit state legislators to break the cap and spend more money. Thus, TABOR puts government on a diet, one that regularly allows natural government growth, but only allows greater than natural growth when authorized by a vote of the people.

In most states, when revenue rolls in during good times, politicians dream up new programs in order to spend every single penny. When money falls off in bad times, the politicians and special interests scream and moan about budget cuts or rush to raise taxes.

For example, during the boom years of the 1990s, when many states nearly doubled their spending, Colorado's TABOR spending limitation kept government growth to reasonable limits, and forced politicians to return over $3 billion dollars to taxpayers. When the recession hit at the end of the '90s, Colorado escaped the tax increases and budget cuts seen in California and other states that had over-spent in the good years.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.