How We Got Here
Colorado has dug itself into a hole by continuing to erode pubic investments. These are the very priorities that help support families and build communities that thrive, priorities like education, roads and transportation, child care, housing, and much more.
In fact, the share of Colorado’s economy invested in public services is smaller than at nearly any point in the last 40 years. This lack of public investment hurts low- and middle-income earners the most, but everyone's opportunity to earn a good life is hindered when we cut vital priorities that help build and maintain the communities we all want to live in.
While some contend a strong economy and low unemployment lessens the importance of public investment, our state's past suggests quite the opposite. It is in good economic times that state leaders should look to bolster critical public services and advance policies that boost income. Because with every boom comes a bust. And if Colorado is already stuck in a hole when that happens, getting out of it becomes that much harder—and that much more difficult for Colorado families and business to succeed.
A History of Digging
We’ve seen this happen before.
In 1999, the General Assembly was in a similar situation, facing a growing economy and a growing General Fund. Legislators yielded to the temptation to cut the income tax rate from 5.0 percent to 4.75 percent, which decreased revenue by $300 million. In 2000, they cut the rate further from 4.75 percent to 4.63 percent. A year later, the first of two recessions in a decade struck, reducing General Fund revenue by nearly 16 percent, which triggered cuts that spared no part of the state and shifted costs of key areas like higher education to parents, students, and employers.
In the wake of that recession, Colorado actually saw the largest increase in unemployment in the nation. More than 15,000 kids lost health insurance, 100,000 seniors saw spikes in their property taxes, schools lost funding, and college students faced double digit increases in tuition.
“The $760.7 million this tax cut would cost the state is more than we get from the gas tax for our roads. It’s more than the current negative factor affecting our schools. It would cost more than giving every teacher in our state a $14,000-a-year raise.”
Chris Stifler, CFI
HB19-1097 Hearing, 1/22/19
It’s hard not to notice the revenue decrease from the 1999 income tax cut is roughly the same as the transportation funding gap that the legislature sought to close in 2018. It's also notable that if the tax rates of 1999 were still in place, the General Fund would have $683 million more for roads and schools this year.
The question hinges on what public investments Coloradans can do without: Do we want shorter school weeks and cuts in teacher pay? Lag behind the national average in per student funding? Fewer dollars towards roads and transit and open spaces? More families struggling to get health coverage? More expensive child care? Higher housing costs?
Because that's the tab continued cuts in public investments would leave for the rest of us. We simply can't afford to keep doing that.
Public investments help protect the Colorado way of life, and help build thriving communities. But recent proposals (both at the ballot and at the legislature) would take away the very investments we all rely on. Schools, roads, housing, health care, student aid, child care, and more would all suffer as a result. For Coloradans, these vital priorities and many more have fallen into a hole, which makes it harder to succeed. Learn more about what that means here.