Legislative Council staff member Kate Watkins confirmed what the Independence Institute has said all along. Because money is fungible, no one really knows how the Referendum C money was spent.
The Colorado News Agency reported that Watkins recently appeared before the Transportation Legislative Review Committee. Committee member State Rep Randy Fischer (D-Fort Collins) asked Watkins what happened to Referendum C money that went to transportation:
‘It was kind of a windfall to transportation,’ said Fischer. ‘A lot more money went into the general fund for transportation than backers anticipated. I’m wondering how much of Referendum C money, percentage-wise, went to transportation as opposed to some of the other things it was intended for.’
Legislative Council staffer Kate Watkins responded that it’s difficult to calculate how much of that revenue stream has actually gone into transportation.
‘There is some difficulty in really identifying what revenue from Referendum C went where, and a lot of it has to do with the fungibility of money,’ said Watkins. ‘Basically we don’t know exactly where the Referendum C dollars go.’
Referendum C, narrowly approved by voters in 2005, erased the TABOR spending limits for five years and permanently raised the spending caps thereafter. (Since the great recession Colorado has yet to reach the new TABOR limit) The “windfall” was never intended for transportation. According to supporters, the Ref C money was was to be split among health care, K-12 education and higher education. Money for transportation was to come from a companion measure Referendum D, which voters rejected.
Colorado voters were told repeatedly how the money would be used both during the campaign and afterward. Former State Senate Majority Leader Mark Hillman and Amy Oliver Cooke reported in a 2007 paper titled “State Budget Scrutiny Reveals Ref C Shuffle“:
Vote Yes on C and D campaign literature explained that the additional revenue would be divided evenly 30 percent for K-12 education, 30 percent for higher education and 30 percent for health care. The remaining 10 percent would be used to repay the Referendum D bonds.
Two days after the 2005 election, a Rocky Mountain News article stated: “Leaders of the Democratic- controlled legislature argue that” the Ref D money “should be allocated equally by thirds to health care, K-12 schools and higher education – the services designated in the Ref C ballot measure.” In the same article, Colorado Senate President Joan Fitz- Gerald assured voters, “‘We already agreed, if Ref D failed, it would be 33 1/3, 33 1/3 and 33 1/3,’ for schools, colleges and health.”
As we exposed in 2007, Ref C money was fungible:
After Ref C passed, lawmakers approved a fiscal shell game, reducing K-12, higher ed and Medicaid spending from existing sources, then replacing those funds with money from Ref C. In some instances, education and health care actually received less money immediately after Ref C passed.
We always appreciate the honesty of Legislative Council and share everyone’s frustration over how campaign promises are so easily cast aside. As Ref C critics, we did warn you.