by John Singletary
When I first heard that Maine was considering TABOR — an idea borrowed from my state of Colorado — I was surprised. Until last week I had never been to Maine but had always thought of it as state with bedrock American values and common sense. I couldn’t understand why the voters of Maine would even think about adopting the same policy that caused considerable problems in Colorado.
In particular, I have seen how TABOR has threatened our agricultural industry and environmental assets in Colorado and couldn’t imagine why Mainers would want to invite such danger into its state.
Last week I visited Maine for the first time. I was taken aback by her rugged beauty and found Mainers to be as practical and earnest as I had expected. After three days of traveling around Aroostook County, the mid-coast, and central Maine, I also discovered that most people didn’t know the real story about TABOR. I met with farmers, environmentalists, candidates, and voters about my experiences with TABOR in Colorado and warned them what to watch out for.
TABOR did not deliver Coloradans the promised savings and economic growth. What it did deliver were a number of unexpected consequences that have moved us to the bottom of the economic ladder in the Rocky Mountain region, that compromised our ability to support agriculture and conservation in a balanced fashion, and that stifled efforts to improve the lives of rural people.
Like Maine, Colorado’s natural resources and landscape are among its greatest economic and cultural strengths. One example of how TABOR threatened such resources is its impact on CO’s water usage. Where Maine might receive 13 inches of rain in a month, Coloradans on the Front Range of the Rockies hope for that much in a year. This water is not only valued by the agricultural community but it is critical for maintaining the riparian systems that give life to so many fish, animals, and plants in that region. These areas are essential to Colorado’s wildlife, economy, and to maintaining the quality of life for all the state’s residents.
Prior to TABOR public and private interests had successfully managed Colorado’s water in a way that supported its many uses and ensured its sustainability over time. But dramatic cuts to the state budget (forced by TABOR) resulted in cuts to those agencies charged with such thoughtful and balanced management of water issues. In order to survive, these agencies had to downsize and issue increased fines and penalties for revenue.
Parks and conservation programs in CO also suffered. State parklands were neglected and many were slated to be closed due to budget gaps created by TABOR. Funding for university extension programs that worked with ranchers to help them better manage land and water in a sustainable manner was cut, leaving many without a crucial resource that enabled them to be good environmental stewards. Livestock disease prevention and pesticide control programs that had once been offered through the university extension system were not longer available.
Maine’s natural resources would probably experience similar neglect and mismanagement if TABOR passes this November. In Colorado we were asleep at the wheel when TABOR was on our ballot in 1992 — we didn’t really know what it was about. The proponents promised us the same things they are promising you in Maine and we didn’t take the time to investigate. It wasn’t until much later that we felt its full effects. It is now 2006 and our state hasn’t saved money or taken care of its infrastructure. One of our greatest economic tools — the environment — has been compromised.
I hope Maine doesn’t fall for TABOR’s false promises. TABOR is not tax reform and it is not the solution to Maine’s problems. As I have always said — if something sounds too good to be true it probably is.