Sen. Whitsett and the Case of the Extremely Bad Idea

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whitsettLate last week, Sen. Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls) took to the Opinion page of the Oregonian to call for a constitutional cap on state spending—basically, calling for Oregon to spend even less on our K-12 schools, universities, and basic health care services for seniors.

In case you’re not familiar with what that means, you can look to Colorado, which passed a “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” law that did just what Sen. Whitsett is calling for two decades ago. How’d that work out for them? From a report by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities:

“Between 1992 and 2001, Colorado declined precipitously from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income. As of 2006, the state maintained its low ranking among the states at 48th.”

“College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation in 1992 to 48th in 2004; Colorado maintains that ranking in 2008.”

“Under TABOR, Colorado declined from 23rd to 48th in the nation in the percentage of pregnant women receiving adequate access to prenatal care, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

m48resultsBut, heck, if you’re looking for evidence of just how terrible this idea is, you don’t have to go all the way to Colorado. In 2006, anti-tax groups (including what became FreedomWorks) managed to get a ballot measure on the Oregon ballot that proposed a constitutional cap on state spending.

As it turns out, Oregonians really hate this idea. Measure 48 failed statewide by 71% to  29%, making it one of the biggest ballot measure flops in recent history. It failed, big, in all 36 counties in the state. In fact, in Sen. Whitsett’s own county, Klamath, the spending cap measure failed 63% to 37%.

Those results are unambiguous. A constitutional state spending cap was presented to voters, and when they discovered that it would mean even more cuts to the things they care most about (schools, health care, and public safety), their resounding NO vote echoed in every corner of the state.

Oregonians—like people around the country—definitely want their government to run efficiently and for tax dollars to be spent wisely (just check out the “Making Every Dollar County” report that came out last week). But big cuts that lead to bigger class sizes, higher tuition, and fewer options for senior care? That’s a one-way ticket to Nowheresville. (If you need directions, ask a Coloradan.)

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