Will there be TABOR reform?

Megan Schrader- The Gazette

DENVER - There's a veritable graveyard in Colorado of failed constitutional reform movements.

Blue ribbon panels, legislative committees, summits and countless academic studies have been mulled up over the years to address the fact that Colorado voters have frequently and easily petitioned and changed the state constitution.

But a new group - Building a Better Colorado - is launching a 30-stop listening tour across the state to find out what Coloradans want to do about the growing constitutional conundrum.

Not everything is on the table, but just about.

The group is backed by Colorado businessman Dan Ritchie, who has led two Colorado universities and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He's attracted 16 political co-chairs split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The first of the meetings (what organizers called a dress rehearsal) kicked off this weekend in Grand Junction at the Club 20 meeting.

"It's unlike anything that has been done before," said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for the group with Onsight Public Affairs. "We want to go out, talk to Coloradans, present them with the challenges as we see them and then figure out if we can come up with solutions."

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, said he's seen similar efforts come and go.

"We've seen it before. I've seen it for two decades," Caldara said. "This is another so-called 'process,' and by the end of the process the conclusion will be that citizens will be less empowered and government will be more empowered."

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, a Republican who was the state attorney general for 10 years, said the effort truly is open ended.

"Dan Ritchie is one of the most thoughtful people I've ever met and Dan's motives are pure," Suthers said. "He's willing to invest some of his money in a real serious discussion, and it's going to be a discussion about what are the issues and what might have popular support to make some changes."

The group has four main areas of concern: term limits, the fiscal thicket (TABOR and Amendment 23), election reform, and the ballot initiative process.

While the group is setting a broad agenda, much of the focus will be on the lightning rod issue that is the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

Colorado voters passed TABOR in 1992, amending the state constitution to prohibit tax increases at the state and local levels without voter approval.

The issue of TABOR tends to come down to a visceral Republican-versus-Democrat or anti-tax-versus-big government debate.

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