10 Aug Denver prospered because of "dreaded" TABOR
Green Bay, Wis. – According to a recent article in Wisconsin Technology Network, regional cooperation is the cure all policy that will not only improve Wisconsin’s business climate, but also put us on the path to economic recovery. After all, this strategy of mutual cooperation and regional planning is what saved Denver from becoming yet another desolate, sleepy mountain town.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t Denver and all of Colorado reduced to rubble following the passage of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights? Businesses dried up. Jobs went elsewhere. Schools shut down. Roads crumbled. And life as we know it ceased to exist in this once booming western state. Right?
Wrong. None of those doomsday events took place. But that is the image opponents of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights want you to believe. They have used this “sky is falling” rhetoric to prevent regular taxpayers from having a say in how much their government grows.
You can’t have it both ways. Either we stick to the Chicken Little story that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights ruined Denver and all of Colorado, or we speak the truth and follow their lead by slowing government growth as a means to improve our economy and create jobs.
According to the story, “by working together, the metro area was able to establish a new convention center, a new airport, a new science and cultural facilities district to support the arts, and a new stadium authority that financed new homes for both the Colorado Rockies and the Denver Broncos.” Denver also is building a commuter rail system for their residents. That’s a lot of public projects built with a major “bump in the road” preventing progress.
The real growth catalyst
Regional cooperation is a factor in economic development, but it wasn’t the main catalyst behind Colorado’s recovery. Following the passage of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, politicians had to more closely prioritize their spending. Instead of simply throwing money at spending interests, they had to choose where it made the most sense to invest. This kept the growth of government in check and allowed companies and individuals to keep more of their money. Then what happened? Business boomed.
In fact, from 1995 to 2000, while Colorado was refunding BILLIONS in surpluses to taxpayers, they were leading (and still lead in many cases) the nation in many economic categories. At the same time, Wisconsin was struggling to keep pace.
According to a recent publication by the AeA (the nation’s largest high-tech trade association), Colorado has the most tech workers per capita in the nation, and it was the 12th most favorable state for tech businesses overall. The average wage for Colorado’s high-tech workers was $76,400 (90 percent more than the average private-sector worker). Colorado experienced a 47 percent increase in venture capital investments tied to the high-tech industry.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, ranked 37th nationally for the number of tech workers per capita, and was the 21st most favorable state for tech businesses. Wisconsin had half as many high-tech workers as Colorado, and our workers earned over $20,000 less ($56,300) than their Colorado counterparts. Wisconsin’s venture capital investments in the high-tech sector increased by 19 percent, again less than half of Colorado’s increase.
So why such glaring disparity in our tech sector growth? It’s not a lack of education. We are educating high numbers of elevated degree students (more than Colorado in fact). It’s not a lack of space. We have many communities with open lots in their industrial parks. It’s not a lack of infrastructure. We have made significant investments in these areas. Then why are we falling behind Colorado and many other states?
As a famous President once said, “It’s the taxes stupid!” With our tax burden hovering near the top five nationally for many years, it is no secret that if you have money or the ability to earn money, you can keep more of it elsewhere. Smart people realize this, and they are leaving or won’t look to relocate here because of it. That’s the problem. And it is NOT caused by a lack of cooperation. It is caused by over-taxing, over-spending, and over-borrowing by state and local governments.
If we truly want to remain competitive in the global marketplace and among other states, we need to take a lot more from Colorado than teamwork. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights played a primary role in helping Colorado become a national business leader. We would be well served to follow its lead and allow our workers and businesses to keep more of their money to spend and invest. This will grow our tech sector and our economy better and faster than regional cooperation.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.