The TABOR question

Republicans are eyeing ways to limit spending and growth of government in future legislators.

Posted Updated

Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — On election night, many observers were pointing out that Republican lawmakers had a "veto proof" majority in both the state House and Senate. But with a Republican governor in Pat McCrory, vetoes may not be quite the problem they were for the GOP during the past two years.

However, a veto-proof majority is also the same three-fifths number needed to send constitutional amendments to voters. While ballot measures are never a sure thing, this does give Republicans a chance to lock in some ideas and policies that could reverberate into future General Assemblies. Even if Republicans lose their grip on power down the line, amending the state constitution could ensure that future lawmakers would have to work within certain parameters. 

Among the potential amendments almost certain to get some discussion is something that falls under the general heading of TABOR, or taxpayer bill of rights. There are many different flavors of TABOR, but the idea is the same: the growth in the state's tax rate is limited to some calculation of inflation and population growth unless some extra hurdle is met by lawmakers or the citizens. In some cases, this is a vote of the people; in others, it is a super-majority of the legislature.

Colorado may have the most venerable, and most criticized, TABOR law in the country. 

In interviews, both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger acknowledge that TABOR may be part of the legislative discussion in the new year. While lawmakers will have other issues top of mind, both men said it would not be a surprised if a constitutional amendment limiting the growth of future state government spending is heard during next year's legislative session. 

"I think that it may (come up), but I don't believe that it would look like any of the ones that have passed in other states," Tillis said

Tillis said some states may have found that TABOR amendments placed constraints on lawmakers that proved hard to work with during tough fiscal times or emergencies.

"We do believe that there is something to be said for some safeguards about the rate at which any future legislation can grow government," Tillis said. "That may happen. I don't know where it will be on the priority list."

(As an aside, Tillis said he'd like to see an amendment limiting how long someone can serve in top legislative positions, such as speaker or pro tem.)

"It's important for the people to feel comfortable that, when we see recovery as far as the economy is concerned, we don't have the kinds of spurts in spending that result in real problems when the economy slows down," Berger said. A TABOR amendment could fight back the temptation to expand government, he said. 

"I certainly think that will be part of the conversation," Berger said. "What exactly it will look like, I don't know."

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