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Tax and Spending Limitations (TEL/TABOR)

TEL/TABOR Ballot Initiatives and Legislation

At the ALA Annual Conference in June 2006, the ALA Council passed a Resolution opposing Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) laws.  Please see ALA CD 30.1

The Chapter Relations Committee provides information, support, and coordination for state library organizations faced with constitutional amendments that restrict government spending in ways that have proved damaging to library and other public services.

What is TABOR?

Often called TEL (Tax Expenditure Limitation), TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights), or SOS (Stop Over Spending), these measures vary from state to state but have three common characteristics:

  • They are constitutional amendments
  • They restrict spending growth to a formula based on population change plus inflation
  • They require voter approval to spend above the limit

TABOR Past and Present

Many states have adopted spending limits since the 1980s, but only one (Colorado) instituted practices that meet the above criteria. TABOR was adopted in 1992 in Colorado, and after more than a decade of striking declines and near paralysis of government services, Colorado voters passed a referendum in November 2005 suspending the provisions for five years.

The major problems with TABOR stem from the rigidity and fundamental flaws in the formulas, resulting in under-funding of essential services and limiting the government’s ability to adjust to up- and down-turns in the economy.

In 2005, TABOR-like proposals were introduced in many states, though none passed. In 2006, TABOR legislation and ballot initiatives have been introduced or proposed in at least fifteen states with varying degrees of intensity.

Why Libraries Should Be Concerned

A need for fiscal restraint in the face of declining revenues, coupled with a distrust of the ability of government to manage wisely, is leading voters to wish to find formulas to impose financial constraints, especially at the state level. Even if much of your state’s library funding is local, all of these measures have trickle-down effects and may place limits on local government spending as well.

Libraries need to recognize that they cannot combat these measures simply by insisting on the need for funds. The case must be made that revenues will be spent wisely, but that restricting funds unwisely is akin to disinvestment in the state’s education economy, leading to such consequences as under-funding of education, employers leaving the state, a higher education brain-drain, and overall declines in the quality of life for all levels of society.

What Libraries Can Do

First, determine whether there is TABOR/TEL activity in your state. A website maintained by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities ( updates a state-by-state list of proposals that are active in 2006; the ALA Chapter Relations site also maintains a list.

There are three likely scenarios for TABOR activity:

  • A bill pending in your state legislature
  • A drive underway to collect signatures to place an initiative on the ballot, usually in November.
  • A successfully completed signature drive, resulting in an initiative on the ballot, usually in November, and possibly a challenge underway to those signatures

Your strategy will depend not only on which of these scenarios you face in your state, but also the specific elements of the proposed amendment.

Getting Out in Front of the Issue

The best way to combat these initiatives is to be prepared to provide the necessary education to your patrons, your board, your legislators, the public and the media. The primary weapon of the anti-tax movement that is collecting signatures for ballot initiatives is that their message is appealing, if over-simplified. Keep in touch with your legislative liaisons to monitor activity, and if you hear of a signature drive, move quickly to mount an information campaign that tells the Colorado story.

There are a variety of online resources, ranging from the anti-TABOR coalitions formed in several states to sites providing statistics, webcasts, video-downloads, talking points, and other strategies. A list of online resources is maintained by the ALA Chapter Relations office. For additional assistance in customizing strategies for your state, contact the Chapter Relations Office,

2007 TABOR Proposals

State Status
Georgia Bill introduced, SR 20

Bill introduced, HJR 20
The House Budget Committee voted 12-8 to report the bill "Do Pass". It is still unclear whether this will eventually make it to the floor for debate.  The vote was straight party vote.


Bill proposed, BDR 1324
TASC, or Tax and Spending Control for Nevada

2006 TABOR Proposals

Update: Voters in the 3 states facing Taxpayer Bill of Rights Initiatives (Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon) rejected the initiatives.

According to returns:
Maine rejected 55% to 45% (click here for article)
Nebraska rejected 70% to 30% (click here for article)
Oregon rejected 70% to 30% (click here for article)

State Status
Arizona  Bill introduced, HCR2022
Passage this year unlikely according to Arizona Republic
Kansas No action this year, but legislation will be proposed again next year.
Maine On the ballot in November


Bill in legislature
Michigan SOS Prop 6 signatures successfully challenged; counter challenge in courts now.
Minnesota Bill in legislature
Missouri The attempt to get it on the ballot was rejected by the Secretary of State
Montana On ballot in November
Nebraska On ballot in November
Nevada Tax and Spending Control (TASC) petition still on ballot in November, pending decision from State Supreme Court.
Ohio Removed from the ballot in November, but with legislative guarantee of TEL-like bill that exempts libraries and local government. Additional information and excellent tools on the web at the Ohio Library Council site:

Not on ballot, successfully challenged signatures.

Oregon On ballot in November
Pennsylvania Bills in both houses
South Carolina Bill in legislature
Wisconsin Bill in legislature, but appears dead for this year

Please provide any updated information for your state to

Online Resources

National sites
This is a pro-TABOR website, sponsored by Americans for Limited Government.
Organization headed by Dick Armey, has current article on visits by Armey to push SOS (Stop Over Spending) in Oklahoma and TPA (Taxpayer Protection Amendment) in Wisconsin.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is monitoring TABOR activity and has good articles and references, including a video on the Colorado experience. They work broadly on many issues; the link for their TABOR-related info is There is a list of states with current TABOR activity at
Site offers good state-by-state overview of proponents, opponents, issues. Link for TABOR-related info is

Current summary of 2006 TABOR threats from this site:

  • In Kansas, Americans for Prosperity, a Washington-based anti-tax organization funded by the Koch Family Foundations, is pouring in large sums of money and organizing throughout the state in an attempt to promote a TABOR amendment in the Kansas Legislature. If passed by the legislature, the constitutional amendment would be placed on the November 7, 2006 ballot.
  • In Wisconsin, a group of legislative leaders is pushing a TABOR amendment to the state’s constitution. They are supported by various national organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and Americans for Tax Reform. According to the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, individual state taxes have remained consistent for the past 25 years and Wisconsin is ranked 50th among all states in business taxes. In addition, the facts show that TABOR in Wisconsin would do irreparable damage to the state’s education system and in particular harm homeowners and working families.
  • In Ohio, Ken Blackwell, who gained national attention as the Secretary of State overseeing the state’s 2004 presidential election, is the primary backer of TABOR. Backed by the usual national suspects he has submitted signatures to get the amendment placed on the November 7, 2006 ballot. Facts show that TABOR in Ohio would be devastating to the state.
  • In Oklahoma, Dick Armey’s Freedomworks organization (backed by a number of major corporations) alongside Americans for Tax Reform and others, is pouring large dollars and ground forces toward efforts to collect signatures to place TABOR on the Oklahoma ballot.
  • In Oregon, national organizations such as Freedomworks are the primary backer of the state’s push for a TABOR initiative in November 2006. The TABOR initiatives in the state will potentially be circulated as “Initiative Petitions 6 or 42” and would bring the same failing effects that Coloradoans faced to Oregon.
    In Nevada, national anti-tax groups and local legislators in the state have attempted over the last legislative session to push through a TABOR-like amendment to no avail. However, a well funded campaign pushed primarily by at least $2 million already committed by Grover Norquist is being waged in Nevada to push through a TABOR initiative in November 2006.
  • In Maine, on October 21, 2005, signatures were submitted to place TABOR on the November 2006 ballot. The proposed amendment in Maine is similar to the Colorado TABOR in its ability to potentially devastate schools, health care, ability to respond to emergencies, etc.
    In Georgia, a bipartisan group of individuals, members of the business community, labor community, faith community and others was able to successfully ward off a potential TABOR in the state. 
Some state by state information.
Recent posting suggests there may be growing opposition, or at least not overwhelming support. See
“There has been considerable attention given to tax and expenditure limitations, or TELs, in recent years. Several states debate fiscal limit proposals every year. However, the notion suggested by some policy observers that a wave of new and highly restrictive state fiscal limits is sweeping the land may be premature.”
Excellent article on Referendum C, which passed in Colorado in November 2005, suspending TABOR provisions for five years:

Sample State Sites:

Excellent coalition site opposing TABOR in Kansas.

“Pro-TABOR” site in Maine
“Anti-TABOR” site in Maine

Coalition opposing TABOR/TEL in Ohio
Ohio Library Council site on TABOR/TEL

This is a terrific website, and Oklahoma is a great example of how early organizing by anti-poverty/community action groups has enlisted enormous support from business, the media, and other important and powerful allies.

Wisconsin Library Association site


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TABOR, TEL, SOS, taxpayer bill of rights, tax expenditure limitation
Information and resources about the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), Tax Expenditure Limitation (TEL), and Stop Over Spending (SOS) legislation in ALA Chapters