The Dougster, smart, quick on his feet and always ready to put the knife into an unsuspecting opponent, is a lot of fun to debate. Fun, that is, if you look at debate as blood sport, an exercise in scoring points and making your opponent look like a fool.
It's not fun if you think that the point of debate is to inform, explain and present both sides of an issue in sober and rational terms. The Dougster is not interested in such a quaint, antediluvian concept.
Bruce believes he was put on Earth to oppose taxes -- not just some taxes, but all taxes. He won't rest until all government is de-funded, everything has reverted to the private sector and we've achieved a utopian society, the bastard offspring of Karl Marx and Ayn Rand, where no one pays taxes and everything is accomplished through the magical alchemy of capitalism.
He's a true believer, and to believers, facts are unimportant. Just as creationists can float through the Grand Canyon and believe it's the product of Noah's flood 4,500 years ago, so, too, can taxophobes believe that any tax, no matter what it funds, is wrong. Fighting taxes = fighting Satan.
The folks who are supporting Referenda C & D are the good-government types, who believe that if you just tell the people the truth, they'll do the right thing. For the last several weeks, they've been struggling against the propaganda generated by the Bruce Axis of Deception, with mixed results. It's hard to campaign for C & D, because to explain why they're so necessary, you have to get into the arcana of state finances.
Let's try to make it simple. In 1992, voters passed the Bruce-authored initiative that forced the Legislature to get voter approval for any proposed tax increase. That's how it was sold, but, unfortunately, people didn't read the fine print.
TABOR, as the amendment came to be known, also limited state revenue increases with an arbitrary formula and -- here comes the fun part -- made one year's revenue the base for that of the next. That provision, called the "ratchet effect," was a time bomb, and it exploded in 2001.
Between 2000 and 2001, when the heady growth of the '90s stopped and the state economy tanked, state revenue collection fell by 20 percent. The economy recovered, but the state, limited to tiny budget increases, couldn't bounce back.
The general fund budget has dropped from $7.1 billion in 2000 to $6.2 billion in 2005. Hundreds of millions have been cut from higher education, transportation and every non-mandated program in the budget.
Unless we pass Ref C, the cuts will continue -- more than $400 million in the next budget cycle alone. If passed, ratchet/refund provisions would be suspended for five years. Ref D allows the state to borrow a couple billion to fund essential transportation needs.
At worst, it'll cost each of us less than a hundred bucks a year. But the real question is pretty simple: Are we adequately funding transportation, higher education and health care in Colorado, so much so that we could cut another half-billion from their budgets next year?
That's what the Dougster and I ought to be debating. But instead, we'll be arguing about nonsense, about massive refunds that don't exist, about porcelain dildos that the wasteful government bought (it didn't), about the state's massive budget increases (nooo, wrong budget!) ... and on and on. Bruce knows how to fight these battles: Confuse 'em, mislead 'em and trick 'em. Puzzled citizens will be expected to vote no.
But you know something? I think that the voters are pretty smart. They have kids in college, they drive on I-25; they know we have pressing needs that are unmet.
This time, listening to Bruce's siren song, they'll hear Eddie Murphy's great line from a comedy skit where he's discovered by his girlfriend in flagrante with another woman:
"Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes?!"