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Taxpayers Bear Tax Burden with Frustration, Mistrust of Government

Residents Expect Services, and Support Some Local Taxes and Fees

A new poll testing Colorado residents’ attitudes toward taxes reveals an array of contentious opinions: Sixty-seven percent of Colorado taxpayers believe the federal government wastes at least 31 percent of tax money. Forty-six percent believe state government wastes at least that much. And 66 percent believe that tax rates overall are “somewhat or very much” higher than they should be.

The poll of 902 Colorado residents was conducted by Ciruli Associates July 30 to August 9, 2001. The survey was sponsored by the Colorado Commission on Taxation to measure Colorado residents’ attitudes toward the tax system. The bi-partisan, 15-member commission was appointed by Gov. Bill Owens and state legislative leadership to ensure the tax system is responsive to residents, meets budget needs at state and local levels and helps Colorado maintain a strong and competitive economy. The survey shows substantial resistence to taxes, especially at the federal level. The closer to “home” a tax is levied, the less burdensome and more fair it is deemed. One exception to this is property tax, which is believed to be too high.

Despite their hostility to taxes and low trust in the efficiency of government, Colorado residents still expect good government services, especially education, fire and police protection and transportation. And, while the local property tax is broadly disliked, sales taxes are generally tolerated and user fees are favored to pay for new services. One type of user fee, impact fees from new retail development, is favored by 86 percent of residents. The state legislature just passed an expanded impact fee law in the September/October special session.

Paul Schauer, commission chairman, said the comprehensive survey provides important insight into the public’s tax principles and values that will aid policy makers contemplating tax policy changes. “The rapidly changing economic climate makes it even more important that state and local tax systems be seen as fair and as contributing to the state’s economy,” said Schauer.

This survey is the first step in assessing public opinion, said Bill Schroeder, commission vice-chairman. Next, the commission will query business, government and civic leaders around the state.

The survey was concluded before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which have effected public priorities and trust in government, especially at the federal level.

Colorado Commission on Taxation 2001 Survey Results:

  • 34% of residents say the federal government wastes 31-50% of tax money; 33% say it wastes more than 50%.

  • Residents believe the closer government is to them the more efficient it is: 9% believe school districts waste more than 50% of tax money; 11% believe cities and towns waste more than 50%; counties, 12%; the state, 16%; federal government, 33%.

  • 69% believe federal taxes are too high, 61% believe they’re not fair and 83% see federal taxes as too complex. Finally, 74% believe federal taxes favor the rich.

  • 66% say that the combined rate of all federal, state and local taxes, (about 36%), is too high.

  • State taxes are viewed as less burdensome and unfair than federal income taxes. Federal income tax is seen as too high (69%) vs. state income tax (34%). Federal income tax is judged unfair (61%) vs. state income (31%).

  • 83% believe federal income tax is too complex and 45% believe state income tax is too complex.

  • Property tax is the local tax most strongly disliked; 50% believe it is too high and 46% say it is unfair.

  • 54% support Colorado’s tax-limiting TABOR amendment, passed in 1992 by 54% of voters.
    • 71% believe that any and all tax increases should be voted on–not left to elected leaders to decide.
    • 74% support the TABOR limit on government spending, which government argues ties its hands.
    • 63% of residents say state government should offer refunds or tax cuts in cases of tax surpluses, vs. earmarking the money for new spending.
    • Residents are closely divided on their preference for either tax cuts (47%) or refunds (44%). In the case of tax cuts, people are further divided between permanent (45%) and temporary (50%).
    • 32% of residents can identify the current state income tax rate of 4.63%, another 17% say it is 5%. The other 54% say they “don’t know” or guess at the rate.

  • User fees appeal to residents: 73% prefer user fees, not higher taxes to fund new services; 57% support tolls on roads, 67% like park fees, but only 41% want fees for school books and sports. Eighty six percent want shopping center impact fees to pay for new, surrounding streets.
  • Residents don’t want to expand taxes to services such as legal, medical and real estate, and only 44% want to expand sales tax to Internet purchases. Coloradans continue to believe local jurisdictions should have the right to set sales tax rates.

  • The telephone survey was conducted by Ciruli Associates from July 30 to August 9, 2001 for the Colorado Commission on Taxation. A total of 902 adult residents of Colorado were selected by random digit dialing with a random sample of statewide area telephone exchanges that gave all Colorado residents’ telephone numbers, listed and unlisted, an equal chance of being included.

  • Statistical range of accuracy in 19 out of 20 cases is ±3.3 percentage point for a sample size of 902. Sample tolerances for subgroups are larger. For example, the confidence interval for a subgroup of 450 respondents is ±4.6 percentage points.


Colorado Commission on Taxation


Governor Owens and the state legislature last year created the 15-member Colorado Commission on Taxation to conduct the first comprehensive study of Colorado’s state and local tax system in more than 40 years.

The commission was charged with reviewing the current system of taxation by state and local governments and with making recommendations for modifications. One of the first activities was to conduct an opinion poll to measure the public’s values and principles related to taxes and the tax system.

Along with authorizing the poll of Colorado residents, the Commission has conducted regional hearings throughout the state and produced an interim report on preliminary findings for Gov. Owens and the legislature. For additional information on Tax Commission activities, call Geoff Withers at (303)866-3512.

Commission Members

Gubernatorial Appointees

Lt. Governor Joe Rogers, Lieutenant Governor
Dr. Nancy McCallin, Executive Director, Office of State Planning and Budgeting
Mr. Joseph H. Chavez, Attorney
Mr. Norman A. Palermo, Attorney
Dr. Barry Poulson, Professor of Economics, University of Colorado
Mr. Dennis C. King, Branch President, First National Bank of the Rockies
Mr. Bob LeGare, Property Manager and Aurora City Councilman

President of the Senate Appointees

Senator Ron Teck, State Senator
Mr. Ray C. Christensen, Executive Vice President, Colorado Farm Bureau
Mr. William R. Schroeder, Jr., Public Affairs Manager, Intermountain Rural Electric Association

Speaker of the House Appointees

Mr. Paul D. Schauer, Managing Director, Colorado Ready Mixed Concrete Association
Representative Todd Saliman, State Representative
Representative Joseph P. Stengel, State Representative
Mr. Larry Kallenberger, Executive Director, Colorado Counties

Senate Minority Leader Appointee

Mr. Michael F. Feeley, Attorney

Tax commission web site: www.dola.state.co.us/taxcommission

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