I caught up with Penn Pfiffner at the November 13 Independence Institute banquet. Pfiffner led the charge against Amendment 59. Following is a slightly redacted transcript of my conversation with him.
Ari: Congratulations on the defeat of Amendment 59, the net tax hike that would have debruced the state. I was happily stunned that that lost. How did that happen?
Penn: What we can say about the group that put Strike a Better Balance together: our job really turned out to be notifying the citizens what the real nature of the measure was. Because the proponents had made it seem like this was about another small and unimportant stream of income for education, and almost like it was an afterthought. And the title, and everything else, is to mislead you into thinking that this wasn’t about taxes, that this was about education funding. So what it turned out that we needed to do was to inform the Colorado citizens of the true nature of it, that it really was this massive, what could have been the largest tax hike in Colorado history. And then once the citizens recognized that, then as you saw, they turned down every new tax measure. This was an easy one to turn down just because, not only did it sit on the back of the citizens, in terms of the tax burden, but it also took away from them their ability to control the government, to cap the government. At this point — we made this point in the campaign — we forced the government to come to us with specifics. “This is what we want to do, it’s a program and it’s going to cost this much.” If 59 had passed, they could have ignored the citizens, and just had a blank check.
Ari: What does this say about the state of the electorate, when Coloradans defeated the big tax hikes, but voted for people who are fairly friendly toward tax-and-spend policies?
Penn: I can’t be sure why we saw two such disparate outcomes, that people would vote for big tax-and-spenders, and a whole panoply of them, it’s not just one or two — it’s control at Wasthington, it’s control here at the state level — and yet they’ll turn down tax hikes. A large part of it, I think, is fear of the ridiculous activities that are going on in Washington in terms of bailouts and getting rid of what should be a fine bright line between government and private business, instead have the government take over the businesses. I think part of it was tremendous fear about how deep a recession we might be going into and how bad it’s going to get, and what it will mean to their family’s budgets, if the taxes had gone through. But I also think it was some amount of rejection of the old Washington regime of George Bush. And I think some people voted without having a real foundation for knowing what this “change” will mean, and not recognizing that the real change is going to be antithetical to furthering liberty and furthering individual responsibility.
Ari: Offhand, do you know what the spending disparity was on the 59 campaign, pro versus against?
Penn: More than 200 to 1. We came up with less than $10,000. We were joined by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, and I sit on the board, so there’s some overlap. But we put out $5,000, maybe $6,000 for radio ads for Strike a Better Balance, CUT put out about $5,000 for radio ads, and the other side had about $2 million.
Ari: Well, that’s a stunning victory for liberty, so thanks for the work on that, and for that surprising victory.
Penn: Yes, it was surprising, and we can celebrate a little bright spot.
See the collected posts about the Independence Institute’s 2008 banquet.