Some legislators in Colorado have filed suit to overturn the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a cap on spending and taxation that requires voters to approve increases directly by way of a referendum.
It’s a sign of the times. As the post-War middle class dominated social and political consensus has come unraveled in recent decades. (The financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent explosion of government spending put an exclamation point on this unraveling.) The upshot is a greater and greater gap between the governing class and everybody else, with the truculent populists in the base of the Republican Party that has made Mitt Romney’s life miserable (and frightened the Republican establishment) being the most vocal and obvious example to date.
A representative democracy works well when the representatives function in accord with the same political intuitions—and incentives—as those they represent. For many complicated reasons, that’s less and less true today. For example, in a place like Colorado a there are communities and constituencies that have won big-time with globalization. (Think Boulder.) They want increased spending, in large part because they can afford it. Not so Pueblo or Grand Junction.
Moreover, as is the case in Washington, Denver has a permanent population of bureaucrats and lobbyists whose interested are strongly aligned with spending. This is true of any state or local government that collects and spends a lot of money. Legislators get socialized into the permanent government.
Because our society is undergoing deep structural changes, the permanent government (which always protects legacy spending) is more and more out of sync with middle class social reality. Thus the gap. Thus the demand for referenda. Thus the legistators frustrated that too much democracy gums up everything.