Voters grew increasingly angry and demanded changes from Owens and the Republican-controlled legislature. But GOP leaders refused to act. "So long as I am governor, we will not raise taxes," Owens pledged in 2003.
Last fall, the Democratic Party launched a statewide campaign against the TABOR limits -- and scored a huge victory at the polls. While Bush was easily carrying the state, Democrats took control of the state House and Senate.
"We have a clear mandate," said Rep. Andrew Romanoff, Democratic leader of the state House. "The voters sent us here to do something about the TABOR roadblock."
Owens conceded the point. On St. Patrick's Day, he agreed to a plan designed largely by Democrats that will suspend the spending limit for five years, allowing the state to spend $3.1 billion that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers.
Because this is considered a tax increase under the TABOR rules, voters must approve the change in November, or it will not take effect. Owens says he will campaign with Democrats to win voter approval of the anti-limits plan. "This will put Colorado back on track," the governor said.
The striking turnabout by a onetime tax cutter has generated rage in some GOP circles. Republican legislators have rapped their governor as a "turncoat" and a "big spender." Owens has fired back. After Rep. Joe Stengel (R) announced his opposition to the proposal, Owens said: "When the next volume of 'Profiles in Courage' is written, there won't be a chapter on Joe Stengel."
While Republicans exchange insults, Colorado's Democratic leaders are exultant.
"Less than three months after they took over the legislature, the Democrats produced a solution and got a Republican governor to go along," said Democratic consultant Terry Snyder of Denver. "That's exactly what the voters put them in office to do."