VANDE KROL: BRIDGES OVER LEGALLY TROUBLED WATERS
There have been violations of basic common sense and principles of good government,” said TABOR Foundation Chairman Penn Pfiffner. “The concept and construct of this dishonest and devious scheme must not stand.”
A Colorado organization has filed an appeal to overturn a Denver District Court finding about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The TABOR Foundation, whose mission includes protecting the constitutional amendment that was initiated by the people, believes the trial court erred in finding that the State of Colorado’s Bridge Enterprise conforms to TABOR.
In 2010, the legislature created the Colorado Bridge Enterprise to repair and maintain bridges. The CBE was called an “enterprise” so it could issue debt without a vote of the people, as is otherwise required by TABOR. The CBE already has issued $300 million in debt and plans more. An enterprise is a government-owned, self-supporting business, which is exempt from TABOR restrictions. The legislature also authorized the CBE to impose a new charge on vehicle registrations. The charge, known as the bridge safety surcharge, was designated for repair and maintenance of state owned bridges. But the CBE had a problem — because the charge is not a fee for service, it looked like a tax that would require a vote of the people. Disinclined to allow Colorado’s Constitution to stand in the way, the CBE called it a fee and hoped the label alone would be enough to avoid a vote of the people.
In May 2012, the TABOR Foundation sued to reverse the tax and stop the issuance of more debt (the CBE plans to sell up to $1 billion in bond debt). The arguments presented in the lawsuit fall into two categories: that the fee is actually a tax, and that the CBE is not a qualified enterprise and cannot issue debt without a vote of the citizens of Colorado.
If the bridge surcharge survives the legal challenge, the courts will have established a method by which government can fund most anything by creating enterprises, assessing fees and issuing debt. They will have found a method to strip Coloradans of their constitutionally protected rights under TABOR. Continue reading