Dec 27

Important questions about TABOR and their answers, part one

James Redmond

Colorado’s unique tax law — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR — will likely become a point of conversation and contention during much of 2016 in both the legislative session and at the ballot box.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget request attributed some of the need for millions of dollars in cuts to the constitutional amendment that is seen by some as too restrictive a way to govern Colorado’s spending.

Movement is already afoot to make change. As an example, a nonpartisan group of state leaders called Building a Better Colorado has been traveling Colorado this year to find consensus on a possible ballot initiative in November to change parts of TABOR.

In addition, state Democrat lawmakers have said they plan to bring back last year’s failed hospital provider fee bill, a potential work-around TABOR to create wiggle room in the state’s budget. The hospital provider fee, which is assessed on hospitals to help pay for indigent health care, has raised so much money that it has bolstered state budgets past TABOR limits, requiring the state to issue taxpayer refunds. Continue reading

Dec 23

Economic Freedom of North America 2015

Here is the newly released Fraser Institute study (attached) titled Economic Freedom of North America 2015. In the event that you can’t open the attachment, you can find the report here: It examines the freedom rankings by state based upon government spending, tax policy, and labor market freedoms. It reflects data through 2013. The lead investigator (Dean Stansel) is a Ph.D. economist (educated at George Mason University) and former Cato Institute research analyst. He is currently a Research Associate Professor at the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.

The Fraser Institute is a Canadian public policy think tank. It has been described as politically conservative and libertarian. The Institute is headquartered in Vancouver and ties to a global network of 80 think-tanks through the Economic Freedom Network. According to the 2014 Global think tank index report, Fraser is number 23 (of 100) in the “Top Think Tanks Worldwide (non-U.S.), number 19 (of 150) in the “Top Think Tanks Worldwide (U.S. and non-U.S.) and number 1 (of 30) in the “Top Think Tanks in Mexico and Canada”.

You should be encouraged in our fight to preserve TABOR. The data (Table 3.2c on page 37) shows that, as of 2013 (the last data set available) Colorado is tied for 9th in economic freedom within the 50 United States. In amount of government spending, CO ranks 12th (behind, FL, ID, KS, MO, NE, NH, OK, SD, TX, and VA). We don’t fare as well in taxes as CO ranks 19th behind AL, AK, AZ, FL, LA, MI, MO, MT, NV, NH, OK, OR, SD, TN, TX, VA, WA, and WY. Labor market freedoms finds CO ranked 12th behind FL, GA, MD, MA, NH, ND, PA, SD, TN, TX, and VA. According to the report, CO should learn something about freedoms from New Hampshire (ranked alone as #1 whose motto is “Live Free or Die) as well as FL, MO, NE, SD, TN, TX, and VA.


2015 Freedom Rankings by State

Dec 23

Colorado budget deficit looms ahead of 2016 legislative session

New estimates put projected budget deficit as high as $208 million, forcing talks about spending cuts

A daunting number will loom at the Capitol when Colorado lawmakers return in January for the legislative session: $208 million.

The figure represents the high-end projection for the current fiscal year’s deficit, according to the latest legislative economic forecast released Monday.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office estimates a smaller $157 million shortfall, which is roughly what it anticipated when it debuted a $27 billion budget plan in November. But either forecast will force state budget writers to tap reserve accounts and trim next year’s spending plan in key priority areas.

“We haven’t had a year where we’ve been short of the reserve in quite a long time, so the extent to which we are short will affect how much we have for the next year,” said state budget director Henry Sobanet. The governor’s office estimates the deficit will prompt about $373 million in spending cuts for fiscal year 2016-17.


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Dec 23

Clash building over plan to de-Bruce education

The Colorado Statesman

An education group, with the support so far of Front Range Democratic lawmakers, is planning to ask voters this November to allow the state to keep more tax money for public schools. It’s a proposal that anti-tax groups would vigorously oppose.

Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, said her group is still in the very early stages of formulating language for a ballot initiative that, should it make it to the statewide ballot and win support of voters, would separate education spending from constraints imposed on tax revenue by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR.

“There is no other way to start to address the funding issues than to keep the revenues that are a result of a growing economy,” Weil said after a Dec. 17 town hall meeting at the Community College of Aurora. The meeting was led in part by state Democratic lawmakers from Aurora, including Sen. Morgan Carroll and Reps. Rhonda Fields, Jovan Melton and Su Ryden, as well as area education officials, including Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn and Cherry Creek Public Schools Superintendent Van Schoales.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at a rally in support of Amendment 66 in 2013. What began as Initiative 22 was on the November 2013 ballot and would have increased the state’s income tax to raise revenue for public school spending by nearly 17%. The amendment failed at the ballot box. This year, Great Education Colorado is seeking a different path to more dollars for K-12 education by freeing public education spending from TABOR limits altogether.

Photo Colorado Statesman Archives

Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute, viewed the news with a kind of exhausted skepticism.

Continue reading

Dec 22

Colorado Schools To Get Unexpected $159M Funding Boost

The Colorado State Capitol.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Lawmakers will have difficult decisions to make on school funding issues when they tackle the budget this coming legislative session.Members of the Joint Budget Committee on Monday received year-end economic forecasts from state budget staffers. One of the key takeaways from their reports was an adjustment to school enrollment and local tax revenue numbers, which will free up $159 million more in school funding than was previously expected.

Statewide pupil enrollment turned out to be lower than what was projected earlier this year. And the share local communities contribute to school funding was greater than what had been anticipated.

“At the end of the day, I’m certainly hopeful that the news today is that we can invest more in our schools,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

Continue reading

Dec 19

Blake: A bad week for TABOR

Photo and copyright: Tony's Takes - used by permission

Photo and copyright: Tony’s Takes – used by permission

It was a bad week for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and it doesn’t look like it’s going to recover any time soon under the Colorado court system.

Two TABOR-based suits were rejected, one by the intermediate Court of Appeals and another by Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones.

The Colorado Union of Taxpayers Foundation had sued the city of Aspen in 2012 on grounds that its city council imposed a 20-cent charge on disposable grocery bags instead of putting the issue to the voters.


Continue reading

Dec 19

Littleton school superintendent kicks off state-wide campaign to fight TABOR

Although the election may have ended a month ago, at least one Colorado school district superintendent hasn’t stopped campaigning.

Littleton Public Schools (LPS) Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter Wednesday that drew ire from several residents in the district.

The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district started off with a letter from Ewert that seemed innocent at first.

“Little Public Schools is a special place where students excel, families thrive, and the community has a long tradition of supporting its schools,” the letter read.

However, it immediately turns to talk of inadequate statewide tax structure and a need for more money. But that’s not what crossed the line for residents like Lori Horn, who received the mailer despite not having students in the district.

“This is a new superintendent,” Horn said. “It was a different kind of letter for families to receive. I was surprised to get it since I don’t currently have kids in public schools here. They paid some money for it. It looked like a fluff piece about nice things going on in the schools, but one-third of it was his letter.” Continue reading

Dec 19

Littleton flyer cost school district near $10,000

A flyer recently mailed to Littleton Public Schools (LPS) residents asking them to contact their state legislators about an education funding plan cost the district nearly $10,000.

LPS Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter earlier this month asking residents to support a possible bill that would remove the hospital provider fee from the general fund and convert it to an enterprise fund – thereby exempting the fee from counting toward the state’s constitutional revenue limit under the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and potentially opening the door to increased education funding.

The hospital provider fee is a fee charged to hospitals for each bed used by a patient daily. The revenue goes to fund the state’s expansion of Medicaid. By removing it from the general fund, it is predicted it would free up more than $600 million under the TABOR’s revenue cap. That would prevent automatic refunds to Colorado residents and possibly allow for more education funding.

Joint Budget Committee Chairman Kent Lambert-R has called the controversial maneuver a shell game in its effort to skirt TABOR laws.

The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district is Ewert’s first informational flyer since taking over as superintendent this year Continue reading

Dec 19

Prominent Denver business groups urge legislators to tweak hospital provider fee, fund roads

Colorado business groups are ramping up the debate over the state’s hospital provider fee, warning that if lawmakers don’t change how the state accounts for the money the fee generates, they’ll “almost certainly force” a tax increase to address Colorado’s crumbling roads instead.

The letter was sent to leaders of both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to set revenue from the hospital fee aside in a so-called “enterprise fund” that wouldn’t be subject to limitations imposed by the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

The letter is mainly directed at Senate Republicans, whose opposition killed a bill on the provider fee in the last session of the Legislature after it had already cleared the Democratic-majority House..

The business groups constitute a crucial support sector for GOP-sponsored legislation. The letter to leadership on the hospital fee is meant to give cover to Republican leaders who are feeling pressure from more conservative elements of the party that want to block the enterprise fund idea — or who want to repeal the fee altogether.

“Republicans are certainly sensitive to the needs of the business community. The Senate Republicans have a track record of fighting for businesses,” said Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, one of the organizations backing the request. “We want to point out this is something important to businesses.” Continue reading