Dec 10

Voter consent on taxes and debt a vital check in Democrat-controlled Colorado

Voter consent on taxes and debt a vital check in Democrat-controlled Colorado

After the midterm elections, Colorado voters woke up to an electoral map as blue as the sky. Democrats won almost all competitive races, including every state office. They now control both houses of the state legislature. But before we permanently paint Colorado blue, we should consider the outcomes of a few statewide ballot measures.

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

In fact, Colorado voters rejected most of the thirteen ballot measures at the state level. All the ballot measures proposing increased taxes and/or debt were defeated by a wide margin, including measures to fund schools and transportation. However, citizens approved a majority of the state’s local school bond issues and funding packages.

The results of these ballot measures continue a trend that began when the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Amendment (TABOR) was ratified in 1992. TABOR requires voter approval for any increase in taxes or debt, and has proven to be the most effective state tax and spending limit in the country.  Since TABOR was adopted, very few state ballot measures calling for increased taxes or debt have been approved. However, at the local level the majority of these ballot measures have passed.

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Dec 07

TABOR supporters: ‘Sigh of relief’ but threat to taxpayers not over after court ruling

FILE - CO Gov. John Hickenlooper 2012
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (World Economic Forum |Flickr via Creative Commons)

Outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper asked the state Supreme Court to review the compatibility of two constitutional amendments governing the calculations of taxes to determine if one should be removed. The court rejected his request.

The 1982 Gallagher Amendment and the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), designed to protect taxpayers, Hickenlooper wrote, created an “irreconcilable conflict in Colorado’s Constitution.”

The Gallagher Amendment sets the percentage for taxing residential and commercial property owners according to a specific formula that allows the residential assessment rate (RAR) to fluctuate and maintain the ratio to prevent large, unexpected spikes in tax bills.

TABOR prevents local and state governments from increasing taxes without voter approval, including any changes to the Gallagher formula. Continue reading

Dec 04

State Supreme Court turns down Hickenlooper on Gallagher/TABOR review

State Supreme Court turns down Hickenlooper on Gallagher/TABOR review

Colorado Supreme Court building
The Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center in downtown Denver is the home of the Colorado Supreme Court, the state Court of Appeals and the office of the state attorney general.

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday turned down a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper that sought to resolve what he believes are conflicts between the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the Gallagher Amendment.

The Court did not provide a reason in denying the request.

Hickenlooper submitted “interrogatories” — a series of questions —  on Nov. 20 that asked the Court to look at the conflicts between TABOR, passed by voters in 1992, and Gallagher, adopted by voters in 1982. Critics say the conflict is siphoning off tax revenue for schools and local government services, such as firefighting.

Those conflicts are “preventing local governments from funding even limited essential services,” Hickenlooper’s filing with the court said. “… It has resulted in the steady erosion of the budgets of local governments in communities throughout the state that rely on property taxes.”

The erosion is about to get a lot worse.

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Dec 02

Colorado cities want to tap into online sales revenue. That means the state’s messy sales tax system could get messier.

Colorado cities want to tap into online sales revenue. That means the state’s messy sales tax system could get messier.

In South Dakota v. Wayfair, Supreme Court ruled online taxes can’t be “burdensome” for interstate sales, but Colorado’s complex system will put the ruling to the test

As state regulators scramble to expand online sales taxes in the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Colorado’s largest cities could suddenly find themselves missing out on a new funding spigot worth millions of dollars each year.

But if they try to get their piece of a growing tax pie — Denver alone could reap more than $5 million each year — experts say they’re just as likely to find themselves in federal court.

The net result could be a hybrid system unlike any other in the country: one that would effectively require out-of-state businesses to collect some sales taxes but not others.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned a de facto ban on interstate online sales taxes, ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair that a state can require online retailers to collect and remit sales taxes regardless of whether they have a physical presence there.

The catch: states aren’t allowed to put an excessive burden on interstate businesses. And where South Dakota’s system was designed to be simple and user-friendly, Colorado’s is notoriously complicated and cumbersome — so much so that tax experts across the country believe it’s the most likely test case for the lingering question from the Wayfair case: What exactly constitutes an excessive burden?

The question has complicated Colorado’s efforts to expand online sales taxes to out-of-state retailers. And it has left top policymakers, advocacy groups and business coalitions urging patience. Continue reading