Want to repeal TABOR? We do too, but here’s some realistic advice
We’ve always thought a repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights would be prudent. We now know, thanks to a Colorado Supreme Court ruling, that it’s possible; all that remains to be known is if it’s plausible.
Common lore and a dismal record of voter approval for tax increases would indicate that voters in fact like TABOR. When asked to raise taxes, as required under TABOR, voters have said no, consistently.
This summer, the conversation is going to heat up around TABOR, especially given that taxpayer refunds are in the forecast. We have some advice for how opponents of the rigid and restrictive amendment should frame the conversation.
First, we are no longer convinced that the state needs more revenue for the general fund. The state’s economy is booming, and thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, revenue from state income tax filings has spiked in Colorado.
How much more revenue are we talking about?
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – An effort to abolish TABOR, Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, is moving forward. The Colorado State Supreme Court has ruled a repeal question can be put before voters in 2020 if enough signatures are gathered.
In a few short words, the man who wrote the law and got it passed back in 1992 said, “when that happens, which it won’t, call me.”
When asked what would happen if it did happen, Doug Bruce, former Colorado lawmaker responded, “You’re asking me to speculate on a proposal that’s never going to happen.”
Colorado taxpayers possibly headed for both TABOR refund and tax cut
Coloradans are inching closer to their first TABOR tax refunds in years, according to updated state revenue forecasts released Wednesday.
In fact, state collections have been so strong that taxpayers are likely to get both a sales tax refund and a state income tax cut, according to Kate Watkins, the chief economist for Colorado’s Legislative Council.
She and her team estimate TABOR will drop the state’s income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.5 percent for both 2019 and 2020. For someone who makes $50,000 a year that’s a savings of $65. The sales tax refund amount is based on a complicated formula, but it ranged from $13 to $41 when the state last gave them out, in 2015.
TABOR Committee responds to Court ruling on TABOR repeal
Colorado’s Constitution contains a provision which requires that all matters proposed by ballot initiatives can address only one subject. Yesterday, the Colorado Supreme Court allowed a ballot measure to proceed that would wipe out the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in its entirety. The Court explicitly threw out a quarter-century of precedent.
The TABOR Committee adamantly condemns the Court’s determination.
“The Court has become dangerously unmoored from the clear meaning of the state constitution,” protested Penn Pfiffner, the Committee’s chairman. The TABOR Committee points out that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights includes not only the frequently-debated provisions for slowing the growth of government, but also for example
- election provisions that call for, among other things, notification of the citizens by any Colorado government of any election,
- requirements for emergency reserves at all levels of government
- a state-wide prohibition on real estate transfer taxes ,
- rules for property tax assessments
- rights of local districts to resist state-imposed mandates.
Committee Board director Rebecca Sopkin observed, “It is strange that the Court found all of this to be one subject. The Court held that all of the above provisions and rights are ‘necessarily and properly connected,’ as though no one of them could exist without the others. We find that to be preposterous.”
In a scathing dissent, Justice Marquez pointed out that using the Court’s logic, a single measure could repeal the entire Colorado Bill of Rights. Petitioners could simply substitute the Bill of Rights for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
The TABOR Committee finds it unsettling that the Colorado Supreme Court appears to take sides. It specifically addresses what seems to be at the heart of issue – that it would be difficult and expensive to repeal the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in a “piecemeal” manner. Does the Court step into the political arena in an attempt to collaborate and cooperate with TABOR opponents? The Court should be impartial rather than act to relieve TABOR opponents of “expense and difficulty.”
The single subject issue arose as a ballot initiative in 1994. TABOR was very much part of the debate. The official summary (Blue Book) specifically noted that if the Single Subject Rule were to be passed, then it would not be possible to repeal TABOR in a single vote. Instead, it would be necessary to address its provisions one at a time. Citizens passed the measure. The Court ignored the will of the people, history, established law, and common sense in its Opinion.
 Colorado Constitution Article 2
 Colorado constitution Article 10, Section 20
 Opinion, page 12
What is TABOR?
It lets you, the taxpayer, vote whether or not to approve a tax increase.
Don’t lose your #TABOR rights.
Vote NO on Proposition CC
A group made up of some of the Colorado Republican Party’s biggest names has formed to fight Proposition CC on the November ballot. The measure would allow the state to keep future refunds allowed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to go for schools and transportation.
The group, called No on CC, includes former Gov. Bill Owens, former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and Colorado House Republican leader Patrick Neville.
The leadership is strong and well-known in GOP circles, as well. The co-chairs are University of Colorado Regent At-Large Heidi Ganahl, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, and former state treasurers Walker Stapleton and Mark Hillman.
Tampering with TABOR is expected to be a partisan brawl, since Republicans contend it keeps taxes and the size of government in check. They point to Colorado’s booming economy as proof balancing taxes and government works.
Voters will decide on Nov. 3 whether the state can keep excess revenues instead of refunding them to the taxpayer, and prevent voters from deciding on the matter in the future.
The legislatively referred state statute passed by a majority Democratic legislature and has the support of Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
Among other things, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires the state to refund excess revenue to taxpayers.
The lead sponsor of the amendment, Democratic Rep. K.C. Becker, says that Colorado’s strong economy gives the impression that “the state itself can make more investments, more improvements,” without raising taxes. But, she says, “We can’t because the state constitution prohibits the budget from growing with the economy.”
This article originally ran on thecentersquare.com.
Proposition CC is the more contentious of the two, asking Coloradans to permanently give up any future tax refunds under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
TABOR is a constitutional amendment passed in 1992 that, among other things, limits the annual growth of a portion of the state budget to a formula of population growth plus inflation. The state is obligated to refund revenue in excess of that formula back to taxpayers, or get voter consent to keep and spend it temporarily.
So-called “enterprise” revenue is exempt from TABOR limits, and thus is already off limits for refunds. Enterprises are essentially government-owned entities that provide goods or services and are funded through fees, and which have grown dramatically in Colorado. According to the Legislative Council Staff, “Revenue to enterprises has grown significantly since the passage of TABOR, from $742 million in FY 1993-94, the first year TABOR was in effect, to $17.9billion in FY2017-18, the most recent year for which financial data are available.”
But if approved by voters, Prop CC would eliminate what’s left of the TABOR limit, allowing the state to keep and spend any and all excess revenues that would otherwise be refunded back to taxpayers in perpetuity.
The second measure, Proposition DD, would both authorize and tax sports betting in Colorado.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law restricting commercial sports betting in the states to only Nevada, thus opening the door for Prop DD. If passed, the measure would allow sports betting through licensed casinos in Colorado, as well as enact a 10 percent tax on the profits to “fund implementation of the state’s water plan and other public purposes.”
The propositions are statutory changes, meaning that they need 50 percent plus one of the vote to pass, and that lawmakers can later amend the measures if enacted, as with any other state law.