Jul 09

Q&A with Penn Pfiffner | On standing up for freedom, and TABOR

Q&A with Penn Pfiffner | On standing up for freedom, and TABOR

·         Dan Njegomir, Colorado Politics

The TABOR Foundation’s Penn Pfiffner addresses the Reagan Club of Colorado earlier this year. (Photo courtesy the TABOR Foundation)

 

Even if you don’t move in Penn Pfiffner’s center-right political circles, you’re probably familiar with his name as the media’s go-to guy for comment on the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights whenever it comes up in the news. And it comes up a lot, of course. 

The groundbreaking taxing and spending limits — venerated by some and vilified by others — have been stirring debate ever since being enacted into Colorado’s Constitution by voters in 1992. Better known by its acronym TABOR, the constitutional provision has prompted lawsuits, legislation and more ballot issues by wide-ranging interests hoping to elude or at least ease its restraints on state and local budgets. 

The perennial back-and-forth over TABOR also spawned the TABOR Foundation, which, along with its advocacy counterpart the TABOR Committee, emerged with the help of Pfiffner and other resolute TABOR supporters to stand up for the policy.

Pfiffner, who served as a Republican state representative from Lakewood in the 1990s, has become as distinctive a voice for TABOR over the years as he has for the advocacy of limited government in general.

He expounds on both of those endeavors and more — as always, in his characteristically eloquent and respectful way — in today’s Q&A.

Colorado Politics: Let’s start with a recent headline. The state Supreme Court ruled June 17 that a pending ballot proposal to repeal TABOR in its entirety may proceed — despite a constitutional “single-subject” stipulation on ballot issues that was long believed to have blocked precisely such an all-in-one-shot repeal.

In a public statement from the TABOR Foundation condemning the ruling, you said, “The court has become dangerously unmoored from the clear meaning of the state constitution.” The statement also said the court ”appears to take sides.”

Recap for us what was fundamentally at issue in the case before court — and why you feel the court missed the mark.

Penn Pfiffner: The recent direction of the Colorado courts on constitutional matters should trouble any citizen. Our American system relies on an honest judicial branch to impartially interpret the law. We have seen an absolutely consistent antipathy from the courts towards the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

It’s an understatement to say that the justices from trial level to the Colorado Supreme Court have appeared to argue backwards from predetermined outcomes. Some of the arguments appeared to me to be even juvenile, like an adolescent trying too hard to argue the impossible.

The central finding in the Bridge Enterprise case that the TABOR Foundation brought is an example. Years from now, I surmise historians of Colorado’s system will be amazed and disgusted that it became so partisan during these recent years. Good, experienced attorneys today are urging the TABOR Foundation not to bring any more constitutional issues to the judicial branch — it’s that futile, and all that we end up with is setting bad precedent. In the case you raise, the court explicitly threw out a generation of precedent. It’s as if they never opened the section on TABOR to read all the different pieces in this comprehensive constitutional measure.

A dissent from the bench pointed out that some activist could now substitute Colorado’s extensive “Bill of Rights” for “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” (in a ballot proposal) and in one vote overturn all citizen protections. A leftist court looks ready to use its personal political views to put a thumb on the scales of justice.


Penn Pfiffner

  • Chairs the board of directors for the TABOR Foundation and the TABOR Committee, since 2009. The two entities, respectively, educate and advocate on behalf of TABOR.
  • Owner, Construction Economics LLC, since 1983; provides financial and managerial consulting to architects, engineers and contractors.
  • Senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Denver-based Independence Institute, 2001-2014.
  • Served as a Republican state representative from Jefferson County in the Colorado House, 1993-2001.
  • Current board member and past president of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers.
  • Chaired “Too Taxing for Colorado,” an issue committee to defeat the unsuccessful Proposition 103 tax increase on the 2011 statewide ballot.
  • Holds a master’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado Denver and bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from CU Boulder.

 

CP: Give us your elevator speech on TABOR’s role, and value, in our state constitution.

To read the rest of this story, click (HERE):

 

May 20

Colorado voters to decide whether to dilute Taxpayer Bill of Rights

The Center Square analysis

Colorado voters to decide whether to dilute Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Bills that passed during the legislative session would permanently end TABOR-granted tax refunds if voters give their approval

FILE - Voting booth polling place election

Colorado Democrats were successful in passing legislation this session that could chip away at the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) if voters give the majority party what they want.

TABOR is a constitutional amendment that requires voters to approve all tax increases. In addition to being a check on tax and spending increases, TABOR requires voter approval of debt increases. The amendment also ensures taxpayers receive refunds when the government’s revenue increases faster than population growth plus inflation.

It’s also one of the most contentious and partisan issues at the Colorado capitol.

TABOR means that anytime legislators want to raise taxes, they have to seek voter approval at the ballot box. But referendums become expensive and require significant political capital, especially given Coloradans’ recent history of voting down tax increase proposals.

Click here to read more:

May 06

State could go off a fiscal cliff

State could go off a fiscal cliff

By: Barry W Poulson

May 5, 2019

Barry Poulson

Colorado has created a fiscal cliff; the state is woefully unprepared for the revenue shortfall that will accompany the next recession. Citizens might be surprised to learn that the state has been pursuing imprudent policies that will result in a fiscal crisis when the next recession hits. It is important to understand how the fiscal cliff was created and what we can do about it.

Over the past two decades, Colorado has weakened the fiscal constraints imposed by the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights. TABOR limits the rate of growth in state spending to the sum of inflation plus population growth, regardless of the amount of revenue the state takes in.

But most state revenue is exempt from the TABOR limit. The exempt funds include the revenue from enterprises and the fees collected by government agencies, which have grown rapidly over this period. As a result, over the past decade TABOR has not constrained the growth in spending, and this year the state will spend virtually every dollar of revenue it takes in. Continue reading

Jan 22

TABOR Committee presents to the Japan Local Government Center

TABOR Committee presents to the Japan Local Government Center

On January 16, 2019 two representatives of the Japan Local Government Center met with TABOR Committee Chairman Penn Pfiffner to learn what proponents of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights know about the positive aspects of fiscal discipline.

The Center has seven offices around the globe that compare and contrast and learn from other countries’ practices. Working out of the New York City office is Ms. Kaori Kurauchi, an official with the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs. She was accompanied by Dr. Seth Benjamin, a Senior Researcher in the New York office. Ms. Kurauchi is on a two year assignment to research tax and expenditure limitations and other government fiscal limitations in America and Canada. Continue reading

Dec 28

It’s Not Too Late….

The World Happiness Report provides data and research used around the world to help shape and inform policy.

Among its findings: giving to others is good for you.  It makes you feel happy.1-8

 Since 1992, the TABOR Foundation protects the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.  We educate citizens on why it matters to have a vote on increased taxes and how a formula for predictable growth creates a sound economy.

We are all volunteers.

We give advice and direction to citizens working at their local level to stop TABOR violations. We assist as plaintiffs and “friends of the courts in lawsuits to stop such violations.

The biggest trick of politicians is calling a new tax a “fee” – whether it’s for plastic grocery bags, living in a special district, running a hospital, driving over a bridge, or funding a mandatory family leave program with an insurance “fee.” We’ve responded to inquiries not just in Colorado, but in states like South Dakota, Kansas, Arizona, Alaska and Florida.

Please donate:

  • Help fund our Speaker’s Bureau to educate fellow taxpayers about their rights.
  • Help produce the TABOR 101 series of policy/how-to videos.
  • Help fund the legal fees for amicus briefs.

Please donate.   You – and we – will be happy you did.

Thanks – and Happy New Year!

Your friends at the TABOR Foundation

https://www.facebook.com/coloradoTABOR/

www.theTaborFoundation.org

Continue reading

Jul 16

Protecting Taxpayers with Supermajority Requirements

Protecting Taxpayers with Supermajority Requirements

Cartoon workingman reluctantly paying taxes. (Photo: AdobeStock/PPD/Adiano)

CARTOON WORKINGMAN RELUCTANTLY PAYING TAXES. (PHOTO: ADOBESTOCK/PPD/ADIANO)

The best budget rule in the United States is Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, this provision in the state’s constitution says revenues can’t grow faster than population plus inflation. Any revenue greater than that amount must be returned to taxpayers.

Combined with the state’s requirement for a balanced budget, this means Colorado has a de facto spending cap (similar to what exists in Switzerland and Hong Kong).

The second-best budget rule is probably a requirement that tax increases can’t be imposed without a supermajority vote by the legislature.

The underlying theory is very simple. It won’t be easy for politicians to increase the burden of government spending if they can’t also raise taxes. Particularly since states generally have some form of rule requiring a balanced budget.

Basically a version of “Starve the Beast.”

Anyhow, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, 14 states have some type of supermajority requirements.

And more states are considering this reform.

Continue reading

Apr 11

Study: Colorado has sixth lowest tax burden in U.S.

Study: Colorado has sixth lowest tax burden in U.S.

FILE - Denver, CO
Denver, Colorado

jackanerd | Shutterstock.com

Colorado’s state and local tax burden was the sixth lowest in the U.S. in fiscal 2016, according to a recent report produced Key Policy Data (KPD), a joint venture between Public Choice Analytics and Visigov.

The report relies on an income-based analysis dividing the state’s total tax collections by its private sector personal income. The national average using this methodology was an overall local and state tax burden of 14.3 percent of income; Colorado’s was 11.8.

KPD compared the burden of tax systems across states by measuring tax collections against the size of the economy. It defines this as the “total private sector share of personal income, which is personal income minus government compensation and personal current transfer receipts” such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Continue reading