By Brian Vande Krol
To fee, or not to fee. That is the question.
Whether ’tis Nobler in the wallet to suffer
The Fees and Enterprises of outrageous Governance,
Or to file suits against CBE,
And by opposing end them?
A Colorado organization has filed an appeal to overturn a Denver District Court finding about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). We believe the trial court erred in finding that Colorado’s Bridge Enterprise (CBE) conforms to TABOR.
In 2010, the legislature created the CBE 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 (up to $1 billion).
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. Known as the bridge safety surcharge, it 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 functioned like a tax, which requires 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 tax election.
In 2012, the TABOR Foundation sued to reverse the tax and stop the issuance of more debt, arguing 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. Continue reading