7 reasons to VOTE NO on Prop CC
7 reasons to VOTE NO on Prop CC
Q&A with Penn Pfiffner | On standing up for freedom, and TABOR
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.
CP: Give us your elevator speech on TABOR’s role, and value, in our state constitution.
Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.
These words from Sir Walter Scott’s 1808 poem, “Marmion,” appropriately describe Proposition CC, the Colorado November ballot question that would take away hardworking Coloradans tax refunds, FOREVER. From the opening three words, “Without raising taxes,” we are being deceived by the writers and proponents of this proposition. When taxpayer money is not refunded as outlined in the Constitutional Amendment, TABOR, The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the state is keeping more of our tax dollars, and therefore those tax dollars shall be defined as a tax increase. This statewide measure is asking voters to permanently give up tax refunds that are owed to us under The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. I am quite certain that if the federal government decided to keep all tax refunds for all of eternity there would be absolute chaos as we, the taxpayers, would refuse to believe that it is not a tax increase.
The deceit continues with the phrase “to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit.” There is no commitment to dedicating the “taxpayer refunds” to public schools, higher education, roads, bridges, and transit. There is no “shall” or “must” in this proposition. Instead, it is very open ended and does not allow the voters and taxpayers to know how the money will actually be spent, nor the percentages for each category.
Keep in mind that House Speaker K.C. Becker, one of the sponsors of the bill that produced Proposition CC, back in April during her discourse with Representative Susan Beckman in a House Finance Committee hearing, said, “As you know, Representative Beckman, one legislature can’t bind future legislators, so I don’t know what’s going to happen forevermore. And any change that is statutory, whether voters approve it or not, can always be changed by the legislature because the legislature always has the authority to change statutes.” These words from the Speaker of the House clearly states that there are no guarantees as to where the additional funds will go.
Prop CC, referred to the ballot by the 2019 Legislature, would gut the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Surveys show TABOR, passed by voters in 1992, is more popular than ever.
Taxpayers like TABOR because voters do not trust politicians on either side of the aisle. They are tired of legislators passing laws that counter their will, such as jobs-killing regulations of oil and gas that voters rejected on the ballot. They are tired of state officials acting broke while the economy generates mountains of surplus cash.
In this file photo, volunteers pile up signs for backers of the 2005 ballot measures that aimed to lift some TABOR restrictions. Referendum C passed which allowed the state to retain expected refunds for five years and reset the TABOR base.
By JON CALDARA | Columnist for The Denver Post
PUBLISHED: June 28, 2019 at 2:14 pm
Come on you taxpayer-hating, consent-loathing, voter-fearing pantywaists.
Cowboy up and put a full repeal of our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights on the ballot. You know you want to. So just do it.
I’m talking to you in the Colorado Legislature who’ve been calling tax increases “fees” because you don’t trust the people who elected you to vote on their own taxes. You who want another “TABOR time out” to nibble away consent and jack up spending limits permanently.
You’ve always hated TABOR because you hate asking for permission to raise taxes. You hate asking to raise debt. You hate asking to keep excess tax revenue above the rate of population growth and inflation.
You’ve used every conceivable loophole the courts have pried open for you to keep what would have been refunded to working families.
And now you never want to have to ask again.
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?
PERA obligations still threaten Colorado’s future
Colorado is ranked one of the worst states in the US regarding the ability to pay state pensions. In October 2018, Bloomberg’s Danielle Moran tallied the total liabilities and the funded portion that applies to each state’s public employee pension funds, finding that five states had funded less than 50% of the cost needed to pay for their promised state public employee’s pension benefits: Kentucky (33.9%) New Jersey (35.8%) Illinois (38.4%) Connecticut (43.8%) and Colorado was the fifth-worst in the US (47.1%). The exorbitant real debt of PERA obligations is over twice the size of the entire state budget ($32 billion) when using a discount rate that the private sector has to use in calculating its debt obligations.
According to the Foundation of Economic Education, another way to measure the shortfall is to calculate the amount of money that each individual state resident would have to cough up to fully fund the cost of providing state government employees with the retirement benefits promised to them by state politicians. This analysis shows that the 2018 cost of unfunded state government employee pension liabilities per Colorado resident (man, woman, and child) is $9,722 the fifth-highest in the US.
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
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