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.

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Jun 28

The big winner tonight is… TABOR!

The big winner tonight is… TABOR!  

mmJon Caldara  AUTHOR

As I’m watching the numbers roll in tonight from Colorado’s primary elections, I just had to tell you what the news might not pick up on, even if they noticed it. The big winner in tonight’s Republican Primary is our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

You might recall last year several weak-kneed Republicans in the state legislature worked with 100% of the Democrats to blow a massive hole in TABOR. Senate Bill 267 labeled a giant tax hike as a “fee” and a $2 billion debt package as “certificates of participation” as a way to avoid going to the voters as required by TABOR. The end result is that while Trump gave you an income tax cut, these Republicans took it all away, without even asking.

Tonight Republican voters made very clear – when you betray us, when you betray our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, you will NOT go any higher in political office.

Three of the anemic Republicans who voted for this grand betrayal had the gall to run for higher office. State Senator Owen Hill wanted to become a U.S. Congressman, State Representative Polly Lawrence wanted to become Colorado’s State Treasurer, and State Representative Dan Thurlow wanted to graduate to State Senator.

All three lost in their primaries tonight.

Republicans should take note. You mess with our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, you go no higher in elected office (at least as a Republican).

Join our TABOR Yes coalition right now and help politicians remember why we love TABOR!

Think Freedom,

Jon

The big winner tonight is… TABOR!

Jun 18

A tax by any other name …

A tax by any other name …

Mesa County District Judge Lance Timbreza delivered a solid favor to taxpayers. He recently ruled against the Grand Valley Drainage District stating that the taxing body illegally collected revenue for its stormwater drainage system. The district bypassed restrictions established by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by calling its rent-seeking activities a “fee” rather than a “tax.”

More importantly, Timbreza’s decision serves as a great precedent to make certain that other governmental entities don’t willfully sidestep the Colorado Constitution. The GVDD case is simply a microcosm of a larger pattern occurring across the state, where various taxing authorities are leveraging the exact same doublespeak as a loophole to generate more revenue without voter approval.

For taxpayers, this was nothing more than a small victory against a Leviathan-sized foe.

Which is why I was surprised by the editorial staff of The Daily Sentinel criticizing the GVDD’s decision not to appeal the judgment. The editorial called it a “bad decision” and suggested that “calling this a victory for property owners… seems premature.”

The editorial suggests that the need for stormwater drainage does not necessarily go away, which is true. The piece continues, “Good luck trying to get the public to buy into a taxing scheme after the county and the chamber fought like hell to call a fee to address the problem of a tax.”

But that’s the whole point! Trust in government is at an all-time low for a reason: Many of these institutions have simply not earned the trust of their tax base. Constantly moving the goal posts only reinforces this mistrust.

Such deceitful tactics used to skirt TABOR have been in circulation for far too long.

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Jun 14

Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) Should Be a Role Model for the Nation

Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) Should Be a Role Model for the Nation

A balanced budget requirement is neither necessary nor sufficient for good fiscal policy.

If you want proof for that assertion, check out states such as IllinoisCalifornia, and New Jersey. They all have provisions to limit red ink, yet there is more spending (and more debt) every year. There are also anti-deficit rules in nations such as GreeceFrance, and Italyand those countries are not exactly paragons of fiscal discipline.

The real gold standard for good fiscal policy is my Golden Rule. And the best way to make sure government doesn’t grow faster than the private sector is to have a constitutional rule limiting the growth of government.

That’s why I’m a big fan of the “debt brake” in Switzerland’s constitution and Article 107 in Hong Kong’s constitution.

And it’s also why the 49 other states, assuming they want an effective fiscal rule, should look at Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) as a role model.

Colorado’s Independence Institute has a very informative study on how TABOR works and the degree to which it has been effective. Here’s a good description of the system.

Colorado voters adopted The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in 1992. TABOR allows government spending to grow each year at the rate of inflation-plus-population. Government can increase faster whenever voters consent. Likewise, tax rates can be increased whenever voters consent. …The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that excess government revenues be refunded to taxpayers, unless taxpayers vote to let the government keep the revenue.

And here are the headline results.

Cumulatively, TABOR refunds have been over $800 per Coloradan, or $3,200 for a family of four. …If Colorado government had continued growing at the same high rate (8.56% compound annual rate) as in 1983-92, the average Coloradan would have paid an additional $442 taxes in 2012. The cumulative two-decade savings per Coloradan are $6,173—or more than $24,000 for a family of four.

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Jun 07

Extras on Excise: California’s Take on ‘Tax v. Fee’

Extras on Excise: California’s Take on ‘Tax v. Fee’

 Due to states’ various ways of classifying and labeling charges, there is often confusion over the difference between taxes and fees. In many instances, there are constitutional restrictions on how states may impose or increase “taxes,” such as voter approval requirements, whereas fee impositions and increases have fewer hurdles. A recent California Supreme Court opinion illustrates how California determines whether a payment to a governmental entity is considered a tax or a fee.

In Calif. Bldg. Indus. Ass’n v. State Water Resources Control Bd., No. S226753 (Cal. May 7, 2018), the Court noted that determining whether a charge is a tax or fee has been a “‘recurring chore’ for California courts” for the past several decades. The courts are tasked with this responsibility because 1978’s Proposition 13, which incorporated Article XIII A into the state constitution (requiring tax increases to be approved by a supermajority in both the Senate and the Assembly), did not originally define “tax” (later amendments defined the term).

For this particular case, the court determined that the charge in question, the water waste discharge fee, was a fee and not an unconstitutional tax. They reached this conclusion by applying the test for identifying regulatory fees from Sinclair Paint Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 937 P.2d 1350 (Cal. June 26, 1997), which states that a levy is a regulatory fee if the following apply:

  • The amount of the fee does not exceed reasonable costs of providing the service that it is imposed for;
  • the fee is not imposed for unrelated revenue purposes; and
  • the fee amount has a reasonable relationship to the burdens that the feepayers’ activities or operations create.

Here, the court found that these three requirements were met. The water fee amounts did not exceed the costs for providing the services, the fee structure “explicitly limited fees to the amount necessary to recover the administrative costs of the permit program,” and the state records proved that the water resources control board had used a reasonable allocation methodology. The water waste discharge fee was thus a fee, not a tax, and the board’s decision to increase the fee did not require having the Legislature pass a bill.

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Jun 07

Opinion: Newcomers need to know benefits of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights

Opinion: Newcomers need to know benefits of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights

Jennifer Schubert-Akin and Amy Oliver Cooke
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

The latest Census Bureau data released earlier this year shows that Colorado’s population has grown by nearly two-thirds since 1992, one of the fastest increases in the country. 

If you are part of the more than two million new residents who have arrived over this time, there are a few things you should know: Avoid I-70 on Sundays. We are Coloradans, not Coloradoans. And the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is responsible for much of the state’s economic success, which likely drew you here in the first place.

Between 1992 and 2016, median household income in Colorado grew by 30 percent, adjusted for inflation. This growth was more than double the national rate over the same period. Only Minnesota and North Dakota grew by more than 30 percent over this timeframe. Colorado gained $20 billion in adjusted gross income over these years — again, one of the biggest increases in the nation. 

While many other states have struggled with stagnant incomes over this period, what’s set Colorado apart? Its Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, passed in 1992, which requires state and local governments to ask voters for permission before raising taxes or debt. 

TABOR helped end years of economic stagnation and laid the groundwork for the state’s future success by keeping resources in the hands of Colorado residents who could put them to their highest valued use and checking overzealous government spending. 

TABOR has protected pocketbooks and state solvency from legislators who believe they know how to spend your money better than you. Its requirement that excess revenues must be refunded to taxpayers has also resulted in more than $2 billion being returned to the private economy to be spent at local businesses or saved for retirement.  

 

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Jun 07

Colorado Supreme Court Issues 2nd Anti-TABOR Decision in Less than a Month—Showing Why We Need Reform!

Colorado Supreme Court Issues 2nd Anti-TABOR Decision in Less than a Month—Showing Why We Need Reform!

The Colorado Supreme Court has continued its demolition campaign against the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) with a new decision further restricting the people’s right to vote on tax increases. This latest decision comes less than a month after the court held the people have no right to vote on a law that re-adjusted sales tax exemptions in a manner that increased revenue.

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May 04

The Growing Fight Over Forcing Nonprofits to Disclose Donors

The Growing Fight Over Forcing Nonprofits to Disclose Donors

Lawmakers and conservatives in states across the country are growingly concerned that the push for donor disclosure will harm privacy rights. (Photo:JGI/Jamie Grill Blend Images/Newscom)

Conservatives in states across the country say that pushes to pass laws requiring nonprofits to report their donors’ private information threaten First Amendment rights.

“I’ve been contacted by dozens of constituents with concerns over their rights to privacy, and possible harassment by organizations or individuals, or even their employers, if their donation histories are made public,” Oklahoma state Rep. Mark Lepak, a Republican, told The Daily Signal in an email.

At least a dozen states have considered such donor disclosure legislation this year, but none has been successful, according to the State Policy Network, a nonprofit organization that supports independent think tanks around the nation.

“Since Jan. 1, 16 states have considered laws that would require causes and groups like The Heritage Foundation to report the names and addresses of their supporters to state government,” Tracie Sharp, president and CEO of the State Policy Network, said in an email to The Daily Signal.

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May 03

The Growing Fight Over Forcing Nonprofits to Disclose Donors

POLITICSNEWS

The Growing Fight Over Forcing Nonprofits to Disclose Donors

Lawmakers and conservatives in states across the country are growingly concerned that the push for donor disclosure will harm privacy rights. (Photo:JGI/Jamie Grill Blend Images/Newscom)

Conservatives in states across the country say that pushes to pass laws requiring nonprofits to report their donors’ private information threaten First Amendment rights.

“I’ve been contacted by dozens of constituents with concerns over their rights to privacy, and possible harassment by organizations or individuals, or even their employers, if their donation histories are made public,” Oklahoma state Rep. Mark Lepak, a Republican, told The Daily Signal in an email.

At least a dozen states have considered such donor disclosure legislation this year, but none has been successful, according to the State Policy Network, a nonprofit organization that supports independent think tanks around the nation.

“Since Jan. 1, 16 states have considered laws that would require causes and groups like The Heritage Foundation to report the names and addresses of their supporters to state government,” Tracie Sharp, president and CEO of the State Policy Network, said in an email to The Daily Signal.

Heritage, a leading conservative think tank, is the parent organization of The Daily Signal, its multimedia news operation.

None of these donor disclosure initiatives has passed so far, Starlee Coleman, senior policy adviser at the State Policy Network, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.

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