Colorado lawmakers have all but signed off on the biggest budget in state history. The $28.9 billion spending plan invests taxpayer dollars in roads, schools and the state’s troubled pension fund.
Unlike in previous years, lawmakers had a $1.3 billion surplus to split between their different priorities. The extra money is thanks to a booming a economy and the federal tax reform package, according to state economists. While a surplus has eased tensions among lawmakers jockeying for priorities, it also has them scrambling for the extra dollars.
The Senate added a number of changes to the budget Wednesday night. The chamber is scheduled to take a final vote on it’s version this week before a bipartisan committee begins ironing differences with the House version. The deadline for final passage is the end of next week. Here’s where the money is — and isn’t — headed.
No TABOR Refund
In Colorado, the Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rightslimits the amount of money lawmakers can spend before they have to supply refunds to taxpayers. Lawmakers don’t expect to hit the TABOR cap over the next fiscal year, so Coloradans won’t be getting a refund check next year. Part of the reason for that has to do with a major financial compromise struck last year. It recategorized a fee paid by hospitals, which created room for spending beneath the TABOR limit.
Fix Roads And Bridges
The budget allocates $495 billion for one-time spending on road projects. That’s a fraction of the $9 billion the Colorado Department of Transportation says it needs to modernize transportation infrastructure around the state. But the spending is in line with a request from the governor and a compromise transportation bill approved in the Senate last week. That plan would use the money to buy time for voters to consider a citizen initiative in November to raise sales taxes for road funding. If that fails, the compromise would trigger another initiative asking voters for new transportation bonds in 2019. Continue reading →
Say you had a box with a plant growing inside it. For reasons dark and twisted, the plant finds itself quite content to grow inside the black confines of the box. It gains inch after inch each week. Eventually, the plant runs out of room to grow but the box is a box. It can’t grow with the plant. The plant, doomed by its own prodigiousness, grows too big for its cramped home and crushes itself against the six walls of its cardboard prison.
So, what do plants and Colorado’s economy have in common? While I grant that it is a little melodramatic, I think it’s also an apt metaphor for the situation imposed by Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
In 1992, Colorado voters approved adding an amendment to Colorado’s constitution that put a cap on how much revenue the state is allowed to collect through taxes. It also requires the state to authorize any new taxes directly through voters by means of a referendum process. Any amount above the cap is refunded to taxpayers. This mechanism allows me to feed into an unhealthy obsession with Legos every year, as my tax return checks can be quite generous. However, at the same time Colorado’s constitution has a requirement in it that requires the state to increase education spending to keep pace with inflation.
One great way to think of both tax and spending mechanisms is to think of TABOR as the brake and Amendment 23 as the gas. TABOR limits government growth and spending while Amendment 23 keeps a steady drip of cash flowing into government expenditures.
PUEBLO CITY Schools (D60) Board of Education has joined a lawsuit that would overturn the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Pueblo County District 70 joined the federal case earlier.
Educators have been led to believe that repealing TABOR’s state and local tax and spending restrictions would trickle down into more legislative funding of the public schools. Not so fast. The state’s recent budget history says otherwise.
Since approved by the voters in 1992, TABOR has done what it promised to do, which is to require voter approval before taxes can be raised and to tie revenue increases to Colorado’s overall economic growth unless voters permit.
In fact, state revenues and spending have increased every year under TABOR even under the cap of combined growth in population and inflation.
( Photo by Denver Post file )
A long-running legal challenge to Colorado’s constitutional amendment limiting tax revenues gained significant new allies Monday: school boards from five school districts.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th circuit ruled that the lawsuit brought in 2011 had no standing because the original plaintiffs were not “directly injured by the law.”
The hope is that adding school districts to the lawsuit will meet that standard, and convince a district court judge that the lawsuit should proceed.
The boards from Denver Public Schools, Boulder Valley School District, Pueblo City Schools, Cheyenne County School District and Gunnison Watershed School District joined the suit.
Mike Johnson, a Denver school board member, said in a statement that since TABOR was enacted 24 years ago, Colorado has dropped to No. 42 in the nation in public funding for education, more than $2,000 per pupil lower than the national average.
“We are joining this lawsuit to restore the ability of the DPS board and the legislature to fund public education at the level Colorado students deserve,” said Johnson, who made the case to his board colleagues last month to join the lawsuit.
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, was passed by voters in 1992. The law requires that local governments get approval from voters before raising taxes. It also limits the amount of taxes the government can collect, triggering refunds if revenues exceed an annually-adjusted cap, unless voters allow the government to keep the extra money. Continue reading →
School officials say they have standing as plaintiffs because of drop in funding
Colorado school boards who claim Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights has decimated student funding have joined a five-year legal fight to have the law dismantled.
Five Colorado school boards have been added as new plaintiffs in the original federal lawsuit filed against the anti-tax measure, also known as TABOR. The suit was filed in 2011 and led by state Sen. Andy Kerr and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst.
Lawyers for the original plaintiffs hope to keep the suit alive with the addition of the school districts, saying the districts have legal standing to sue because they have been directly injured by TABOR.
After suffering a major setback earlier this year, the legal team trying to repeal Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment is back and charging once again into the breach.
Better known as TABOR, the amendment limits state spending and prohibits tax increases without a vote of the people. It has been panned by many lawmakers and policy analysts, and some point to it as a reason why Colorado lags in education funding nationally. Still, supporters believe it is a venerable effort at direct democracy.
In 2011, a group of public officials filed a lawsuit against the 1992 TABOR amendment, which puts an annual cap on the state’s tax revenue, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. The case is officially filed against Governor Hickenlooper, who as head of state represents the Colorado Constitution. In the intervening five years, the case’s legitimacy has been, at different turns, supported, disputed and ultimately denied.
In 2013, two years after the case was filed, the Tenth Circuit approved it, heard it and handed down a decision in favor of the plaintiffs in 2014. But Colorado’s then-Attorney General, John Suthers, challenged that decision, arguing that the plaintiffs did not in fact qualify to be heard. The Supreme Court sided with Suthers and issued an order for the Tenth Circuit to reconsider the case in light of a recent decision, Arizona Legislature v. Arizona Redistricting Commission, that mandated that plaintiffs in this kind of case must be composed of complete government bodies, not just individuals. Continue reading →
Pueblo City Schools joins in lawsuit challenging TABOR
Pueblo City Schools (D60) has added its name to a list of plaintiffs in a constitutional challenge to Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
During its regular September meeting, the board of education approved a resolution that will see the district become part of the Kerr et al v. Hickenlooper civil lawsuit, filed in 2011 in U.S. District Court in Colorado.
The plaintiffs — current and past state legislators, public officials, educators, administrators and private citizens — have sued to overturn TABOR.
“The ability of Pueblo School District No. 60 to provide adequate education services to its students depends in part on its ability to convince the Colorado General Assembly to adequately fund the Public School Finance Act,” the approved resolution declares.
Additionally, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights “prevents the state and its local school districts from fulfilling their constitutional obligations to adequately fund the public schools” and has impinged on the district’s ability to provide for the education of its children “due to requirements for elections to approve any increases in the property tax mill levies.” Continue reading →
How schools are funded in Colorado is so complex, there’s a joke that only five people in the state truly understand it.
Superintendent Jan DeLay in northeastern Colorado’s RE-1 Valley School District is on a mission to change that. She’s convinced that once average citizens understand why so many districts like hers are in a fiscal crisis, they’ll approve a local tax measure on the ballot to fund RE-1.
The money would be would be used to attract and keep teachers and to expand academic opportunities for students through technology, textbooks and other programs.
The last time the district passed a mill levy was in 2005, for $500,000 to update buildings, technology, textbooks and transportation. DeLay says that money is gone within the first couple of months in the new school year. Continue reading →
The Colorado economy is booming now compared to during the recent recession, but because of a 26-year-old tax policy embedded in the Colorado Constitution (informally called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or “TABOR”), Colorado cannot invest all of its tax revenue to make up for cuts made during those harder economic times. Instead, the amendment says that all revenue collected above an out-of-date cap must be refunded to Colorado taxpayers. Each taxpayer received a refund of $13 to $41 this year, while our state continued to cut funds for basic infrastructure and services.
EDITORIAL: The Creation of a Colorado Charter School, Part Five – Pagosa Daily Post News Events & Video for Pagosa Springs Colorado
We might mention a couple of noteworthy laws created in the early 1990s, here in Colorado. One of those laws — the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, better known as TABOR — was approved by Colorado voters as an amendment to the state constitution, in 1992. TABOR’s language attempts to restrain the growth of state and local government in Colorado by limiting spending increases. In general terms, TABOR ties the rising cost of government to inflation and population growth; increases in tax revenues that exceed the TABOR-defined limits must be refunded to the taxpayers.
A quick illustration. Between 1970 and 2000, the average value of a single family home in Colorado nearly tripled — when adjusted for inflation. (Source: U.S. Census. It more than tripled when inflation is included.) That meant that a government agency funded solely by property tax would be pulling in nearly three times as much revenue (adjusted for inflation) in 2000 as they were in 1970 — unless that agency had reduced its mill levy. (I’ve never heard of a government entity in Colorado voluntarily reducing its mill levy.)
This hypothetical government entity was not required to actually provide better service in exchange for this ‘natural’ increase in tax revenues. The extra money just flowed in, without anyone necessarily doing anything differently.
TABOR attempts to control this type of taxation growth. Colorado voters, meanwhile, can choose to increase their taxes voluntarily, to fund new local or state programs, whenever they get the urge — and in fact, that happens on a fairly regular basis. (Maybe not so often in Archuleta County.)
One of the government systems that’s funded largely by property taxes — and which might have seen its tax funding nearly triple between 1970 and 2000, had it not been for the passage of TABOR — is the state’s education system.