Mar 14

The Tenth Circuit’s Punt in Kerr v. Hickenlooper Opens the Door for a Torrent of Litigation

In 1992 the people of Colorado voted to amend their Constitution with adoption of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). This was a historic initiative that put the power in the hands of the people to decide for themselves whether to approve new taxes or tax-hikes. While many states have constitutional protections to prevent new or increased taxes—such as California’s requirement of a supermajority vote in the legislature—Colorado’s TABOR was unique in that it made the citizens of the state the final word on new taxes or increased taxes. TABOR therein served as a model that has been implemented through constitutional amendments in other states, and which NFIB has supported as a means of protecting small business owners from new and ingenious taxing schemes. But TABOR is under attack—and this may have profound implications, not only in Colorado but throughout the country.

TABOR’s Legal Challenges

TABOR was upheld as constitutional in the Colorado Supreme Court last year in the face of a lawsuit advanced by educators and the parents of school-aged children who complained that TABOR makes it harder for schools to get necessary funding. NFIB Small Business Legal Center filed in that case to defend the law, and we were pleased to see the Court ultimately affirm the constitutionality of TABOR. But TABOR faces yet another challenge—this time in federal court. Continue reading

Mar 13

Colorado legislators grapple with pot-tax refund issue

Colorado lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee expressed frustration Wednesday that even though the state’s voters approved taxes on retail marijuana sales as required under the Taxpayer’s Bill of rights, some of that revenue might have to be refunded under TABOR if more taxes are collected than officials estimated.

JBC staff delivered a 100-page report to legislators outlining most of the scenarios that could occur of if the state collects more than the official $67 million estimate for the first full fiscal year of recreational pot sales, from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015.

That estimate was given to voters in the official voters pamphlet — known as the Blue Book — last fall, which explained Proposition AA, the new taxes established for retail marijuana sales. That booklet estimated likely revenue from new pot taxes at $67 million in the first full year. (The ballot language itself pegged predicted tax revenue at $70 million.)

Most current estimates, however, show the state will likely collect far more than $67 million.

The report outlines three courses of action:

– Wait to see how much tax is collected, then ask voters to let the state keep any excesses;

– Send a refund of any taxes collected above the estimate; or,

– Attempt to reduce the 15 percent excise tax on wholesale sales and 10 percent special sales tax in order to keep the amounts collected under $67 million.

“This is a bizarre result that we’d have to refund all that tax money just because what we asked for [was an estimate] in a year when this is going to be a growing industry,” said JBC Vice Chairman Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, at a meeting of the budget panel Wednesday.

“It’s been the will of the people who passed TABOR,” said JBC Chairwoman Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. Continue reading

Nov 17

Colorado Voters’ Power of the Purse

(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Current and former lawmakers are taking the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to court for a second opinion.

Workers install a large U.S. flag and a Colorado State Seal on the west side of the Capitol in Denver on Friday, January 7, 2011, as part of the decoration for the inauguration of Governor-elect John Hickenlooper.

Many states have provisions designed to limit the amount of taxes their legislatures can raise, but only Colorado has gone so far as to pass the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, Colorado’s unique constellation of confusing laws prevents the state legislature from raising taxes without public approval and caps the amount the government can spend in a way that’s designed to shrink it over time. All levels of government—city, county, and state—are limited in what they can spend by a complicated formula, which basically indexes revenue to inflation plus population growth. If the tax revenues the state and local governments collect in any given year are higher than the cap, which happens in good economic times or when there is an influx of new residents, states and cities are required by law to refund taxpayers. Over the years, more than 80 cities have passed local referendums to relieve their governments from some of the burdens of TABOR. Last week, Denver voters passed, by a margin of 74 percent to 26 percent, a referendum that allows the city to keep the surplus money it has already collected and spend it. The referendum they voted for is called “de-Brucing,” named after the law’s anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce. (On the state level, a de-Brucing referendum passed in 2005.) The city argued that without de-Brucing, it would no longer be able to provide basic city services; it hadn’t trained a new firefighter or police officer class in four years. Continue reading