Sep 19

Court fight over bag fee could change state finance

Some of the most consequential fights over Colorado government finance in the coming years won’t happen at the state legislature or at the ballot box, but in a courtroom, where fiscal conservatives and business groups are contesting government fees of as little as 20 cents.

In Aspen, a taxpayer advocacy group is fighting a 20-cent surcharge on grocery bags in a lawsuit that’s now gone all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

At the state government level, a small business coalition is arguing that the secretary of state’s office for decades has been illegally using business filing fees to finance a slew of unrelated government services.

And — perhaps most significantly — the TABOR Foundation is challenging the constitutionality of a $264 million hospital fee that generates another $264 million in matching funds from the federal government to pay for uncompensated care.

At issue in each of these cases is a seemingly simple question: What’s the difference between a tax and a fee?

But no matter how small some of the contested fees are, the answer could have wide-ranging consequences for taxpayers and virtually every level of Colorado government.

Click (HERE) to read the rest of this story on TABOR:

Sep 13

Colorado lawmakers turn to ‘fees’ to avoid Taxpayer Bill of Rights limits

By   /   September 11, 2017

Colorado state lawmakers increasingly engage in fiscal gymnastics to get around provisions of the state’s landmark Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), according to both supporters and critics of the state’s 25-year-old constitutional amendment.

Approved by voters in 1992, the TABOR amendment mandates that state and local governments get voter approval for specified tax increases, and it limits the rate of government spending growth based on population increases and inflation.

Though a subsequent voter-approved measure eased the spending cap, critics like Jon Caldara, president of the Denver-based Independence Institute, say the legislature has turned to “dark money,” such as newly designated “fees” that don’t require votes of the people, to avoid TABOR’s restrictions. Colorado courts have tended to uphold those TABOR workarounds.

In a blog post, Caldara pointed to efforts to create a hospital provider fee as one of the ways lawmakers evade the spirit of the amendment and avoid difficult budget decisions. The bill exempting the hospital fee from the TABOR spending cap was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May.

Caldara credits TABOR with helping the state avoid economic pain. When the nation went into a recession in 2002, other states saw huge drops in revenues that caused massive budget shortfalls, but that didn’t happen in Colorado, he said.

Other observers, however, say TABOR has made Colorado nearly impossible to govern.

“From my perspective, it’s an unmitigated disaster,” Colorado State University political science professor John Straayer told Watchdog.org. “It’s stripped the legislature of its fiscal authority.” Continue reading

Sep 03

Judge to decide Fort Collins broadband ballot wording issue

The fate of a November ballot question that could lead to Fort Collins providing high-speed internet services is in the hands of Larimer County District Court judge.

Fort Collins resident Eric Sutherland and attorneys representing the city squared off in court Friday morning to argue about whether the content and form of the broadband ballot question meet legal requirements.

District Court Judge Thomas French has until Tuesday to decide whether to change the ballot language approved by City Council or let it stand.

The city’s deadline for certifying the ballot language to the Larimer County Clerk’s Office is Sept. 8. The county is coordinating the Nov. 7 election.

Sutherland raised five complaints about the ballot language, ranging from the lack of a comma, which he said made the question grammatically incorrect, to whether it complies with the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, or TABOR, amendment to the state constitution.

If approved, the measure would amend the City Charter to allow but not require the City Council to establish a telecommunications utility. The utility would be a standalone entity or part of the city’s Light and Power Utility.

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Aug 07

Colorado Court Grants Taxpayers’ Motion as to Healthcare Tax

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Colorado Court Grants Taxpayers’ Motion as to Healthcare Tax

July 27, 2017 – DENVER, CO. A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today celebrated the ruling by a Denver District Court accepting its amended and supplemental complaint against Colorado agencies and their officials for violating the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
 
The TABOR Foundation filed its motion on June 30, 2017. Two years earlier, on June 26, 2015, the TABOR Foundation filed its initial lawsuit charging its members should have been allowed to vote on whether a “hospital provider fee” may be imposed on Colorado hospitals; since 2009 Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing has collected tens of millions and perhaps even a hundred million dollars.
 
Federal law lets States impose healthcare assessments to pay for Medicaid services, but the regulations provide for “taxes” and not “fees” as Colorado calls them to avoid TABOR. Although the 2009 act says the funds will be kept separate from the general fund, in fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 some of the tax proceeds were put in the general fund.
 
The TABOR Foundation sought an end to the tax and refund of revenues collected, with interest, as required by TABOR. As of October 16, 2015, a motion by the Colorado defendants to dismiss the lawsuit had been briefed fully. On May 30, 2017, however, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law S.B. 17-267, which created the Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise to administer the Hospital Provider Charge beginning on July 1, 2017. All of the TABOR Foundation’s 2015 claims remain virtually identical, except for the new challenge to creation of the “Enterprise.”

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Jul 15

Progressive commissioner group seeks to “untangle TABOR” & redirect Senate Bill 267 money

DENVER – Transportation funding in Senate Bill 17-267, that was billed as the “Sustainability of Rural Colorado” Act, may in fact filter to more-populated areas if a newly-formed association made up of like-minded county commissioners has anything to say about it.

SB 267 was rushed through with more than 70 pages of strike below in the waning moments of the 2017 legislative session. It was billed as the “Grand Deal” by its supporters and the “Grand Betrayal” by its detractors.

There is no doubt it was controversial throughout the process because it involved reclassifying the Hospital Provider Fee from a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) governed account to an enterprise, non-TABOR restricted account. It also put into use Certificates of Participation (COPs), which some believe are an end around TABOR.   Some also believed it violated Colorado’s single-subject law for new legislation.

Since it was signed into law and took effect July 1, Complete Colorado broke the news that a drafting error would cost special taxing districts such as the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which funds the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, millions in revenue.

Complete Colorado has also learned that an organized group of county commissioners called Counties and Communities Acting Together (CCAT) see the new law as a stepping stone to further weaken TABOR.

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Jul 05

In Groundbreaking Decision, DC Court Orders IRS to Return Money to Victims

Is it a “tax” or “fee”?
You be the judge.
The Court held that the IRS could not charge “fees” for a thing with no value to the “tax”payer.

In Groundbreaking Decision, DC Court Orders IRS to Return Money to Victims

The judicial branch exists primarily to ensure that Constitutional principles are properly upheld by the courts. And yet, constitutional victories have been troublingly rare as of late. But even though limited government and a true separation of powers seems almost non-existent, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia just handed down a precedent-setting decision that is a win for anyone who supports constitutional limits to state power.

In the class action suit of Steele v. United States, the Court ruled that the IRS would be required to return an estimated $270 million in “user fees” charged to Americans in what a U.S. District Court determined was an unlawful expansion of the agency’s authority.

The Court ruled that occupational licensing was outside the IRS’ scope of authority.

In 2010, the Treasury Department and the IRS issued a tangle of new regulations, including a requirement that tax preparers register for a specific ID number (PTIN) to be entered on all returns. For anyone who had previously been preparing tax returns for others without a state-sanctioned “professional” preparer’s status, this new regulation required them to pass a competency exam before receiving the required PTIN.

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Jul 01

Healthcare “Enterprise” is Unconstitutional, says Taxpayer Group

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: William Perry Pendley, 303/292-2021, Ext. 30

Healthcare “Enterprise” is Unconstitutional, says Taxpayer Group

June 30, 2017 – DENVER, CO. A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today filed a motion to amend and supplement its complaint against two Colorado entities and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). On June 26, 2015, the TABOR Foundation alleges in Denver County Court that its members should have been allowed to vote on whether a “hospital provider fee” could be imposed on Colorado hospitals, which since its enactment in 2009, allowed Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to collect tens of millions and perhaps even a hundred million dollars. Although federal law lets States impose healthcare assessments to pay for Medicaid services, the regulations provide for “taxes” and not “fees” as Colorado calls them to avoid TABOR. Also, although the 2009 act provided that the funds collected would be kept separate from the general fund, in fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 some of the tax proceeds were put in the general fund. The Foundation sought declaratory and injunctive relief and refund of revenues collected, with the payment of interest, as required by TABOR. As of October 16, 2015, a motion by the Colorado defendants to dismiss the lawsuit had been briefed fully. On May 30, 2017, Governor Hickenlooper signed into law S.B. 17-267, which created the Colorado Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise to administer the Hospital Provider Charge beginning on July 1, 2017; however, except for the insertion of the Enterprise in this purportedly unconstitutional endeavor, all of the Foundation’s 2015 claims for relief remain virtually identical.

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Jun 24

Guest editorial: Provider fee bait and switch evades TABOR

June 22, 2017 9:58 AM· By Brian Vande Krol

Little ole Colorado, you’ve done well for yourself. You were a collection of cow towns when I first moved here in 1988.  It was said that yogurt was the only culture in Colorado, and cowboys don’t eat yogurt.

Colorado is wealthy. Not DC wealthy, but quite a step up from the late 80’s. We rank 11th for median household income, have the 10th lowest unemployment rate, and the 14th lowest poverty rate. We have the Denver Performing Arts Center, and a growing system of subsidized trains.  Colorado is also healthy, ranking 10th.

One reason we have done well is our restrained state government. With our balanced budget requirement and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), government has a tough time taking more of our money. That means greater economic growth.

But 70% of our state’s roads and bridges are in poor or mediocre condition, and getting worse. And, despite all that wealth and health, 1 in 4 Coloradans depend on the government for healthcare (Medicaid).  The legislature wants more of your money, and is willing to close down hospitals to keep it.

The most cynical move of all

 The legislature argued for several years about the Hospital Provider Fee, an $800 million program, claiming it is solely responsible for exceeding TABOR revenue limits, a situation that would require refunds to taxpayers. (Yes, it’s actually a tax. They just call it a fee so they don’t have to ask perIcon_2016_Guest_Edmission to take the money.) But every revenue source is equally to blame for exceeding the limit. To appease their insatiable appetite for more revenue, the legislature moved the program out of the general fund so it is not subject to the revenue limits.  This is a crafty, deceptive scheme to avoid asking permission from voters to take more money, and to avoid refunding excess collections. They threatened to close rural hospitals if they didn’t get their way.

TABOR requires a change to the revenue limit if a program’s costs are moved off the books. It also requires TABOR to be interpreted to “reasonably restrain most the growth of government.” Instead of lowering the limit by $800 million, it was lowered only $200 million, resulting in a permanent $600 million per year tax increase.  (The $800 million will still be spent, but outside of the budget, leaving more room in the budget, and more taxpayer dollars to be taken and spent.)  Senate President Kevin Grantham (R, Canon City) believes that as long as there is a change, he has met the constitutional requirement. Continue reading

Mar 03

Case given new life that could throw state’s elections system in flux

Case given new life that could throw state’s elections system in flux

 

The Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday sent a case back to a lower court that could leave future funding for state and local elections in jeopardy.

The case, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections. The business group hopes to reclaim the revenue, which would potentially throw elections into flux.

The appellate decision is not immediate cause for concern for state officials, as the court is only requiring the lower court to gather more information before making a decision.

“We reverse the summary judgment and remand to the district court with directions to hold further proceedings to determine whether the Business and Licensing charges have been adjusted or increased since the passage of TABOR in 1992, so as to require voter approval for the adjustments,” the Court of Appeals wrote in its decision.

“Depending on the court’s determination, it may need to reach the issue as to whether the Business and Licensing charges constitute a tax or a fee.”

That last statement by the court represents the heart of the case and what could cast uncertainty over elections in Colorado. More broadly, it could throw a curveball to all state departments that are funded by fees.

The question is whether business filings collected by the department qualify as a “fee” or a “tax.”

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