DENVER – There’s a veritable graveyard in Colorado of failed constitutional reform movements.
Blue ribbon panels, legislative committees, summits and countless academic studies have been mulled up over the years to address the fact that Colorado voters have frequently and easily petitioned and changed the state constitution.
But a new group – Building a Better Colorado – is launching a 30-stop listening tour across the state to find out what Coloradans want to do about the growing constitutional conundrum.
Not everything is on the table, but just about.
The group is backed by Colorado businessman Dan Ritchie, who has led two Colorado universities and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. He’s attracted 16 political co-chairs split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. The first of the meetings (what organizers called a dress rehearsal) kicked off this weekend in Grand Junction at the Club 20 meeting.
“It’s unlike anything that has been done before,” said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for the group with Onsight Public Affairs. “We want to go out, talk to Coloradans, present them with the challenges as we see them and then figure out if we can come up with solutions.” Continue reading
Club 20 pitches ideas to Western Slope conservatives during event
Fight brewing over TABOR among the issues
GRAND JUNCTION — Some of the Western Slope’s most influential and most conservative local leaders heard an unspecific plan to change the way Coloradans vote on political candidates, put constitutional amendments on the ballot and pay taxes at Club 20’s fall conclave this weekend.
A new bipartisan, nonprofit civic organization called Building a Better Colorado is crafting its pitch to Colorado voters, who might vote on some of these changes during next year’s general election.
Looming budget crises and potentially unsustainable cuts in state services are driving civic and political leaders to look for remedies, supporters told Club 20 members Saturday morning.
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Denver District Court Judge Bruce Jones will decide if the money collected from business owners is a fee or a tax, an answer that “will affect policy for years to come,” said Tony Gagliardi, Denver director of the National Federation of Independent Business.
The Colorado Secretary of State’s office since 1983 has collected fees from businesses and used the money to pay for all of the activities run by the office, including elections. The funding structure of the office, which is unique in the state, was set up long before the first utterance of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which was voter-approved in 1992 and says voters get to decide on new taxes and tax increases.
NFIB, on behalf of its members, filed a lawsuit in 2014 against Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. The office is now held by Wayne Williams, who was in court Friday for a hearing where Judge Jones heard arguments of the fee/tax issue.
At the heart of NFIB’s argument is that fees, which are not subject to TABOR, are intended to defray the costs of a particular government service like processing business licenses. A tax is designed to raise revenues to defray the general expense of government.
The Secretary of State’s office collects about $20 million a year in fees from businesses that are filing required forms, but only about 11 percent of that is needed to oversee the business-licensing program. The rest of the money pays for elections, bingo and raffle regulation and other functions that aren’t related to business, said Jason Dunn, attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck who represents NFIB.
Judge Jones put it this way: “At what point did you wake up and realize this was not a fee?” directing his questions to Dunn. “What was the clarion call?” Continue reading
Why don’t we save the esteemed Dan Ritchie and his bipartisan group of civic-minded bigwigs a lot of time and trouble?
The former chancellor at the University of Denver and his allies who’ve founded Building a Better Colorado are going to spend months in meetings and outreach trying to identify measures for next year’s ballot to address the unique challenges in governing this state.
They’ve got former governors, senators and mayors on board, not to mention current Gov. John Hickenlooper.
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Blake: Sabotaging TABOR comes down to a single subject
When it comes to sabotaging TABOR, term limits and the initiative process, the usual suspects tend to round themselves up.
The latest group, called “Building a Better Colorado,” is fronted by the otherwise estimable Dan Ritchie, who served 15 years as chancellor of the University of Denver, taking no pay and donating his $50 million ranch to the school.
The organization intends to hold “town hall meetings” throughout the state and produce a report recommending changes by year’s end.
Presumably most of these changes would necessitate ballot initiatives, since it’s hard to get the two-thirds majorities needed in the legislature to place referendums.
By proposing initiatives they are going to have to confront the awkward single-subject rule. More on that later.
Despite the clarity of their goals, the reformers like to talk in tiptoe-through-the-tulips terms. “It is subtle,” Gail Klapper of the Colorado Forum told The Denver Post, adding the discussions are about “nuanced changes” allowing Colorado “to move forward in the way we all want it to go.”
The Colorado Forum is just one of several civic groups behind Ritchie’s efforts. Its goals aren’t that subtle. It says on its Web site that “Colorado’s fiscal system has a structural imbalance — created by inherently conflicting constitutional mandates — that will continue to result in a widening gap between General Fund revenue and necessary expenditures.”
However “necessary” might be defined. The Forum goes on to recommend that TABOR-mandated refunds to the people be postponed and “revenue sources” not subject to the revenue cap be considered. Presumably that means imposing more “fees” instead of taxes that require a popular vote.
And what about TABOR?
The U.S. Supreme Court sent back to the Tenth Circuit Federal Court of Appeal the task of deciding Kerr v. Hickenlooper, a lawsuit calling into question TABOR’s constitutionality. The eventual decision is likely to reverberate throughout the nation, because it will answer a simple question: Who is in charge of the American republic?
In 1992 Coloradans voted to amend their state constitution in order to impose restraints on their government’s power to tax and spend. The Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) has since given citizens the final say on new or increased taxes and spending.
Opponents of TABOR, however, believe it makes it more difficult for government to pursue costly new programs, or to increase funding for existing programs, an argument they lost in the Colorado Supreme Court.
Safe to say, this will be the biggest decision any court will rule on this year relating to a state issue.
The town’s board of trustees in May passed an ordinance imposing a 10-cent charge on paper and plastic disposable bags used to carry purchases at point of sale at “any public commercial business engaged in the sale of personal consumer goods, household items, or groceries to customers who use or consume such items.”
Proponents call this bag charge a fee. But with even a little scrutiny, the ordinance is obviously a tax rather than a fee. The difference between the two is hugely significant. Fees can be passed by elected representatives, while under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), new taxes must be approved by voters through the ballot.
Here’s what the Clorado Supreme Court had to say about the difference between a fee and a tax in the 2008 case Barber v. Ritter:
If the language discloses that the primary purpose for the charge is to finance a particular service utilized by those who must pay the charge, then the charge is a “fee.” On the other hand, if the language states that a primary purpose for the charge is to raise revenues for general governmental spending, then it is a tax.
The drafters of the ordinance were careful to include that “No disposable bag fees collected in accordance with this chapter shall be used only for general municipal or governmental purposes or spending.”
This apparently is Nederland’s clumsy justification, based on at least one part of the Supreme Court’s definition, that the bag charge isn’t a tax.
July 10, 2015 9:00 PM· By Peter Blake
Photo and copyright: Tony’s Takes
The courts keep knocking down TABOR-based lawsuits, but the tax law’s defenders keep coming back for more punishment.
Maybe they’ll win one someday. Hope can be found in a recent ruling in the TABOR Foundation’s lawsuit filed against the Colorado Bridge Enterprise in 2012, even though the foundation lost.
The CBE was established in 2009 by the General Assembly’s so-called “FASTER” Act as a “government-owned business” within the Colorado Department of Transportation. The additional bridge repairs were to be funded by increases averaging $41 in auto registration fees and much higher penalties for late payment.
The TABOR Foundation claimed they weren’t fees but taxes that voters weren’t given the opportunity to approve. What’s more, it said that the CBE didn’t qualify as a TABOR-exempt enterprise because it received more than 10 percent of its revenue from state grants.
The plaintiffs lost at the trial court, lost at the Colorado Court of Appeals and, the other day, the Colorado Supreme Court decided it wouldn’t even deign to review the case. Continue reading
Democrats want to get rid of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
How does TABOR protect your personal and business interests?
Is there a legal difference between a “tax” and a “fee”?
What difference does it make to your bottom line?
William Perry Pendley is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which defends constitutional liberties and the rule of law. His book, Sagebrush Rebel, Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today continues to draw rave reviews.
MSLF filed four lawsuits in defense of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). One was rejected by the Colorado Supreme Court, but two remain alive, and another was filed just days ago. Two of the cases ask the Supreme Court of Colorado to rule on whether the words “tax” and “fee” have legal meanings, or can they be used interchangeably to collect revenue without the consent of voters?
You need not be a member to attend. Lunch is $25 for non-members, $20 for members and $10 for students. A portion of the lunch fee goes toward the CRBC Small Donor Committee or the CRBC Political Committee to support Republican candidates in the 2016 elections.
RSVP@smallbizgop.com (not required, but appreciated).
Colorado Republican Business Coalition Monthly Luncheon
Friday, July 17 from 11:30am – 1pm
Brooklyn’s at the Pepsi Center
941 Auraria Parkway, Denver