Oct 04

Republicans block pot-tax fix in Colorado Legislature’s special session

By   –  Reporter, Denver Business Journal

Colorado state Senate Republicans killed a second attempt Tuesday to re-establish a tax that could cost special districts some $6.9 million this fiscal year and then adjourned what might have been the least productive special session in the history of the state Legislature.

The final gavel, which came down at 2:23 p.m., ended two official days and several unofficial weeks of wrangling over whether the Legislature could fix an error it made in Senate 267 — the omnibus bill from the 2017 regular legislative session that boosted transportation funding, reduced business personal property taxes and freed up room under the state’s revenue cap by turning the hospital provider fee into an enterprise fund.

The error occurred when the bill inadvertently eliminated the ability for special districts to levy sales taxes on retail marijuana — a change that most affected the Regional Transportation District, which is slated to lose $6 million through June 30 because of it.

Legislative Democrats, with the backing of Gov. John Hickenlooper, offered two bills during the two-day special session that sought to clarify that special districts do have the ability to collect sales taxes on that uniquely Colorado project.

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Oct 04

Colo. Taxpayer Rights Act Suit Appealed To 10th Circuit

Colo. Taxpayer Rights Act Suit Appealed To 10th Circuit

Law360, New York (October 2, 2017, 2:56 PM EDT) — A group of Colorado political subdivisions have returned to the Tenth Circuit to argue that they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Eight school boards, a county commission and a special district board, in their opening brief on Sept. 27, claimed extensive injury from TABOR, a state constitutional provision requiring popular approval of any tax increase at any level of government.

“TABOR has deprived all of Colorado’s legislative bodies — from the state Legislature to boards of county commissioners…

Oct 04

TABOR questions stymie special Colorado legislative session

 TABOR questions stymie special Colorado legislative session

The biggest fight over whether to fix a drafting error in a state rural sustainability bill is whether the fix requires voter approval.

Senate Republicans are adamant that voters in affected special districts should weigh in. Democrats and those who have fought similar battles in the courts disagree.

Monday, the Legislature returned to the Capitol to fix a drafting error in Senate Bill 17-267, as ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who had signed the bill May 30.

The bill consolidated two sales taxes on recreational marijuana – a state tax of 2.9 percent and a special tax of 10 percent – and raised the tax to a voter-approved maximum of 15 percent.

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Oct 03

Rifts develop quickly during Colorado legislative special session

 –  Reporter, Denver Business Journal

Day one of the Colorado legislative special session ended with House Democrats advancing a bill to fix a mistake that could cost special districts as much as $6.9 million this year — but providing little reason to be optimistic that the measure can make it through the Republican-led Senate.

Legislators are grappling with a drafting error in the signature bill of the 2017 session that removed the ability of special districts to charge sales tax on retail marijuana, a gaffe that could leave districts a combined $6.9 million short on revenue this year if not fixed. The vast majority of that shortage — about $6 million — would be incurred by the Regional Transportation District that provides public transit in the Denver area.

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Oct 02

Colorado Legislature’s special session this week could aid special districts — or go up in flames

 –  Reporter, Denver Business Journal

Gov. John Hickenlooper called a special legislative in mid-September, arguing it was the “most expedient way” to fix an error in the centerpiece bill of 2017 that will cost a number of special districts, including Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding.

But what may have seemed a simple and expedient way to restore funding that those districts expected to get has turned into a political firestorm that, in all likelihood, will not get solved in the abbreviated session.

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Oct 02

Taxpayers Have Their Own Bill of Rights in Colorado. But Who Benefits?

Taxpayers Have Their Own Bill of Rights in Colorado. But Who Benefits?

The unique anti-tax tool has defined spending in the state, and it may spread to more states.

Anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce led the TABOR effort in 1992. “No one has had the impact on Colorado politics” that he has, according to one academic in the state. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

The blue tag on the streetlight outside Robert Loevy’s Colorado Springs home in 2010 didn’t signal an upcoming utility project. It was a receipt to show he had paid the $100 to keep his light on for the year. The city was facing a decimating $40 million budget gap and, among many other cuts, it was turning off one-third of its streetlights. That is, unless residents could come up with the money themselves. “I could afford to pay it,” Loevy says today, “but I have to think that would have been a stretch for many lower-income people.”

Loevy, a retired Colorado College professor, says the lights-out incident — which earned Colorado Springs international infamy that year — is just one of the many instances in which Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) has only benefited those taxpayers who can afford to pay for services out of their own pocket. Loevy has been a vocal critic of the law. As he sees it, “TABOR has had its worst effects on poor people.”

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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


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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