Aug 24

Aurora right to walk away from appeal on Gaylord tax vote

AURORA, CO. - APRIL 21: Dan Steel of Mortenson Construction surveys land for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel development Tuesday morning, April 21, 2015. The controversial hotel will be Colorado's largest at 1,500 rooms and will take 36 months to complete. (Photo By Steve Nehf/The Denver Post)

AURORA, CO. – APRIL 21: Dan Steel of Mortenson Construction surveys land for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel development Tuesday morning, April 21, 2015. The controversial hotel will be Colorado’s largest at 1,500 rooms and will take 36 months to complete. (Photo By Steve Nehf/The Denver Post)

Aurora officials last week were wise to walk away from an appeal of a February court ruling that invalidated the creation of a special tax district for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel and Conference Center.

The creation of the district was a farce and clearly subverted the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which stipulates that local governments cannot raise taxes without voter approval.

Only one voter cast a ballot in the election in 2011 that created the taxing district, which would have collected increased lodger taxes and admission taxes on land set aside for the hotel.

That voter wasn’t even a resident of the city but a representative of the owner of the land where the hotel is to be built.

In February, Adams County District Court Judge Ted C. Tow threw out the election, saying Aurora’s interpretation of TABOR was a “mockery of the procedure.”

Amazingly, Aurora fought back, appealing the decision.

The city’s eyes perhaps were blinded by the millions of dollars that could have come from the tax subsidies and not focused on the law.

One estimate is that the enhanced admission and lodger’s taxes would have brought upwards of $121 million over 30 years. Aurora says the figure was lower.

Fortunately, clearer heads prevailed and the city quietly dismissed the appeal. Continue reading

Aug 23

Colorado leaders to review TABOR, key political issues

Exclusive: Colorado leaders to review TABOR, key political issues

“Building a Better Colorado” may offer ballot measures in 2016

By John Frank
The Denver Post

POSTED:   08/23/2015

(Photos:, Denver Post file photo; photo illustration by Matt Swaney, The Denver Post)


A new organization led by prominent civic and business leaders is preparing to launch a campaign to tackle Colorado’s thorniest political problems as part of a project that may give rise to ballot measures in 2016.

Dubbed “Building a Better Colorado,” the bipartisan push will debut in September and feature a 40-stop statewide tour this fall to discuss topics ranging from term limits for lawmakers and the election system to the constitutional amendment process and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

The project — developed behind the scenes for months and detailed in exclusive interviews and documents obtained by The Denver Post — is perhaps the most concerted effort in recent memory to address what organizers see as inherent conflicts in how the state is governed.

 Those conflicts, they argue, are impeding Colorado’s ability to build new roads, put more money in classrooms, engage an increasingly disenchanted electorate and prepare for the future.

“The goal is to try to understand this array of problems that we have in Colorado and how do we build a better state,” said Gail Klapper, one of the lead organizers and the director of the Colorado Forum, a Denver-based civic group that has discussedthese issues for years.

This summer, the organization began meeting with experts to identify an array of policy options for discussion at the town hall meetings. It plans to finalize a report by the end of the year.

The effort’s leaders caution that their strategy is still preliminary and they downplay the significance of the project’s potential outcomes.

“It’s subtle,” Klapper said. “I think we are talking about nuanced changes that will allow Colorado to move forward in the way we all want it to go.”

The push echoes high-profile discussions in recent years on similar issues and comes a decade after civic and political leaders united behind the successful Referendum C campaign that allowed a five-year reprieve from the state’s revenue limits and set a higher spending cap under TABOR.

Like prior campaigns, the project’s leaders are likely to face substantial opposition given the polarization on the key issues.

“To the extent that some of these things directly relate to government functions, they are particularly difficult to do, even if there is some consensus that says it’s not working so well,” said Floyd Ciruli, a veteran pollster and former state Democratic Party chairman. “There is a huge amount of investment in the current system.”

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Aug 22

Hickenlooper, GOP lawmakers call for hiking gas tax

Hickenlooper, GOP lawmakers call for hiking gas tax

The Colorado Statesman

GRAND JUNCTION — At a roundtable meeting with Club 20 on Thursday, Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a 10- to 12-cent hike in the state gasoline tax in order to fund road and bridge repairs.

Two newly elected Western Slope legislators, both Republicans, state Reps. Yeulin Willett of Grand Junction and J. Paul Brown of Ignacio, joined the governor calling for a ballot proposal to ask Colorado voters to approve increasing the gas tax.

“Ask the people under TABOR, ‘Do you want to keep your refund or put it in the Highway Users Tax Fund?’” said Brown. “Do you know what kind of shape our roads are in? There’s no way to keep with inflation.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper talks with a Club 20 member as executive committee chairman Les Mergelman looks on at the Western Slope advocacy group’s roundtable meeting on Aug. 20 at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Photo by Ron Bain/The Colorado Statesman

Hickenlooper pointed out there had been no increase in the state gas tax since 1992, the year the Taxpayer Bill of Rights was approved by state voters. He observed that, historically, the Western Slope has opposed increasing the gas tax but said he saw that opposition lessening.

The governor, who was asked to respond to a host of topics, including questions about transportation, the Animas River spill, the threatened shutdown of the ColoWyo Mine and the struggling North Fork Valley coal mines, natural gas production, the Colorado Water Plan, the Gunnison sage grouse, forest management, TABOR rebates and other Western Slope issues. He explained he drank a bottle of water from the Animas River in an attempt to restore Colorado’s damaged reputation as a vacation destination and to convince the Environmental Protection Association to speed up reopening the river, rather than waiting seven days.

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Aug 14

Colorado at legal epicenter for business issues

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.

Aug 12

Colorado Springs City Council votes to put sales tax, TABOR measures on ballot

Colorado Springs City Council votes to put sales tax, TABOR measures on ballot

Either City Councilman Bill Murray or anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce will have to shell out $100 on Nov. 3, depending on whether Colorado Springs voters approve a sales-tax increase to fund roads fixes.

The bet was made during a protracted council meeting Tuesday, where citizens testified for hours on two resolutions, both of which won council approval on 8-1 votes.Colorado Springs City Council votes to put sales tax, TABOR measures on ballot

Councilwoman Helen Collins opposed the resolutions, which will place two items on the November ballot:Colorado Springs City Council votes to put sales tax, TABOR measures on ballot

– A proposal to raise the sales tax by 0.62 percent to generate $50 million a year for five years. The money would go exclusively to rebuild, pave and maintain city roads, 60 percent of which are reportedly in poor and rapidly deteriorating condition.

– A request to keep $2.1 million in revenue that exceeded the limit under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). If the money is refunded, each household would get about $11. If the city keeps it, the money will go to parks and trails, both of which were hit hard by this year’s record rainfall.

The sales tax proposal won support from many, including council members known for anti-tax attitudes.

“It’s going to fail,” Bruce told the council. “Three months from now you’ll be looking at defeat because you don’t even understand the voters.”

He challenged the nine council members to “put your money where your mouth is,” betting them $100 each that the ballot issue will fail. Only Murray took the bet.

“I don’t like tax increases,” Councilman Andres Pico said. But three-fourths of the general fund goes to public safety, he said, and he’s not willing to cut that.

Continue reading

Aug 12

Problems with NC legislation to cap taxes, reduce spending

Senate is considering Taxpayer Bill of Rights rejected by 30 other states

Bill would lock in recession-era education cuts

Only Colorado has tried TABOR, with bad results

By Rob Christensen


It was only a matter of time before the libertarian wing of the Republican Party rolled out its latest weapon to, in the immortal words of Grover Norquist, shrink government “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bath tub.”

That is the pleasantly sounding Taxpayer Protection Act that is making its way through the state Senate this week. The bill would put before voters a constitutional amendment that would cap the personal income tax at 5 percent, tie spending increases in the state to population growth and inflation, and create an emergency fund that would be spent only with a two-thirds vote in the legislature.

This legislation is designed to lock in what U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis called “the conservative revolution’’ in Raleigh by tying the hands of future legislatures to improve schools, universities and roads.

This type of legislation, most often called TABOR for Taxpayers Bill of Rights, has been championed in some 30 states across the country by conservative groups. The most notable is Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC.

But only one state, Colorado, has adopted a TABOR-type constitutional amendment, which it did in 1992, although it later suspended it for five years in response to a rapid decline in public services.

Senate Appropriations Committee co-chairs Brent Jackson of Sampson County and Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County issued a joint statement defending TABOR-type legislation last week.

“The real danger to our state’s finances and reputation are irresponsible politicians who tax and spend beyond our means and who rack up too much debt,” they said. “Allowing North Carolinians to vote to keep politicians from going on wild spending sprees will clearly protect our state’s financial health.”

Jackson and Rucho seem confused. They must think they live in Illinois or California. Continue reading

Aug 01

Hickenlooper begins new state tour to sell TABOR fix

Hickenlooper begins new state tour to sell TABOR fix

Continues push to exempt Colorado’s hospital provider fee

By John Frank
The Denver Post

Posted:   07/31/2015 06:05:35 PM MDT


(Associated Press file)

LEADVILLE — On the first day of a new statewide tour, Gov. John Hickenlooper found an appropriate venue in this high mountain town for his push to revamp how the state spends money.

The Democrat stood on stage at the historic Tabor Opera House in Leadville and made a lengthy pitch for an overhaul to TABOR — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Hickenlooper wants to exempt the hospital provider fee from state revenue collections under TABOR because it pushes Colorado over the constitutional cap, prompting taxpayer refunds next year even as the state struggles to adequately fund priority areas.

If the fee were removed from TABOR, Colorado’s revenues would fall under the cap and the state would have $200 million more to spend on road projects and classrooms, the governor said.

“People love rebates. You’re a hero when you send out tax refunds,” he told a crowd of 50 at the theater. But “the refunds have to come from the general fund, so they have to come out of education, they have to come out of transportation.”

The state expects to collect $670 million in fees next year from hospitals. The money is leveraged to get additional federal dollars to cover health care costs for Medicaid patients. Hickenlooper said recategorizing the fee would “go a long way to giving us some breathing room and really be able to fund the stuff that really matters.”

In the recent legislative session, Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers pushed a bill to change TABOR accounting, but the Republican-led Senate rebuffed the attempt, saying it was merely an effort to weaken the state’s spending limits.

Compass Colorado, a conservative advocacy organization, continues to fight the plan, calling the governor’s effort “an accounting slight of hand that takes money straight from Colorado families.” Continue reading

Jul 13

Nederland’s bag tax disguised as a ‘fee’ violates TABOR

Nederland’s bag tax disguised as a ‘fee’ violates TABOR

Nederland recently became the latest local government to enact a new tax in violation of the Colorado Constitution by disingenuously calling it a fee.

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.”

icon_op_edProponents 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.


Continue reading

Jul 11

Blake: One TABOR loss could mean another TABOR victory

Blake: One TABOR loss could mean another TABOR victory

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

Jul 04

Guest Commentary: Supreme Court’s order great for TABOR

By Rob Natelson

Posted:   07/03/2015 

Activist Douglas Bruce, author of TABOR and a constant proponent for cutting taxes, explained his latest proposal for cutting taxes to reporters and

Activist Douglas Bruce, author of TABOR and a constant proponent for cutting taxes, explained his latest proposal for cutting taxes to reporters and journalists at the state Capitol in November 1999. (Denver Post file photo)


The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent order in the case against Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a devastating blow to those seeking to overturn that part of the state constitution. The Supreme Court’s order amounts to a polite directive to the lower court to dismiss the suit.

Colorado voters approved TABOR in 1992. It offers several protections for Colorado’s financial health. It allows voter review when legislative bodies pass increases in taxes or debt, or adopt unusually high increases in spending. Under TABOR, the state legislature and local councils continue to initiate all financial measures, but the people are allowed to review some of them.

Four years ago, 34 plaintiffs, including a handful of state lawmakers, sued in federal court to have TABOR declared void. They argued that allowing the people to` check the legislature’s financial powers violated the Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That’s the section that says that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”

The plaintiffs’ claims are not entirely consistent with each other. But their essence is that because TABOR reduced the financial power of the state legislature, it rendered Colorado a “direct democracy” without a “Republican Form of Government.”

From its inception, the plaintiffs’ case has teetered on the edge of probability. Its legal problems are many.


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