May 05

Rowland, officials differ over county move on TABOR

By Duffy Hayes

Saturday, May 4, 2013

In May 2007, Mesa County took the unprecedented step of deciding — without voter approval — to exclude its local sales taxes from revenue limit calculations set forth in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Six years later, current and former county staff say the county did so with unanimous consent of the three county commissioners.

One of those commissioners, though, vehemently denies that she ever signed off on the plan, or that she participated in the meeting where, the current and former officials say, the decision was made.

“I never participated in a meeting where this was discussed. I was never asked to support such a scheme and I never gave my approval to implement it,” former Commissioner Janet Rowland wrote in an email to The Daily Sentinel.

“I never would have gone for that — ever,” she said in a subsequent interview.

Then-County Administrator Jon Peacock says she did. So, too, does county Finance Director Marcia Arnhold, as does current Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who was one of the three commissioners said to have given unanimous consent to the change.

All three refer to a May 2007 meeting in which Peacock, Arnhold and, according to them and Acquafresca, all three commissioners discussed the possible change, with attorney Dee Wisor on the phone from Denver. Wisor was solicited for a legal opinion about the possibility of excluding sales taxes and provided a case for the change based on the fact that Mesa County voters had approved their sales tax in 1981, well before voters statewide approved TABOR.

“I remember that we gave direction. And it was unanimous amongst all three,” Acquafresca said recently. Continue reading

Apr 30

HUDSON: THE MATH ISN’T SO SIMPLE

Question: When is a legislative expenditure not a TABOR expenditure? Read on…

4/29/2013
CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST

Supporters of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment would like Colorado taxpayers to believe it provides a simple braking mechanism on increases in state and local spending. And, for a few years in the mid-‘90s it probably did just that — slow the rate of growth in these governmental budgets. But it didn’t take long for the finaglers (think lobbyists, tax lawyers, JBC members, OSPB staff and the half dozen other legislators who actually understand how the long bill works) to begin constructing TABOR escape hatches for their favored initiatives. At first, these fixes were large and clumsy, like the re-labeling of legislative support for higher education as the Colorado Opportunity Fund.

Colorado residents attending state colleges and universities ostensibly receive a pro-rated share of state appropriations to the Fund in the form of grants that can be applied against their tuition bills. This is a fairly transparent subterfuge, as these dollars never actually pass through a student’s account, but are transferred in bulk to each institution by the state Treasurer. Yet, for TABOR accounting purposes these are no longer general fund moneys. This has allowed several of our larger institutions to qualify as “TABOR enterprises,” since less than 15 percent of their revenues are derived directly from the general fund. Everywhere you look, definitions have been twisted to create TABOR free dollars. Continue reading

Apr 20

Colorado’s TABOR Challenge Carries Big Implications for Maine

cdxxtabor2_1cb.jpg

A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Colorado’s 21-year old Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) could have dire implications for constitutional restraints on spending and taxation in almost every other state, including Maine.

At issue is the very essence of republican self-government.

The case – Kerr v. Colorado – is winding its way through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers is representing the state against individual plaintiffs. The plaintiffs in the case – 34 current and former state legislators and local officials, mostly Democrats – are arguing that when a state constitution or legislature permits the people to vote on revenue measures and other laws, this violates the U.S. Constitution’s Guarantee Clause (Article IV, Section 4).

Specifically, the lawsuit’s claim is that limits on the Colorado state legislature’s fiscal powers, such as TABOR, violate the U.S. Constitution’s “republican form of government” or “guarantee” clause. This argument relies on a sharp distinction between a republic and democracy to invalidate citizen’s initiatives and ballot referenda restricting the spending and taxing powers of the state legislature. Continue reading

Apr 20

Letters: Review TABOR

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 12:00 am

I happen to know that in 2007, Denver was able to purchase Ford Crown Victoria police cars for about $15,000 apiece. Today, according to The Denver Post, it costs Denver about $40,000 to purchase and equip a midsize police car. This is just one example of the inflation affecting local government.

The city of Pueblo apparently has reached a crisis point in its ability to fund basic law enforcement, animal control and housing of city prisoners.

 Most Coloradans are aware and approve of TABOR’s provision requiring voter approval of new or increased taxes. Many people are less aware of the internal restrictive mechanisms of TABOR that prohibit full collection of taxes even at those voter-approved tax rates. Last November, Denver voters

overwhelmingly approved a permanent elimination of TABOR from their city’s property tax collection. It is estimated that this action will provide Denver with an additional $40 million or so in revenue annually, without actually raising previously voter-approved tax rates.

In so doing, Denver joined the approximately 85 percent of Colorado municipalities and over 90 percent of school districts that have suspended or eliminated TABOR from their tax collection activities (while preserving

the right of voter approval of taxes). Both Pueblo County and Canon City, among other jurisdictions, have suspended the operation of TABOR in their jurisdictions for a period of years.

I suggest that it is time for the city of Pueblo to analyze whether suspending or eliminating TABOR with respect to its property and/or sales tax collection would provide enough additional revenue to address some of its current urgent needs. If so, I believe that the city should put this matter before the voters. Pueblo should stop being an outlier when its quality of life is at risk.

Norman Bangeman

Pueblo

http://www.chieftain.com/opinion/tell_it_to_the_chieftain/letters-review-tabor/article_d6e60e30-a89f-11e2-af05-0019bb2963f4.html

Mar 23

Taxation Without Representation

F Line

F Line (Photo credit: paulswansen)

Introduced earlier this week was the following, Colorado House Bill HB 13-1272: RTD & SCFD Sales & Use Tax Base Same As State. This tax increase without voter approval likely got lost in all of the Colorado anti-gun legislation that had moved to the front of the news cycle.

The proposed legislation is set to add more tax revenue to the Regional Transportation District (RTD) here in Denver as well as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The bill is sponsored in the Colorado House by House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst. In the Colorado Senate the sponsor is Pat Steadman of Colorado Senate District 31.

The description of the bill is as follows:

Currently, some items that are exempt from the state sales and use tax are subject to the scientific and cultural facilities’ (SCFD) and regional transportation district’s (RTD) sales and use tax, and vice versa. For example, RTD and SCFD may tax the sales of low emitting motor vehicles, but the state may not. The state may tax the sale of candy and soft drinks, but RTD and SCFD may not.

The bill changes RTD and SCFD’s sales and use tax bases to be the same as the state’s sales and use tax base by eliminating some of the districts’ exemptions and creating other new exemptions for them.

In Colorado, we have the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), so any tax increase in the state must be approved by voters before implementation. Approved in 1992 the constitutional amendment is designed to restrain growth in the Colorado State government. TABOR applies to all levels of government in Colorado including, state government, cities, counties, school districts and special districts. The legislation is the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the country. Continue reading

Feb 16

TABOR FOUNDATION v. COLORADO BRIDGE ENTERPRISE, et al

PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The Colorado Bridge Enterprise is not a TABOR-exempt business. Colo. Const. art. X, § 20(2)(d). The CBE does not qualify as a TABOR-exempt enterprise because it does not function as self-supporting business and because in fiscal year 2011, the CBE received grants from CDOT totaling more than ten percent of its annual revenue. Under either rationale, the CBE did not have enterprise status when it levied the bridge safety surcharge or created $300 million in new debt. Accordingly, both actions required voter approval pursuant to TABOR.

Until such time as Defendants receive voter approval for these actions, Defendants must be enjoined against continued enforcement and maintenance of the bridge safety surcharge and must be enjoined from issuing revenue bonds. Colo. Const. art. X, § 20(4)(a)–(b); Nicholl, 896 P.2d at 866 (“[T]axpayers have standing to seek to enjoin an unlawful expenditure of public funds.”); see also Barber v. Ritter, 170 P.3d 763, 779 (Colo. Ct. App. 2007), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 196 P.3d 238 (Colo. 2008) (quoting Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 180 (1803) (“a law repugnant to the constitution is void”)). Additionally, TABOR requires that all “[r]evenue collected, kept, or spent illegally” be refunded. Colo. Const. art. X, § 20(1).

http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/plaintiffs-motion-for-summary-judgment-54772/

Feb 10

Carroll: Boulder’s “fee” could sink TABOR

Boulder is poised this year to test whether the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights still has any meaning at the local level. Do voters get to rule on proposed tax hikes or not? Can local officials simply impose a new tax that roughly covers the cost of an existing service, or its improvement, and declare that tax a fee?

Remember, government can raise fees under TABOR without a popular vote. So Boulder is developing a “transportation maintenance fee” to pay for a shortfall in keeping up its streets. It “would be collected on utility bills like the stormwater management fee, “the Daily Camera reports,” and would raise between $2.5 million and $5.6 million.”

Although the city council has endorsed the concept, a final decision will not be made until officials conduct more public outreach and refine the details. Continue reading

Dec 23

Two decades later, TABOR praised, blamed for limiting government

TABOR creator Douglas Bruce, pictured in 2005, says governments don’t have a clear license to tax voters whenever they want. (Denver Post file)

Twenty years after Coloradans approved the most restrictive tax and expenditure limitation in the country, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights has reshaped state government and sparked debate on similar proposals across the country and now is under greater assault than ever before.

At its inception, conservatives lauded TABOR for its promise to restrict the growth of government and to empower citizens. But its legacy has been one of near-constant controversy; it has never been completely replicated outside of Colorado; its defenders say TABOR foes have consistently tried to find work-arounds; and there have been a few supporters who have changed their minds about the constitutional amendment.

For most conservatives, TABOR’s

(Click on image to enlarge)

20th anniversary is a moment to rejoice. 

“Colorado has largely stayed away from the fiscal cliff that states like California went over. That, in and of itself, is cause for celebrating TABOR,” said Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian-conservative Independence Institute. “It has required more transparency of government, and that is worth celebrating. And most importantly, it has angered every politician and ‘taking’ group because now they have to lobby all of us instead of just taking out a few legislators to dinner to get what they want.”

For liberals, the law acts more like an ever-tightening vise on state government.

Wade Buchanan, president of the liberal Bell Policy Center , says Colorado’s unique experiment has failed. Continue reading

Dec 07

City seeks opinions on potential TABOR ballot question

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) – City Council hosted an open house to gather feedback on April’s potential TABOR ballot question.

In 2007, voters approved the use of Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights to fund construction on Riverside Parkway. Once the bill is paid, which could be as early as 2015, that approvile will expire.

‘Now, the city hopes to get voter permission once again in order for new projects and planning to begin.

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” said Clark Atkinson, Grand Junction resident who backs TABOR funding. “To stop investing in our capital improvements will result in a decay and put Grand Junction behind other communities, not only in the Western Slope but in Colorado and the whole region.”

“I think that we should just stop for awhile and maintain the infrastructure that we have,” said Richard Hathorne, local resident against TABOR funding, “put a good roof on it, paint it, fix the plumbing and electrical, and just idle for awhile. We don’t need anything new. Give us a break.”

Comment cards will be distributed through city utility bills early next week, or comments can be sent in through their website on the link listed below.

http://www.nbc11news.com/home/headlines/City-seeks-opinions-on-potential-TABOR-ballot-question–182477891.html

Dec 07

TABOR Input Needed

by KREX News Room by Danielle Kreutter

Story Updated: Dec 6, 2012 at 10:19 PM MST

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The city of Grand Junction has teamed up with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership to hold an open house to gather feedback on the next TABOR decision.

As the previous Taxpayer Bill of Rights cycle comes to an end, officials are hoping to be proactive.

“We think right now we can do debt services of about $2.4 million and so we’re trying to identify a project if there is excess TABOR funds that come up in 2015,” said Jim Doody of the Grand Junction City Council.

They are asking voters if they were to exceed the TABOR limits set for sales tax revenue, would the voters prefer the extra funds be given back to them, or if they would like to see it invested back into the community. Continue reading