VANDE KROL: BRIDGES OVER LEGALLY TROUBLED WATERS
There have been violations of basic common sense and principles of good government,” said TABOR Foundation Chairman Penn Pfiffner. “The concept and construct of this dishonest and devious scheme must not stand.”
A Colorado organization has filed an appeal to overturn a Denver District Court finding about the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The TABOR Foundation, whose mission includes protecting the constitutional amendment that was initiated by the people, believes the trial court erred in finding that the State of Colorado’s Bridge Enterprise conforms to TABOR.
In 2010, the legislature created the Colorado Bridge Enterprise to repair and maintain bridges. The CBE was called an “enterprise” so it could issue debt without a vote of the people, as is otherwise required by TABOR. The CBE already has issued $300 million in debt and plans more. An enterprise is a government-owned, self-supporting business, which is exempt from TABOR restrictions. The legislature also authorized the CBE to impose a new charge on vehicle registrations. The charge, known as the bridge safety surcharge, was designated for repair and maintenance of state owned bridges. But the CBE had a problem — because the charge is not a fee for service, it looked like a tax that would require a vote of the people. Disinclined to allow Colorado’s Constitution to stand in the way, the CBE called it a fee and hoped the label alone would be enough to avoid a vote of the people.
In May 2012, the TABOR Foundation sued to reverse the tax and stop the issuance of more debt (the CBE plans to sell up to $1 billion in bond debt). The arguments presented in the lawsuit fall into two categories: that the fee is actually a tax, and that the CBE is not a qualified enterprise and cannot issue debt without a vote of the citizens of Colorado.
If the bridge surcharge survives the legal challenge, the courts will have established a method by which government can fund most anything by creating enterprises, assessing fees and issuing debt. They will have found a method to strip Coloradans of their constitutionally protected rights under TABOR. Continue reading
By Alicia Caldwell
The executive director of the Colorado Municipal League said TABOR imposes unreasonable restrictions on local governments as they try to replace important government infrastructure, such as water and sewage treatment plants.
Mamet, who discussed the issue on a segment of The Roundup, a public affairs discussion conducted by members of the Denver Post editorial board, said some tweaks to TABOR are needed.
He emphasized that the proposal would not involve a major rewrite of the constitutional amendment, but rather a few targeted changes, such as defining an “emergency,” and making clear that grants received by communities trying to rebuild would not count toward their TABOR-defined spending limits.
Mamet called the changes “surgical.”
Read more: Tweaking TABOR to free up funds for rebuilding after emergencies – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/opinioncolumnists/ci_24671095/tweaking-tabor-free-up-funds-rebuilding-after-emergencies#ixzz2mpF0805O
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Voters have right to decide state, local taxes
Former Congressman David Skaggs and former state Sen. Mike Feeley have filed a lawsuit contending that it’s a violation of your federal constitutional rights to allow you to vote on whether or not to raise your state and local taxes. Because taxpayers and not legislators have the final say on tax increases, they think we have “too much democracy” in Colorado.
I’m confident the courts will ultimately conclude otherwise.
Reasonable people can and do disagree about the wisdom of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). And many Coloradans, including myself, believe it’s far too easy to amend our state constitution. But there’s nothing unconstitutional about allowing voters to decide important issues, including whether to raise their taxes.
The plaintiffs claim that letting citizens decide whether taxes are raised violates the “Guarantee Clause” of the U.S. Constitution. In the Guarantee Clause, the United States guarantees each state will have a “republican form of government.” It was intended by our founders to suppress any lingering monarchical tendencies in the original states. They wanted to ensure that Virginians couldn’t make George Washington or Thomas Jefferson a king of their commonwealth, even if they wanted to. The constitutional provision was intended to preserve power to the people, not take it from them. Continue reading
Take back the power to set state fiscal policy
When we were new members of the Colorado legislature in the 1980s and ’90s, we hoped colleagues would see the merit in bills we introduced and, of course, approve them. It didn’t take long to realize that fellow legislators would be more skeptical about our ideas — as we would be of theirs.
Our proposals — often drawn from conversations with constituents — were subject to scrutiny in committee hearings, floor debates and endless conversations with all manner of interested parties.
That challenging and sometimes tedious process demonstrated then, as it does now, the wisdom of the Founders in drafting a constitution that requires every state to have a “republican form of government,” a representative democracy.
The Founders recognized that the public interest is best served when complex and controversial issues receive careful review by representatives who have the time, commitment and expertise to hold hearings, take testimony, examine evidence, debate their differences and work out necessary compromises. That is the way a diverse society with often conflicting interests can resolve difficult issues responsibly and respectfully. Continue reading
Earlier this month, you were saved by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.
Powerful political interests put Amendment 66, a yearly billion-dollar tax increase, on the Nov. 5 ballot and promoted it as a school-funding measure. Coloradans didn’t buy it. Despite millions spent promoting it, 66 was soundly defeated at the ballot box by almost 2-to-1. News media, pundits and pollsters reported Amendment 66’s defeat, but many lost sight of the only reason Coloradans got to vote on the measure: TABOR.
Coloradans had a powerful voice in this important decision for one reason only: the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. TABOR grants Colorado citizens the right to vote on any tax increase. “Want more money, Mr. Politician? OK, but you must ask us first!” An overwhelming majority of citizens determined that Amendment 66 did not offer the right trade-off between family budgets and government burden. The majority of Colorado voters also proved skeptical that just one more K-12 funding increase would solve the problem this time.
TABOR mandates that, when any Colorado government proposes new taxes or debt, that government must first ask voters’ approval. It is one more check in our American system of checks and balances. Continue reading
The foundation filed a request for preliminary injunction Thursday in Jefferson County District Court, asking that the districts be blocked from collecting the tax starting Jan. 1, as allowed by a new state law.
House Bill 1272 lifted exemptions on items the districts could tax. Previously, sales of food, beverages, cigarettes, advertising materials and food containers were off limits to RTD and SCFD.
The tax is expected to net $2.7 million for RTD and $270,000 for SCFD next year, according to the complaint.
The TABOR Foundation — formed to protect and enforce the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a state constitutional amendment that requires a vote of the people to increase taxes — says the legislature violated TABOR by enacting a new tax without voter approval.
“The legislature seems to have forgotten there is a part of the constitution called TABOR, and we are hoping to remind them that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights does exist,” said Jim Manley, of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which filed the complaint on behalf of the foundation.
Manley said voters should get to decide whether RTD and SCFD can expand their tax base. “All we are asking is for the voters to weigh in on this.”
Supporters say the tax is not new, but merely an expansion of the till the districts are allowed to dip into. It also simplifies the tax-collection process and makes the accounting more accurate, RTD said.
“We see it as simply aligning the tax base of the special district with the state tax base,” SCFD executive director Peg Long said.
Read more: TABOR group sues 2 special districts — RTD, SCFD — over new tax – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_24379305/tabor-group-sues-2-special-districts-rtd-scfd#ixzz2imeezy4O
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Whether the General Assembly can circumvent TABOR by expanding the taxing authority of RTD and SCFD without voter approval.
Regional Transportation District, Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, and the Colorado Department of Revenue
Colorado District Court for Jefferson County, 2013CV31974
In the 2013 legislative session, the Colorado General Assembly enacted HB13-1272, which unlawfully authorizes the Regional Transportation District (“RTD”) and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (“SCFD”) to levy new sales and use taxes on food, beverages, cigarettes, advertising materials, and food containers. These new taxes will be levied by RTD and SCFD, beginning January 1, 2014. Continue reading
Silt Water Conservancy District photo A crew of workers does repair work to Siphon No. 2 on the Grass Mesa Canal, part of the Silt Water Conservancy District’s water delivery system. The district is hoping voters will agree to “de-Bruce” its spending authority, so it can embark on much needed repairs to its aging
SILT — The directors of the Silt Water Conservancy District, which manages water rights for agricultural uses in the area between Peach Valley and Rifle, wants voters to “de-Bruce” the district’s finances in order to permit the use of state and local grants, loans and other funding sources to fix an ailing and relatively ancient water-delivery system.
“This is not a tax increase,” emphasized the district’s board president, Kelly Lyon, during an interview on Tuesday about question 5B on the Nov. 5 election ballot.
Instead, according to Lyon and the district’s attorney, Jeff Houpt, the board is asking voters to free the district from the spending restrictions imposed by what is known as the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992.
The amendment, authored by Colorado Springs conservative Douglas Bruce, was promoted as a way to restrict the spending and taxing authority of state and local governments in order to achieve the conservative political goal of shrinking the size of government.
But in succeeding years, the effects of TABOR have so constrained government budgets that in many jurisdictions the electorate has agreed to get rid of the TABOR restrictions, under the general rubric of “de-Brucing.”
For the Silt water district, the goal is strictly to eliminate the spending restrictions of TABOR, so that the district can apply for grants to fund repairs and upgrades of to the district’s water transmission facilities.
“We can get the grants,” Lyon said, “but under TABOR we’d have to give it back.” He said the district already has received a $15,000 state grant that is sitting in a bank account awaiting the outcome of the Nov. 5 election. Continue reading
Attorney General John Suthers and former Congressman David Skaggs. (Provided by C.L. Harmer)
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and former Congressman David Skaggs tonight will discuss the TABOR lawsuit, aimed at upending the constitutional amendment that strictly controls spending and taxation.
Suthers, a Republican, and Skaggs, a Democrat, are scheduled to appear on Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting System’s Colorado Quarterly program hosted by RMPBS President Doug Price. It airs at 7:30 p.m.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, in his capacity as governor, challenging the constitutionality of the 1992 voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Plaintiffs said TABOR, put on the ballot by anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce, takes power away from state and local elected officials. Skaggs is one of the attorneys representing the nearly 35 plaintiffs, comprised mostly of Democrats but including former state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, and former state Rep. Bob Briggs, R-Westminster.
Suthers’ office, which defends the governor’s office, argued that the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue, saying a federal court “is not a forum for rehashing political arguments” but the U.S. District Court in August 2012 allowed the lawsuit to move forward. Suthers appealed that decision, which was heard last month by the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. No decision has been made yet.