Apr 06

Lawmakers Are Close To A New State Budget. Here’s Where Money Is And Isn’t Going

Colorado lawmakers have all but signed off on the biggest budget in state history. The $28.9 billion spending plan invests taxpayer dollars in roads, schools and the state’s troubled pension fund.

Unlike in previous years, lawmakers had a $1.3 billion surplus to split between their different priorities. The extra money is thanks to a booming a economy and the federal tax reform package, according to state economists. While a surplus has eased tensions among lawmakers jockeying for priorities, it also has them scrambling for the extra dollars.

The Senate added a number of changes to the budget Wednesday night. The chamber is scheduled to take a final vote on it’s version this week before a bipartisan committee begins ironing differences with the House version. The deadline for final passage is the end of next week. Here’s where the money is — and isn’t — headed.

No TABOR Refund

In Coloradothe Taxpayers’ Bill Of Rights limits the amount of money lawmakers can spend before they have to supply refunds to taxpayers. Lawmakers don’t expect to hit the TABOR cap over the next fiscal year, so Coloradans won’t be getting a refund check next year. Part of the reason for that has to do with a major financial compromise struck last year. It recategorized a fee paid by hospitals, which created room for spending beneath the TABOR limit.

Fix Roads And Bridges

The budget allocates $495 billion for one-time spending on road projects. That’s a fraction of the $9 billion the Colorado Department of Transportation says it needs to modernize transportation infrastructure around the state. But the spending is in line with a request from the governor and a compromise transportation bill approved in the Senate last week. That plan would use the money to buy time for voters to consider a citizen initiative in November to raise sales taxes for road funding. If that fails, the compromise would trigger another initiative asking voters for new transportation bonds in 2019. Continue reading

Jan 12

County faces lawsuit over 2012 sheriff’s tax 

County faces lawsuit over 2012 sheriff’s tax

A sales tax funds nearly a quarter of the Sheriff’s Office staff. - PAM ZUBECK

  • Pam Zubeck
  • A sales tax funds nearly a quarter of the Sheriff’s Office staff.

A version of this story first appeared on the Indy‘s news blog, The Wire.

When El Paso County asked voters in 2012 to impose a .23 percent sales tax to fund the Sheriff’s Office, the ballot question said the new tax would raise “approximately $17 million” annually.

Turns out, it raised $17,898,721 in the first year and even more every year since. But the county hasn’t made a move to either lower the tax or refund the extra money.

Now, anti-taxer Douglas Bruce wants to force the issue. He filed a lawsuit on Dec. 26 seeking a refund to taxpayers of that roughly $900,000, with 10 percent interest per year for four years, and a reduction in the tax rate to prevent future excess collections.

That’s what he says is required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a state constitutional amendment that Bruce authored, which was adopted by voters in 1992. TABOR states that if a tax increase generates revenue that exceeds an estimate contained in the election notice ballot measure, the tax rate must be lowered in subsequent years and the excess refunded in the next fiscal year.

“They are only supposed to get whatever they asked for,” Bruce says, noting in the lawsuit that TABOR provisions were designed to “prevent government from ‘lowballing’ the true cost of what it requests in order to lure voters to support it.” Continue reading

Nov 12

Opinion: The building blocks of TABOR

(Consider where the author is sitting before you evaluate where he is standing and espousing in his editorial–editor)

Opinion: The building blocks of TABOR

Say you had a box with a plant growing inside it. For reasons dark and twisted, the plant finds itself quite content to grow inside the black confines of the box. It gains inch after inch each week. Eventually, the plant runs out of room to grow but the box is a box. It can’t grow with the plant. The plant, doomed by its own prodigiousness, grows too big for its cramped home and crushes itself against the six walls of its cardboard prison.

TABOR

Courtesy of tookapic at Pixabay

So, what do plants and Colorado’s economy have in common? While I grant that it is a little melodramatic, I think it’s also an apt metaphor for the situation imposed by Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

In 1992, Colorado voters approved adding an amendment to Colorado’s constitution that put a cap on how much revenue the state is allowed to collect through taxes. It also requires the state to authorize any new taxes directly through voters by means of a referendum process. Any amount above the cap is refunded to taxpayers. This mechanism allows me to feed into an unhealthy obsession with Legos every year, as my tax return checks can be quite generous. However, at the same time Colorado’s constitution has a requirement in it that requires the state to increase education spending to keep pace with inflation.

One great way to think of both tax and spending mechanisms is to think of TABOR as the brake and Amendment 23 as the gas. TABOR limits government growth and spending while Amendment 23 keeps a steady drip of cash flowing into government expenditures.

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Nov 07

Reflections on 25 years of TABOR in Colorado

Reflections on 25 years of TABOR in Colorado

Friday marked 25 years since the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1992

By Julia RentschReporter-Herald Staff Writer

Posted:   11/06/2017 11:07:03 PM MST

TABOR timeline

• 1992 — Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amends Section 20 Article X of the Colorado Constitution

• 2000 — Amendment 23 for education spending increases

• 2005 — Ballot measure Referendum C loosens some TABOR restrictions for five years

• 2006 — TABOR measures rejected by voters in Maine, Nebraska, Oregon

• 2011 — State Sen. Andy Kerr and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst lead suit against TABOR

• 2014 — Kerr v. Hickenlooper confirms general assembly has standing to challenge the constitutionality of TABOR

• 2015 — U.S. Supreme Court returns Kerr & Hullinghorst case to 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

• 2017 — House Bill 17-1187 to change excess state revenues cap growth factor introduced

Both Sam Mamet and Larry Sarner acutely remember the moment that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Act was amended to the Colorado Constitution. The difference: One man hated the amendment’s restrictions, while the other saw them as democratically vital.

Friday marked exactly 25 years since the election in which the amendment was added to the state constitution — Nov. 3, 1992. The measure took effect Dec. 31, 1992, and serves as a way to limit the growth of government by requiring increases in overall revenue from taxes not exceed the rates of inflation and population growth.

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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.
BY  OCTOBER 2017

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 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 11

Colorado’s hot property values are triggering tax cuts — and one local college is scrambling to offset the loss

Colorado’s hot property values are triggering tax cuts — and one local college is scrambling to offset the loss

Colorado Mountain College is pushing a ballot question to negate future cuts, but it may not be constitutional

In an unusual ballot measure that walks uncharted constitutional ground, the Colorado Mountain College plans to ask voters in six counties for blanket approval to offset any future property tax cuts triggered by the Gallagher Amendment.

CMC’s board of trustees late last month approved the referred measure, which would give the board permission to raise property taxes any time the state constitution requires a cut to residential property assessments.

The measure won’t erase the cut that Gallagher has already caused: an anticipated $2.78 million this fiscal year for the Glenwood Springs-based institution.

Click (HERE) to read the rest of this story about TABOR:

Aug 31

El Paso County initiative could jumpstart local funding for I-25

It’s your money.
TABOR allows you a vote to let the government keep it or if you would rather have it in your pocket.

El Paso County TABOR initiative could jumpstart local funding for I-25 widening

Posted: Aug 29, 2017 8:42 PM EDTUpdated: Aug 29, 2017 8:43 PM EDT

El Paso County initiative could jumpstart local funding for I-25

El Paso County could soon have a ballot initiative asking to keep close to $15 million in excess tax revenues. A large chunk of the excess money would go to the I-25 widening project.

El Paso County Commissioners unanimously passed the first reading of the ballot measure for TABOR dollars, next week will be a final decision for placing it on the November ballot.

The initiative would reset the budget cap to use that excess money and hopefully jump start local funding for the interstate project.

“I believe that local governments need to have skin in the game,” said El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller in April, pushing for local funding for the I-25 widening project at the newly formed I-25 Gap Coalition meeting made up of local municipalities along the front range.

Tuesday was the first step for Waller getting his wish of local funding after the state legislature couldn’t plan for infrastructure funding

 

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