Sep 08

TABOR is a beautiful law and a definite game changer

The question routinely asked in Colorado Springs is whether it’s time to do away with our city’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which, by the way, predates the state version. Some critics call it redundancy. But my belief is that the city’s version, while imperfect, continues to serve the taxpayers well. It’s more needed now than ever, given the leftward lurch this state has taken.

Both city and state TABORs are viewed as a major nuisance by many politicos, and by the special interests always clamoring for more spending and bigger government. But that’s just fine from this taxpayer’s point of view. Is it in our interest, as citizens, to make it easier for politicos to pick our pockets? Continue reading

Jun 30

THE US SUPREME COURT’S PROPOSITION 8 RULING, AND TABOR

Today, in its ruling on California’s Proposition 8, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens’ groups do not have standing to defend a law passed by referendum or initiative in federal court, should the state decline to do so.  By making this reasoning the basis for its decision, the Court has potentially invited grave implications for Colorado and its Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Currently, TABOR is the subject of a lawsuit arguing that it violates the US Constitution’s provisions that each state have a republican form of government:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.

ARTICLE IV, SECTION 4

The plaintiffs, which include five current Democratic state legislators, argue that, by removing the legislature’s ability to raise taxes without approval by the people, has violated that clause.  That case is now in federal court, in front of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That assertion has been challenged on a number of counts.  First, the federal courts have ruled that clause – the “Guarantee Clause” to be non-justiciable, leaving it instead as an issue for the political branches.  Second, there is every reason to believe that the founders used the word “republican” to describe even systems of direct democracy. Continue reading

May 23

TRIAL PHASE CONCLUDES FOR BRIDGE ENTERPRISE FUND

This week the lawsuit brought by the TABOR Foundation was heard in Denver District Court.  Judge Michael Martinez heard the testimony.  Attorney Jim Manley from Mountain States Legal Foundation was the principal representative for the Plaintiffs.  The Defendants were the Fund itself and the Colorado Transportation Commission.  The Attorney General’s office is responsible for defending the state government’s scheme, but contracted with attorney Mark Grueskin to handle the defense.

 The lawsuit asks the Colorado court to rule the issuance of debt without prior voter approval unconstitutional, under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).  As part of new vehicle charges approved during the Ritter administration, a “bridge safety surcharge” was designated as a fee, not a tax, and never offered as required for voter approval.  The Bridge Enterprise was established as a separate government business to repair bridges.  The scheme declares that because you might  drive over certain bridges you must pay a yearly toll, which is collected when you register your vehicle.  The “tolls” received as income allowed the Bridge Enterprise Fund to issue $300 million in bonds without prior voter approval, also required under TABOR.  Total debt may eventually be over $1 billion. For more information, see http://tax.i2i.org/files/2013/05/Bridge_Enterprise_Fund.pdf from A Citizen’s Budget for 2013 published by the Independence Institute.

 “The critical issue is whether this government can break trust with the citizens of Colorado,” said TABOR Foundation chairman Penn R. Pfiffner.  “Bridges need to be built and maintained, but elected and appointed officials can’t ignore the constitution as they pursue those goals.  Do it the right way.”

 Five witnesses; two heroes.

Two Plaintiff witnesses were Ms. Chris Sammons and Willie Wharton, who both explained that they had to register vehicles and therefore pay the bridge surcharge “fee,” although those specifically identified vehicles never cross a single Bridge Enterprise bridge.  Continue reading

May 15

Bridge Enterprise Trial update 2

Friends of TABOR,

The trial testimony and arguments wrapped up on Tuesday, a day earlier than the time allotted. The “evidentiary” portion of the trial is complete.  Our TABOR Foundation Executive Director, Bob Foland, was present for the morning’s proceedings and I for the afternoon’s.  Our combined report follows.

Judge Michael Martinez expects both Plaintiffs (us) and Defendants to file post-trial briefs, and set a deadline 21 days out.  When Mountain States Legal Foundation files that brief, we will be done with the trial.  From that point, we will have to wait for the Judge’s ruling.  Regarding another case involving a different judge, our lead attorney observed that he is waiting for a ruling a year later.  We don’t know about Judge Martinez’s intentions or workload, so simply have no basis to give you an expected date; just that it probably won’t follow hard on the heels of the final briefs.

The early part of the morning was taken to complete testimony of Plaintiff’s last witness, the engineer from Florida.  As is only fair, the Defense was given its full opportunity to cross-examine the witness.  After that, it was Defendants’ turn to present its witnesses.

The first Defense witness was the contractor who handles or assists the Bridge Enterprise with management and administration.  He explained how his firm had participated. Continue reading

May 15

Bridge Enterprise Fund trial update

Friends of TABOR,

Yesterday (Monday), the trial began on the lawsuit to prove the Bridge Enterprise Fund is unconstitutional because it ignores the rules laid out in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.  You, as supporters and contributors, are bringing the lawsuit through our organization, the TABOR Foundation.  We are represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation, and that legal firm’s attorney who is arguing the case is Jim Manley.

For a refresher on the issues, see http://tax.i2i.org/files/2013/05/Bridge_Enterprise_Fund.pdf , from A Citizen’s Budget for 2013 published by the Independence Institute.

Five witnesses; two heroes.

Plaintiffs (us) get to go first.  One central fiction to keep in mind is the scheme declares that as you drive over certain bridges on the highway system, you are paying tolls to do so; tolls which are collected through a “safety surcharge.” The first two witnesses were Ms. Chris Sammons and Willie Wharton who both explained that they had to register vehicles and therefore pay the bridge surcharge “fee,” although those specifically identified vehicles never cross a single bridge.  They did you proud, providing testimony that was calm, convincing, certain, occasionally humorous, and very credible.  To me, they are my newest heroes.  Both took a day off, drove in from Grand County (think, from beyond the western border of Rocky Mountain National Park), leaving very early to get to Denver on time.  Continue reading

May 12

Taxpayer Bill of Rights Approved by House Committee

Taxpayer Bill of Rights Approved by House Committee – Civitas … http://ow.ly/2wP65t 

This year’s version of a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) yesterday was approved by the House Committee on Government, and moves to the House Finance Committee. House Bill 274 would place limitations on the annual growth rate of the state budget, tied to a formula based upon inflation and population growth.

I’ve written extensively on North Carolina’s need for a TABOR in the last few years, for example here and here.

North Carolina continues to find itself in budget “crisis” mode with greater frequency due to its complete lack of fiscal discipline – particularly during economic boom years. When revenue is flowing to state coffers, state budget writers simply can’t help themselves – they ratchet up spending commitments at unsustainable annual rates often approaching ten percent. And keep in mind, these dramatic spending hikes are not in response to increased “need” for government services because the most severe spending sprees come during prosperous years of low unemployment and fewer people enrolled in government programs.

A TABOR would place a limit on these spending sprees, because budget writers have proved that they simply can’t help themselves and – like an addict – need an intervention. Indeed, when examining state spending during the three decades leading up to the 2009 recession, we see the state budget grew at three times the rate of population – even after adjusting for inflation.

TABOR opponents, however, continue to refer to Colorado’s experience with a TABOR, trotting out dire warnings about how Colorado was decimated by its TABOR. The claims made, however, are highly misleading and have been thoroughly debunked.

Finally, TABOR legislation is very popular among North Carolinians. Civitas has polled a TABOR several times over the past few years, and the results are consistent: by a 3 to 1 or more margin respondents are in favor.

A TABOR is long overdue, makes sense, and is highly popular among voters

 

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