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 25

Stop House Bill 1041 — A Public Information Tax

Assault on Civic Engagement

Stop House Bill 1041 — A Public Information Tax

  The most regressive public policy proposal to come out of the Colorado capitol in years is Senator Kefalas’s “citizens-be-damned” bill to impose significant fees on citizens seeking public information. It is a direct assault on the public’s right to be informed about activities of  their goverment.

This video spoofs the bill’s impact, but it’s not hard to imagine the troublesome realities in your hometown.

Public Information Tax (User Pay) in Coloradoville

Research Fees — The New Tax 

“Research fees” for public records are not authorized by Colorado statute. Most local governments do not currently charge such fees for records review. Bill 1041 mandates a drastic change to begin imposing research fees on citizens unless waived.

The default setting for cash-strapped governments such as school boards, state agencies, fire districts, and clerks’ offices will become “fee-based, user-pay records disclosure,” and waivers will become the exception rather than the rule. The press has written about the controversial bill, but HB1041 is being pushed by lawmakers faster than the public can catch up in order to protest. See recent articles in Colorado Independent,Boulder Weekly, and Colorado Statesman. Continue reading

Feb 16

Report: Colorado’s public worker pension fund not “fiscally sound”

UPDATED:   12/01/2012 12:08:53 AM MST

By Tim Hoover The Denver Post

The Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association is one of 21 state pension funds that are not “fiscally sound,” according to a national investment research firm.

The report, from Morningstar Inc., found that 21 states’ aggregate funded ratios were below 70 percent, the threshold which Morningstar considers a system to be “fiscally sound.” The funded ratio was determined by dividing a pension plan’s assets by its liabilities.

PERA has $26 billion in unfunded liabilities. Lawmakers in 2010 passed a bipartisan piece of legislation that raised retirement ages for government workers, reduced annual cost-of-living adjustments and required increased contributions from government employers and their workers.

The Morningstar study said Colorado’s PERA funded ratio for its state division was 57.7 percent, the number it based its “not fiscally sound” determination on. However, some of PERA’s individual divisions were better off.  The Denver Public Schools fund, for example, was funded at 81.5 percent, while the local and judicial divisions were each at 69.3 percent.  Continue reading

Feb 16

GUEST COLUMN: Unfunded liabilities in PERA’s health plan accumulate

May 03, 2012 7:31 PM

BARRY POULSON and PENN PFIFFNER
GUEST COLUMNISTS

This legislative session Colorado HB1250 was introduced to begin addressing an unfunded billion-dollar liability in the Public Employee Retirement Association’s (PERA) retiree health care benefit program. Its own sponsor then killed the bill after it came under a fire storm of hysteria-tinged and false criticisms, fueled by one-sided media coverage.

Colorado taxpayers lost an important opportunity for the Legislature to begin the fundamental reforms required to put PERA on a sustainable fiscal path. Instead PERA will continue to carry huge unfunded liabilities that in the absence of reform will eventually require a taxpayer bailout or PERA retirees being denied their promised benefits.

About a dozen years ago, PERA established a health care program for people who retire before age 65 and no longer are covered by their government employer for health insurance. Local governments, school districts and state government contribute annually. The program is a type of “defined benefit.” In other words, a promise with no cap to the cost.

The PERA health benefit also gives retirees a direct premium subsidy even after they turn 65 and begin using the taxpayer-supplied Medicare.

HB 1250 would have changed the program from an open-ended promise to pay retirees whatever it takes, to a $230 fixed subsidy — the amount they receive today. Additionally, eligibility for PERA’s retiree health insurance would have been restricted to those 65 years of age and under, and thus not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. 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 29

OUR VIEW: Elitists go after TABOR

December 28, 2012

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights exposes elitism in its most outspoken critics. Listen to them as some celebrate and others mourn 20 years since voters amended the Colorado Constitution to give the governed control of their government. Some who dislike TABOR believe the governing class knows what’s best for everyone else, as others believe state government should spend without constraint.

A front-page article in the Sunday Denver Post quoted Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson, a Republican who travels the country to warn other states against enacting TABOR-like limits on government.

“One of the years I was in the Legislature, we were refunding over $900 million to taxpayers at the same time we were making cuts,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to see them (other states) make the same mistake that Colorado did.”

It is a “mistake” that voters chose to reduce the size and cost of government, but Johnson never explains exactly how voters were mistaken. Given that voters have the easy option of amending their constitution, and have chosen to keep TABOR for 20 years, it doesn’t seem like a “mistake.” Maybe, just maybe, a majority of voters wanted cuts in state programs and a $900 million return of their hard-earned cash. The money belongs to the governed. The state government and its services belong to governed and are under their control. Politicians work for constituents, not the other way around. If voters want a small government that does almost nothing, it is their right. Johnson complains that state spending, as a portion of personal income, has dropped from 6.7 percent in fiscal 1993-94 to 3.9 percent today. 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 13

New II Issue Paper Rebuts Myth that Citizen Review of Laws and Taxes Violates the Republican Form

By Rob Natelson**

If you are exposed to enough politics, sooner or later you’ll hear the old saw that the U.S. is “a republic and not a democracy.” Along with that saying goes the following claim: Allowing voter initiatives and referenda is unconstitutional: If a state lets voters enact laws or veto tax hikes, the state is too democratic to meet the Constitution’s mandate that it have a “republican form of government.”

A new Independence Institute Issue Paper, which I authored, examines those assertions in detail. The Paper shows that both are essentially myths.

The nation’s best-known measure requiring voter approval of most tax hikes is Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), adopted by the voters in 1992. This Issue Paper is published in response to a legal attack on TABOR: A group of government apologists has sued in federal court claiming that by limiting legislative control over fiscal measures, Colorado has violated the U.S. Constitution.

In a nutshell, the new Issue Paper finds:

* The American Founders did not firmly distinguish between a “republic” and a “democracy.” Some used the two words as if they were synonymous. Some adopted the view of Montesquieu that there were two kinds of republics: (1) Those controlled by a few (aristocracies) and (2) those controlled by the many (democracies).

* Dictionaries of the time defined “republic” as merely a popular government, as opposed to a monarchy. One encyclopedia-type dictionary included an article tracking Montesquieu’s definitions. 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