Dec 01

Should TABOR be dismantled? No

Voters have right to decide state, local taxes

By John Suthers

Two supporters of Amendment 66 look at projected figures showing the initiative
Two supporters of Amendment 66 look at projected figures showing the initiative’s defeat and the victory of Proposition AA (a tax on recreational marijuana sales). (Ed Andrieski, The Associated Press)

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

Dec 01

Should TABOR be dismantled? Yes

Take back the power to set state fiscal policy

By David Skaggs and Mike Feeley

Two supporters of Amendment 66 look at projected figures showing the initiative
Two supporters of Amendment 66 look at projected figures showing the initiative’s defeat and the victory of Proposition AA (a tax on recreational marijuana sales). (Ed Andrieski, The Associated Press)

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

Nov 28

Colorado voters were saved by TABOR

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

Oct 25

TABOR group sues 2 special districts — RTD, SCFD — over new tax

By Monte Whaley

The Denver Post

The nonprofit TABOR Foundation is suing to stop the Regional Transportation District and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District from collecting sales tax on food, beverages, cigarettes, advertising materials and food containers.

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 
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Oct 24

TABOR Foundation vs. RTD

Whether the General Assembly can circumvent TABOR by expanding the taxing authority of RTD and SCFD without voter approval.

TABOR Foundation

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

Oct 22

Silt water district aims to ‘de-Bruce’ its finances

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 infrastructure.

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

Oct 19

TABOR lawsuit: Suthers vs. Skaggs on Colorado PBS show

Attorney General John Suthers and former Congressman David Skaggs. (Provided by C.L. Harmer)

Attorney General John Suthers and former Congressman . (Provided by C.L. Harmer)

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and former Congressman David Skaggs tonight will discuss the 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. , 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 , 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. , 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.

The Denver Post
Lynn Bartels

Sep 30

Colorado fights off challenge to ‘Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’

A court is weighing whether Colorado lawmakers should have more power to raise taxes.

A challenge to Colorado’s constitutional limits on spending and taxation was in federal court this week, with plaintiffs arguing the “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” encroaches on the legislature’s ability to raise taxes on its own.

The lawsuit, filed in 2011, pits a host of former state lawmakers and high-profile attorneys against a 1992 amendment to the state constitution which limits spending — even requiring refunds to taxpayers in cases of surplus — and also requires public votes on tax increases. It’s the latter requirement that has some lawmakers crying foul that TABOR “arrogates” their power to tax.

“Without the power to tax there is no effective government,” argued plaintiffs’ attorney David Skaggs at a hearing Monday, according to the Associated Press.

While some lawsuits argue nuanced legal theories, TABOR foes go for the constitutional jugular: the U.S. Constitution guarantees states a “republican” form of government, and TABOR’s referendum requirement tips the scale too far toward direct democracy.

“Frustration with the work of legislatures, whether federal or state, may indicate a need for representative institutions to be more effective, but that frustration does not justify or permit resorting to direct democracy,” reads the lawsuit. Continue reading

Sep 30

Voters must beware the pitfalls of supporting Amendment 66

Route 66 is a famous highway; Amendment 66 is a fiscal dead end, taking over a billion dollars yearly in new state taxes. Here are three strikes against 66 almost no one knows:

The first is their bogus ballot title. TABOR (the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights) requires a tax increase ballot title begin, “Shall state taxes be increased ($x) annually…?” When the state title board first met, the fiscal estimate was just under $1.5 billion yearly.

A cost 50 percent above their failed 2011 tax hike would be fatal, so the teachers union sought a rehearing. The state agreed to lower the tax estimate one-third, to just below $1 billion. It declared that reduction corrected an innocent ($500 million) mistake.

Would a private analyst making such a “mistake” keep his job? No. Should those who deceive voters get huge pay raises? No. Are they morally fit to teach your children? No.

The second scam is the ballot title omission. State law requires ballot titles list major features fairly. Tax payers love TABOR; tax spenders despise it. So state employees hid the fact that 66 repeals TABOR’s constitutional guarantee of a uniform income tax (equal protection, the same for everyone). Today’s rate is 4.63 percent of federal taxable income. 66 establishes two tax rates. Continue reading

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