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

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