May 01

When a Tax Increase Isn’t a New Tax

When a Tax Increase Isn’t a New Tax

High court rules incidental, minimal tax revenue increase doesn’t violate TABOR

Pernell v. People
What might have been a precedent-setting decision in Colorado criminal case law instead became a ruling on harmless error, as the Colorado Supreme Court determined.

According to the Colorado Supreme Court, legislation that causes an incidental and de minimis increase in tax revenue does not amount to a “new tax” or “tax policy change” under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and consequently doesn’t require voter approval.

The decision issued April 23 in TABOR Foundation v. Regional Transportation District settles a 2013 lawsuit against RTD, Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and Colorado Department of Revenue that claimed House Bill 13-1272 violated TABOR because it resulted in a revenue increase without voter consent. The legislature passed the bill to realign sales taxes levied by RTD and SCFD with the state sales tax. Although the districts and state share a taxable base tangible personal property — the taxes levied had diverged over the years due to various differing exemptions.

House Bill 1272 removed exemptions from the districts’ taxes on sales of cigarettes, direct-mail advertising materials, candy, soft drinks, and nonessential food containers. Its passage resulted in a projected tax revenue increase of 0.6 percent for the districts, which amounted to less than 1 percent of SCFD’s budget and one thousandth of RTD’s budget. The TABOR Foundation sued the districts, claiming the removal of exemptions constituted a “new tax” or “tax policy change” because they resulted in the districts taxing things they had not before.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, and upheld the districts’ analysis of House Bill 1272’s purpose to simplify tax collections and ease administrative confusions associated with the exemption divergences. The court concluded the revenue increase was incidental and de minimis, so it did not violate TABOR.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the April 30, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.

May 01

Colorado’s Supreme Court has once again weakened taxpayers’ rights

Colorado’s Supreme Court has once again weakened taxpayers’ rights

© Getty

The Colorado Supreme Court has issued another in a long string of rulings weakening the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights — the part of the Colorado constitution called “TABOR.”

The voters adopted TABOR in 1992 to protect Colorado’s fiscal and economic health. TABOR guarantees the rights of citizens to vote on certain hikes in government spending, taxes, and debt. Unfortunately, each anti-TABOR court decision has become precedent for further anti-TABOR decisions. The Colorado courts are bootstrapping themselves toward ultimate destruction of Coloradans’ right to keep their state fiscally safe.

In TABOR Foundation v. Regional Transportation District, citizens argued that a law standardizing sales tax exemptions should have been presented to the voters. The citizens pointed out that the measure was not revenue-neutral. Rather, it was what TABOR calls a “tax revenue gain.”

 

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Apr 28

Colorado’s Gubernatorial Race 2018: The Hot Topics

 

Photo courtesy of Amanda Croy

Colorado’s Gubernatorial Race 2018: The Hot Topics

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Talking Points

The topics that will dominate candidates’ messaging throughout the campaign season.

Growth

It is the best of times…or is it the worst of times? That depends a lot on how you feel about Colorado’s growth. “Normally, the economy would be the highest issue for most voters,” Paul Teske, a dean at CU Denver, says. “There will be a lot of talk about sustaining the boom.” But, adds DU’s Seth Masket: “There are a lot of different areas of the state that are adversely affected by this growth.” Transportation has become a perennial funding battle at the Capitol and could benefit from strong gubernatorial influence (read: political pressure) to make Republicans and Democrats find bipartisan ways forward. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate in Colorado is three percent (it was 8.9 percent at the end of 2010), which on its face is great news, but that near-full employment causes woes for companies desperate to fill jobs. Wages—particularly in the metro area—haven’t kept up with cost-of-living expenses, which means that although people are finding work, they may not be able to pay bills. And the biggest expense for many voters is rising housing costs. Mix that all together, and the moment is prime for a gubernatorial candidate to stand out by creating a unique vision for Colorado’s future.

Education

This may seem like a topic that matters most to people who are raising families, but this year, candidates will compel everyone to think about Colorado’s education system (funding here ranks in the bottom third of all states in the country). Which makes sense: Property owners help pay for schools, employers benefit from a well-prepared workforce, and we all want the best for society’s youngsters, right? But how we ensure we have a strong education system is quite a bit more complicated. Magellan Strategies’ David Flaherty says Republican candidates should be talking about education right now and through November. “It’s the one issue we completely give to the Democrats,” Flaherty says. “It’s unfortunate because it’s one of the top two issues for unaffiliated voters.”

Tabor

Conversations about addressing growing pains or giving more money to teachers inevitably evolve into talks about what to do about Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), which limits government spending to match population growth and inflation increases.
Under TABOR, which passed in 1992, leftover revenue is returned to the taxpayers. Proponents herald the limits on government spending; detractors warn that TABOR isn’t robust enough to respond to real-time needs, like shifting populations in schools due to high housing costs.
But Coloradans tend to like the control TABOR gives them: A January 2018 report from the American Politics Research Lab at CU Boulder found that “support among Coloradans outpaces opposition,” with 45 percent of respondents supporting TABOR.
That number has fallen since 2016, and the study notes that more than a quarter of respondents had “uncertainty about a position.” In short, there’s room for candidates to make TABOR the issue of the campaign.
Republican candidates are likely to support working within TABOR’s constraints. Democrats will probably talk more about reform or repeal.

Guns

 

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Apr 26

TABOR, Colorado education funding and the teacher protests (for Dummies)

TABOR, Colorado education funding and the teacher protests (for Dummies)

If there’s one thing teachers hate, it’s Cliffnotes, but here’s a “Cliffnotes”-style explainer of the education funding shortfalls Colorado teachers are protesting.

KUSA – By now, you’ve probably read that thousands of teachers plan to rally at the Colorado State Capitol on Thursday and Friday.

This has led the state’s largest school districts to cancel class. To put this into perspective, if you got all the kids who will have the day off in the same place, it would be Colorado’s second largest city.

A stock photo of Colorado Springs, for context.
RondaKimbrow, RondaKimbrow

It’s a big deal.

RELATED | Why thousands of Colorado teachers are protesting on Thursday and Friday

Education funding in Colorado is confusing, as in the kind of thing that still doesn’t make sense even after spending half of your work day trying to brush up on it (talking from experience here).

But, like “War and Peace,” your state’s education budget is important … but also super confounding and kinda tedious (apologies to all the Tolstoy fans out there). So, here’s our attempt at a Cliffnotes version to get you up to speed before our coverage of the teacher protests (which is ironic because if there’s one thing teachers hate, it’s using Cliffnotes instead of reading the actual book).

RELATED | These districts are canceling class on April 27 due to teacher walkouts

What are the teachers protesting?

Colorado’s teachers are protesting a few things. First off, they’re speaking out against the state’s lack of education funding (some studies put Colorado in the bottom tier nationwide), low teacher pay (while you’ll see some reports that teacher pay in Colorado is ranked 46th in the country, it’s actually 31st at $52,736 a year, according to the latest National Education Association report) and proposed changes to their pension plan.

During the protests, there’s one thing hear about a lot: TABOR, and specifically, how it impacts the education budget.

So … what’s up with TABOR?

A stock photo of a teacher explaining TABOR.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, This content is subject to copyright.

No, it’s not someone’s name (necessarily). Instead, it’s an acronym for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. This was passed in 1992, and basically, you can trace everything that’s a little unique about Colorado’s budget back to this.

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Apr 24

Colorado Supreme Court: Some Small Tax Changes Are OK Without Voter Approval

Colorado Supreme Court: Some Small Tax Changes Are OK Without Voter Approval

An RTD bus sits idle at Alameda Station, just off the Denver neighborhoods of Baker and West Washington Park.

Jim Hill/CPR News

The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of a state law that added sales taxes to some items to benefit public transportation and cultural groups in metropolitan Denver without voter approval.

The ruling by the state’s highest court rejected a lawsuit from the TABOR Foundation, a taxpayer advocacy group that alleged the Regional Transportation District and a cultural district were violating Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which requires voter approval for any tax hike.

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2013 measure passed by lawmakers allowing the districts to collect taxes on items previously exempt from local sales taxes, such as candy, soft drinks, cigarettes and food containers.

The court ruled that the new taxes represented such a minor change to tax policy that they did not require voter approval.

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Apr 24

Colorado Supreme Court upholds legality of taxes for special districts, like RTD TABOR requires voter approval for any tax hike

Colorado Supreme Court upholds legality of taxes for special districts, like RTD

TABOR requires voter approval for any tax hike

RTD's G Line testing in Olde ...
Andy Cross, The Denver Post

RTD’s G Line testing in Olde Town Arvada Jan. 02, 2018. The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld the legality of sales taxes that are collected by two special districts in metropolitan Denver.

PUBLISHED:  | UPDATED: 

The ruling by the state’s highest court rejected a lawsuit from the TABOR Foundation, a taxpayer advocacy group that alleged the Regional Transportation District and a cultural district were violating Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which requires voter approval for any tax hike.

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2013 measure passed by lawmakers allowing the districts to collect taxes on items previously exempt from local sales taxes, such as candy, soft drinks, cigarettes and food containers.

The court ruled that the new taxes represented such a minor change to tax policy that they did not require voter approval.

Click here for the rest of story:

Apr 19

TABOR Committee letter to city of Loveland urges care with DDA bonds

TABOR Committee letter to city of Loveland urges care with DDA bonds

Letter sent via a lawyer says language in ballot question ‘ambiguous’

By Julia RentschReporter-Herald Staff Writer

POSTED:   04/17/2018 07:55:38 PM MDT

Through an attorney, the TABOR Committee delivered a message to the city of Loveland last week reminding the city to tread carefully when issuing bonds for the city’s Downtown Development Authority.

The letter’s stated concerns relate to the anticipated bond issuances greenlit in November via a ballot issue.

The TABOR Committee, which was the original vehicle for getting the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights passed in 1992, is an organization whose mission is to defend the statewide law. It is the advocacy side of TABOR defense, while its affiliate the TABOR Foundation is an educational organization.

The letter was sent by Michael Mulvania through Denver-based law firm Mulvania Law, LLC. It is “non-threatening,” according to City Attorney Moses Garcia, though it serves as an important reminder that the city could be at risk of violating TABOR if it were to finance repayment of debt taken for the DDA through any means other than the fund specially designated for the purpose.

Ballot issue 5C, which appeared on the November 2017 election ballot for Lovelanders living within the DDA boundaries, asked voters to grant the city permission to borrow up to $61 million for DDA infrastructure projects. Final election results showed 58.68 percent of voters in favor of the issue.

The ballot question states the debt will be “payable from and secured by a pledge of the special fund of the city which shall contain tax increment revenues levied and collected within the boundaries of the authority.”

This statement is almost word-for-word a reflection of the section of the Colorado Revised Statutes Title 31 dedicated to codifying the issuance of bonds by an authority.

 

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Apr 16

Freedom Minute | Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about TABOR

Rob Natelson wrote THE BOOK on Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. As he puts it, “It’s everything you could ever want to know about TABOR.” Check it out here: https://www.i2i.org/the-colorado-taxp…Cities like Philadelphia and Chicago are cashing in millions from new taxes and fees on ridesharing, but not yet in Colorado.Rob Natelson wrote THE BOOK on Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. As he puts it, “It’s everything you could ever want to know about TABOR.” Check it out here: https://www.i2i.org/the-colorado-taxp…

 

Apr 16

The Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Paperback Book Is Available On Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This publication discusses both the successes and deficiencies, of Colorado’s “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” (TABOR) and offers some recommendations for reform.

https://smile.amazon.com/Colorado-Taxpayers-Bill-Rights/dp/1576552624/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1523895152&sr=8-8&keywords=Robert+G.+Natelson