Mar 10

Lessons from 30 Years of TEL Experience

Yes, you can get involved in your city or state.  TABOR gives citizens the right to vote yes or no on the government increasing your taxes.  To learn more, send an email to

The first tax and expenditure limitation (TEL) was proposed by California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972. In the years since then, numerous states have adopted TELs. By studying these laws, we have discovered principles and design concepts for effective tax limitation.

State TELS

In spring 1978, under the leadership of State Rep. David Copeland, the people of Tennessee adopted the first constitutional tax limitation measure in the nation, the work product of a state constitutional convention.

Then came Proposition 13 in California in June 1978. While not itself a TEL (it was primarily a limitation on the growth of property taxes), Prop. 13 was the catalyst that ignited a national tax revolt. Things began to happen quickly across the country:

  • Arizona, under the leadership of then-Senate Majority Leader Sandra Day O’Connor, adopted a TEL referendum in 1978.
  • In November 1978, Michigan adopted the Headlee Amendment, which restricted state spending as a share of personal income.
  • In 1979, California adopted a Prop. 1-type TEL (the Gann Limit) that for the first time limited the growth of state spending by measuring it against inflation and population or per-capita personal income growth, instead of a percentage of state personal income growth, which really tightened the year-over-year control over taxes and government spending.
  • Also in 1979, Washington State adopted a TEL (Initiative 62).
  • In 1980, Missouri adopted the Hancock Amendment, again using a percentage of state personal income growth as the measure.
  • In 1980, Massachusetts’s Prop. 2 ½ drew heavily on the language of California’s Prop. 1 in order to control the growth of local governments.

Lessons Learned

Many other states have since adopted constitutional or statutory controls. But many were not tough enough or sufficiently well enforced or honored to be effective. Circumvention began in earnest in Missouri as the legislature and courts played games with the revenue base and school financing. In California in 1989, wily Assembly Speaker Willie Brown corrupted the Gann Limit formula in a statewide initiative devoted to improving California’s roads and highways. Continue reading

Mar 10

How TABOR works: Tracking the fate of your 2015 refund

If state legislators pass all active tax credit bills, your refund would be at least $18.42 less than originally projected.

(CPR: Megan Arellano)

You’ve probably heard you might get a TABOR refund. If you’re like us, you’re wondering how much that could be. We set out to answer that very question.

What are TABOR refunds?

Under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, state spending in Colorado is only allowed to increase at the rate of population growth plus inflation.* Any money the state raises above that amount must be returned to taxpayers through a complex set of formulas.

Between a voter-approved TABOR timeout passed in 2005 and the Great Recession, it’s been a decade since residents last received a rebate. But with Colorado’s economy once again booming, analysts project the state will need to start returning money to taxpayers either this fiscal year or next.**

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Mar 04

Littleton voters pass measure restricting city’s urban renewal powers

Littleton voters pass measure restricting city’s urban renewal powers

The storefront of the new location of Crown Trophy in Littleton. (Brent Lewis, The Denver Post)

Littleton will need to go to the voters before employing commonly used urban renewal tactics, like tax increment financing or eminent domain, according to special election results released late Tuesday.

The city in Denver’s southern suburbs became the first Colorado community to place such constraints on a local government’s ability to use the state-sanctioned economic development tools.

Opponents of the measure warned that Littleton would stunt its economic growth potential by making projects in hard-to-revamp areas impossible to complete.

To read the rest of this article, click the following link:


Mar 02

Rep. Jim Wilson: Battle on over TABOR

Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson

Back in January, I gave you a heads up that a battle was brewing over TABOR – the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Well, the battle is on! The Democrats continue to make it clear that they would like to keep the money to spend where they feel it would be best. Republicans are maintaining their position of wanting to give the money back to the taxpayers in accordance with how the people voted in 1992.

The Democrats are seizing every opportunity to demonize TABOR as the reason there is no revenue available to fund state programs. Republicans are quick to point out the fact that the General Fund has increased its expenditures $2.9 billion (with a B!) since 2009, so there must not be a lack of dollars. The battle is beginning to infiltrate committee action in the House.

In my Finance Committee meetings, the Chair (Rep. Court: D- Denver) has unilaterally established a “policy” forcing any bill getting through the Finance Committee to have a three-year sunset clause. I do not believe that sunset clauses are a bad thing. In fact, I try to include a five-year sunset clause in many of my bills. The problem with a three-year sunset is many programs cannot be established and prove themselves (or not) in three years. A three-year sunset will create a surge of “unworkable” laws to hit the Legislature in three years. What could be the cause of the fiscal failure? Voila – TABOR! The regular lectures have reached the point where I usually ask Rep. Court, “Are we are going to get the ‘TABOR Sermon’ today?”

Stay tuned on this one…


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Feb 25

Judge throws out Gaylord Rockies Hotel tax vote, Aurora appeals

Judge throws out Gaylord Rockies Hotel tax vote, Aurora appeals

Gaylord Entertainment Aurora hotel

An artist rendering of Gaylord Entertainment’s plans to develop a resort and convention hotel in Aurora, Colo. (Provided by Gaylord Entertainment)

An Adams County district judge on Tuesday invalidated an election used to boost tax rates within the land set aside for the Gaylord Rockies Hotel, a decision that Aurora quickly filed to appeal.

“The city did not obtain the required voter approval for the tax increases purportedly authorized at that election,” ruled Ted C. Tow III, a judge in the 17th Judicial District.

Aurora filed a notice of appeal within hours of the ruling and said the project to create the state’s largest hotel remains on track.

To read the rest of this article, click the following link:

Feb 24

Plan to give Windsor schools oil, gas dollars may require vote

Plan to give Windsor schools oil, gas dollars may require vote

Plan to give Windsor schools oil, gas dollars may require vote

Mayor John Vazquez may need Windsor voters’ support to move forward with his plan to give schools a portion of the town’s oil and gas royalties.

Town Attorney Ian McCargar told Vazquez and Windsor Town Board on Monday that the board can’t commit funds to the Weld RE-4 School District on a long-term basis without approval from the Windsor electorate.

“If you tie your hands into future fiscal years in some way, it’s TABOR,” McCargar told the board. Under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, voters would need to pass a ballot question on Vaquez’s plan.

In December, Vazquez said 10 percent of the town’s unexpected revenue should be used for schools. Oil and gas royalties in the town’s Capital Improvement Fund totaled $1.4 million in 2014, meaning under the mayor’s proposal $140,000 would have gone to area schools.

Last year, Vazquez was asked by Town Board members to hold off on advancing his plan via a citizens initiative so that the board had an opportunity to reach an agreement on how the royalty dollars should be used.

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Feb 21

Ruling in Favor of County in Stormwater Utility Lawsuit

Adams County Judge Mark Warner today ruled in favor of the county in a lawsuit filed by county residents who opposed the stormwater utility fee that was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in 2012.

“Throughout this process the county has maintained the belief that the stormwater utility is a fee, not a tax and is necessary to provide storm water related services and facilities,” said Commissioner Chaz Tedesco.

In his ruling (attached), Judge Warner validated that belief:

WHEREFORE, the Court GRANTS defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The utility is a government-owned business that receives less than ten percent of its funds from state and local authorities combined, and is therefore an “enterprise” that is exempted from TABOR. Further, defendant has not engaged in an unconstitutional “bait and switch” by imposing the fee and using it, in part, for administrative and personnel costs. Further, the Court concludes the stormwater utility fee is reasonably related to the overall cost of providing services related water drainage and water related activities in the service area. Thus, based upon the foregoing interpretation of Colorado law, the stormwater utility charge is a fee, not a tax and not subject to TABOR. The Court concludes the plaintiffs have not proved that the County’s legislative decision is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.

Feb 13

Millions in marijuana tax revenue to be refunded, unless Colo. Legislature acts

Audio: CPR’s Ben Markus reports on marijuana tax revenue

A caregiver picks out a marijuana bud for a patient at a marijuana dispensary in Denver in a file photo.

(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, File)

Colorado voters overwhelmingly passed heavy taxes on marijuana, and the state has collected tens of millions in the first year of legalization.

But all of the taxes raised from pot have to be refunded, unless lawmakers can agree on a solution. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights section of the state Constitution is triggering the refund, putting money for schools and prevention programs at risk.

For now, dispensaries like Colorado Harvest Company in Denver charge 22 percent in taxes for every pre-rolled joint, vaporizer, or brownie.

It’s an expense that customer Jason Swart doesn’t mind paying.

“Just for the convenience of being able to come in, go to a store, and the selection — I think it’s well worth it,” Swart said.

Swart is new to Colorado; he just moved here from Kansas. But he recognizes that marijuana taxes help the state.

“As far as I know it goes to good things, Swart said. “Schools and roads. I know we got a lot of potholes.”

“Orwellian-type of situation”

“Legalize it and tax it” was the mantra of the pot movement in Colorado, and one of the big reasons voters approved of legalization. Now, though, the impending refunds are a bizarre turn of events that have taken many by surprise.

“This is an Orwellian-type of situation,” said Tim Hoover with the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute.

Here’s the issue: the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, requires the state to ask voters to approve any new taxes. When doing so, the state must estimate the money the tax would raise, and estimate the overall tax collections without it.

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