October 11, 2015
By Amy K. Frantz , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
Do Legislators have a Constitutional right to impose taxes on citizens and to deny citizens any veto power over those actions? A group of politicians in Colorado seems to think so, and are continuing their quest to overturn the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, from the Colorado State Constitution.
In Colorado, citizens are permitted to place measures on the ballot by initiative petition, and in 1992 the TABOR Constitutional Amendment was adopted by Colorado voters. TABOR requires majority voter approval to increase tax rates, to take on new debt, or to increase spending more than the rate of inflation plus state population growth.
In the original provisions of TABOR, any revenue collected in excess of the spending limit, plus an emergency relief fund of 3 percent of fiscal year spending, had to be returned to the taxpayers in the form of rebates. However, in 2005 Colorado voters approved a measure to forego the rebates for five years, following a scare campaign conducted by the state’s big spenders.
But halting the rebates to Colorado taxpayers was apparently not enough. In 2011 a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials filed a lawsuit, stating in Kerr et al. v. Hickenlooper that “[a]n effective legislative branch must have the power to raise and appropriate funds. When the power to tax is denied, the legislature cannot function effectively to fulfill its obligations in a representative democracy and a Republican Form of Government.” The plaintiffs in the case were asking the courts to strike the TABOR Amendment from the Colorado Constitution.
The lawsuit slowly made its way through the courts, ending up at the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in June, the Supreme Court ordered the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, which had previously sided with TABOR opponents.
With the Supreme Court’s order, the case against TABOR remains unresolved for now, but one thing that is clear is that some politicians will stop at nothing to retain their power to tax and spend. After all, politicians might find it harder to be so generous with taxpayer dollars if they have to ask permission of the taxpayers first!
Amy K. Frantz is vice president of the Public Interest Institute in Mount Pleasant.
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