Colorado Rising State Action tees up ballot initiatives to inoculate TABOR

If there are still officials trying to get around Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights by turning to government fees instead of new taxes, a proposed ballot initiative could complicate things.

Next week the Secretary of State’s Office title-setting board is expected hear a pitch for three November ballot measures on three questions, initiatives 273 to 275.

The initiatives seek to require that a “fee-based enterprise” that is put forth by a state government be subject to voter approval.

“The success fiscal conservatives have had on the ballot has forced more deceptions on the liberal side about how do they get more revenue, and that’s why this is so important, because they want to go around TABOR and not go to a vote of the people,” said Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, which filed the proposal.

The rule would apply only to large government state enterprises, not local ones, that see to collect fees. The three proposed variations would affect fees that result in $50 million in revenue over three years, as projected by legislative analysts. The two other proposals peg $100 million over five years or $50 million over five years.

Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center think tank in Denver, said the idea is rife with long-term problems for a prosperous state struggling to keep up with growth and support basic services.

“These measures are either designed to be a political distraction or to cause real pain,” he said. “Our fiscal ship is sinking and some of us are working our hearts out to keep it afloat. These guys are busy burning the lifeboats.”

Only one of the three variations would ultimately make it on the ballot, if proponents can collect 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters.

Those who contend the state is cash-strapped by TABOR — which sets a spending cap based on inflation and population growth — have tried and failed repeatedly over the years to get voters to subvert it, with an outright repeal vote in the works behind the scenes.

Last November, voters statewide rejected Proposition CC to allow the state to keep future refunds for transportation and education by nearly a 140,000-vote margin. 

Fields is confident voters will support it the same way they’ve rejected previous attempts on TABOR.

“This just allows voters to weigh in,” he said. “Whether it’s taxes or big fees, people don’t really care; it still impacts them and they want to vote on it.”

The proposed measure this year would be a statutory change, not constitutional.

If proponents had chosen to try to amend the state constitution, they would have had a more difficult bar, because of Amendment 71 passed by voters in 2016. A constitutional amendment now requires valid signatures from at least 2% of the total registered electors in each of the 35 Colorado state Senate districts. The measure also would have had to pass with 55% instead of a simple majority.

The lower bar, however, leaves the measure vulnerable to future changes by the legislature, which could undermine the purpose if Democrats continue to win majorities in the House and Senate and maintain their grip on the governor’s office.

Fields said he was confident that the will of the voters would, or should, prevail.

[via Colorado Politics]

Kafer: I’m beginning to believe Democrats want Colorado’s drivers to be miserable

Deep within the bowels of Denver International Airport the Illuminati gather for their secret meetings. A bloodthirsty Chupacabra stalks sleeping cattle in the San Luis Valley to gorge upon their entrails. Aliens or government spy drones or both wander the night sky in northeastern Colorado. Centennial State conspiracy theories abound, but I’ve never given them credence. And yet, while languishing in the daily bottleneck at the Santa Fe Drive and Interstate 25 interchange, breathing the smog from idling cars, I have discovered a real conspiracy in our state: Democrats in the legislature have no interest in fixing our transportation problems, and they intend to exploit our frustration to raise taxes.

Let’s examine the mounting evidence.

As part of a 2018 bipartisan agreement to fund transportation about $500 million will be spent this year from the general fund. That will barely touch the multi-billion dollar backlog in unfunded projects. Republicans would like to make an additional $300 million investment in roads this year. Democrats oppose allocating more money from the $12 billion general fund for transportation because they say it would divert funds from other priorities — prisons, schools, public health, and the like. Yet, they had no problem authorizing an expansion of full-day kindergarten in the last session. At nearly $200 million, the program will cost more than lawmakers budgeted.

Democrats also blew $800,000 to study how the government can “increase the amount of retirement savings by Colorado’s private-sector workers.” Have they heard of an IRA and or a savings account? These savings strategies already exist. Those of us in the private sector who save for retirement could have told them all about it without spending a dime of taxpayer money. Likewise, research on the problems plaguing government retirement plans like PERA and Social Security are available on the internet for free. Imagine that.

Although Democrats have no additional money for roads, the governor has proposed spending $27 million to expand subsidized preschool programs, $10 million for a family leave benefit for state employees, and other new programs.

It’s obvious: progressive pet projects are the priority, not congested roads.

Democrats say they don’t want to act unless there is another dedicated funding source for transportation. When Republicans proposed reallocating such a source, Democrats killed the bill. Senate Bill 44 would have dedicated 10% of vehicle sales and use taxes to highway projects. Next year the state would have spent $366 million on roads.

So what is their solution? Raise taxes directly or in the form of new fees. Never mind that Coloradans already pay a driver’s license fee, commercial license fee, vehicle registration fee, public highway authority fee, emissions control fee, additional highway fee, emergency medical services fee, additional registration fee, motorist insurance identification fee, motorcycle surcharge fee, diesel fee, peace officers standards and training board fee, county road and bridge fee, plug-in electric vehicle fee, road safety surcharge fee, and a bridge safety surcharge fee. The advantage of calling a tax a fee is that the legislature doesn’t have to seek permission from voters.

In addition to all these fees, Colorado taxpayers also pay taxes for transportation including sales taxes on new vehicles, taxes on commercial transportation, and a 22 cent per gallon tax on gasoline, a rate that is midway between the state’s southern and northern neighbors.

Democrats believe Coloradans are open to a new tax on top of all of the taxes, fees, surcharges, and tolls we already pay. Did the politicians not notice the results of the past two elections?  Voters rejected tax increases not once but twice. The message is pretty obvious: we already pay enough taxes and expect the legislature to spend what we give them on essential government serves like roads.

Perhaps they think that if we sit long enough at the Santa Fe and I-25 interchange breathing fumes that we’ll beg them to raise taxes. That appears to be the plan: refuse to fund roads with the money available, provoke frustration, then raise taxes. While not worthy of a Dan Brown novel, it’s a conspiracy theory worth contemplating while you’re wasting time in traffic.

Krista Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.

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[via the Denver Post]