August 2015 Brief: Volume 22, Number 23
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The Attacks on TABOR Continue
by Amy K. Frantz
Do Legislators have a “Constitutional right to levy taxes and spend money without the people empowered with any veto?” 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 that included claims that without passage of the measure “state universities would close, state parks would close, the Veterans cemetery in Grand Junction would close, senior citizens centers would stop serving lunch, some amputees would not be able to get artificial limbs, and programs to prevent teenage suicide would shut down.”
But halting the rebates to Colorado taxpayers was apparently not enough. In 2011 a “bipartisan collection of 34 sitting legislators, former legislators, former U.S. congressmen, school board officials, local politicians, and other assorted bigwigs of the state’s political class” filed a lawsuit alleging 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. The Supreme Court “asked the lower court to re-examine the TABOR case ‘for further consideration in light’ of a ruling [in June] by the Supreme Court in a related Arizona case…which dealt with redistricting.”
So what does the Supreme Court’s decision mean for TABOR? Rob Natelson, who taught Constitutional Law for 25 years and now serves as Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence for both the Independence Institute in Colorado and the Montana Policy Institute, had this to say of the Supreme Court’s decision:
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 with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact her at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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