DENVER – Proponents of a Colorado ballot initiative to eliminate a constitutional amendment that strictly limits government’s ability to tax and spend can proceed with their campaign to put the question on the 2020 ballot, the state’s Supreme Court ruled in a decision released Monday.
Justices ruled 5-2 that the Title Board, which vets ballot questions put forward by citizens and lawmakers, erred in rejecting the 2020 initiative to ask voters to eliminate the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
The board determined in January that the proposal violated a requirement that ballot questions focus on a single subject. TABOR, as the 1992 voter-approved amendment is known, affects a complex array of taxation, bonding and spending issues.
Generally, TABOR requires voter approval for increasing taxes, issuing bonds, and spending by local and state government. It requires refunds of taxes in excess of annual limits. Critics blame it for chronic state underinvestment in education and roads. Supporters credit it for imposing fiscal discipline on elected officials and for limiting taxes.
Colorado’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has placed a measure on the November 2019 ballot to ask voters if the state can retain excess tax revenue. House Speaker KC Becker argued the state should do all it can – especially at a time of sustained economic growth – to address underfunded priorities.
Most Republicans long have defended TABOR, crediting it in large part for Colorado’s strong economy, which grew by 3.5% in 2017.
The Supreme Court ordered the Title Board to certify the repeal question so proponents can begin collecting the more than 124,000 voter signatures required to put the question on the 2020 ballot.
The liberal Denver-based Colorado Fiscal Institute is behind the initiative and challenged the board’s decision in court. Institute executive director Carol Hedges said Monday that TABOR “has made Colorado an outlier among U.S. states in the way we raise money for investment in our communities.”
“We’re the only state in the country that has limited the authority and responsibility of our elected officials to determine how to tax and whom to tax,” Hedges said. “Very few other states say that when the economy is booming, they can’t save more or expand their investment of tax dollars.”
“Politicians and big government organizations have been calling for an end to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights for years,” said Jesse Mallory, Colorado director for the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. “Now they get their chance to try to convince the people of Colorado that they don’t deserve to vote on tax increases – a right AFP firmly believes Coloradans should have.”
In the majority opinion, Justice Richard Gabriel wrote that the “initiative could not be written more simply or directly. It essentially asks voters a single question: Should TABOR be repealed in full?”
In her dissent, Justice Monica Marquez said the decision “defies logic, the constitution, and decades of this court’s case law” on the single-subject rule, which was adopted by voters in 1994. Justice Brian Boatright joined the dissent.