DENVER — On the same day Democrats were sworn into all the top elected offices in Colorado, new Secretary of State Jena Griswold announced one of the first potential state-wide ballot initiatives to go before the Colorado Title Board will be a complete repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
The Title Board is the first step in putting a citizen-initiated question before voters.
TABOR is a constitutional amendment that was passed by voters in 1992 that requires voter approval to increase taxes or take on new debt. It also limits the growth of a portion of the state budget to a formula of population growth plus inflation. It has been a controversial topic since its inception, and it’s been debated in the courts numerous times.
Many Democrats say it is a threat to Colorado’s education, transportation and health care funding, while Republicans counter that it is what has allowed the Colorado economy to prosper, as well as allowing Colorado to more easily weather economic downturns than states that lack taxpayer protections such as TABOR.
Many attempts to repeal or tweak portions of the amendment have come before the Title Board. This is the first time, however, that anyone can recall where a full repeal of the amendment has been proposed.
Proponents Carol Hedges and Steve Briggs have an initial hearing before the Title Board at 1 p.m. on Wednesday to begin the process of taking a repeal of TABOR to the voters. Although voters several years ago passed new rules that make adding an amendment to Colorado’s constitution harder, it still only takes a simple majority to repeal an amendment.
Hedges, who is the Executive Director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, has been a TABOR opponent for many years. She was not available for comment.
Hedges writes on the Colorado Fiscal Institute Website that TABOR is an outdated idea that has “outlasted its questionable usefulness.”
“Over the last two and a half decades, we’ve talked a lot about TABOR – how it severely limits Colorado’s ability to invest in ourselves or benefit from economic growth,” Hedges said. “How it’s made our economy easier to bust when recessions hit and harder to boom when they end, and how it provides an easy avenue for elected officials to abdicate their responsibility to make decisions about investing in schools, roads, health care, and jobs.”
Michael Fields, Executive Director of Colorado Rising Action, said TABOR is the only meaningful check remaining against overreach by Democrats, who now have complete control over state government in Colorado.
“Going after TABOR is the left’s No. 1 priority right now because it doesn’t allow them to take more money without asking, and that’s frustrating for them,” Fields said. “They are wanting to pass a bunch of legislation that costs a lot of money, so I think they quickly looked at it and said they might have an extra billion and a half dollars this year, but they want to spend even more.”
Colorado Rising Action is a non-profit focused on advancing conservative principals and holding liberal groups and politicians accountable.
Fields added he believes Colorado voters killing tax hikes in 2018 for both education and transportation scared Democrats.
“They don’t want to have those conversations in the future,” Fields said. “They don’t want to go to the people and ask.”
Although Colorado courts have previously ruled that a complete repeal of TABOR violates Colorado’s “single-subject” requirement for ballot measures, Penn Pfiffner, chairman of the TABOR Foundation, an organization that educates Coloradans about TABOR, said supporters should not get too comfortable with that precedent.
Pfiffner said with several courts already siding against TABOR on other issues, he’s not convinced the previous ruling is a given.
“We cannot just say, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. The courts have already ruled that’s a violation of the single-subject rule,’ because part of the discussion is whether citizens would be confused by the ballot,” he said. “I would worry they would make the point, everyone knows what TABOR is, and we’re just repealing it.”
“I wouldn’t put it by any court,” Fields said. “I think (TABOR supporters) shouldn’t just assume that’s going to happen. We need to continue to educate people about the benefits of TABOR as we have been. If the left wants to try to take away Coloradans right ot vote on tax hikes, they’re just going to be wasting their money with this ballot issue. TABOR is more popular than ever.”