Jon Caldara, TABOR, Taxes

Caldara: Aurora politicians evade voter consent on tobacco tax hike

Aurora is the third-largest city in Colorado. The mayor’s office and five of its 10 city council seats are up for election in a matter of weeks. All of those council seats have incumbents running for reelection.

Aurora voters got a very clear sense of which of those five incumbents have respect for their constituents Monday night when the city council voted 6-4 to go around voters rather than ask for their consent on a tax increase.

Three of those incumbents–Francoise Bergan, Bob Roth and Charlie Richardson–voted against this end-run around voters, while the other two–Angela Lawson and Johnny Watson–voted with the tax-hiking majority.

Mind you it is a small tax increase that will only impact the most despicable, lowly lifeform on the political food chain — smokers. And since they’re not actually people, no harm, no foul.

But still, some foolishly care about principle.

The people of Colorado have come to expect being asked their consent for tax and debt increases thanks to our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Our TABOR-loathing state Supreme Court has carved out the tried-and-true “call your tax increase a fee” gambit so politicians don’t have to ask voters. But the Aurora City Council didn’t go with that proven classic. They did something else.

While cigarettes are heavily taxed at the federal and state level, they are exempt from Aurora city sales taxes. So, the city council  simply voted to remove the exemption on tobacco, and voila, a tax increase without a public vote.

Thus, it takes only six people, a simple majority of the 10 on council, to circumvent the consent of 366,623 Aurora citizens and raise taxes.

One of the challenges with the part-time, volunteer nature of city councils is that in reality city staffs, not the elected council, control policy. Denver may have the “strong mayor” form of government, but most cities have the “strong, unelected staff” form of government.

At a study session, staff helped the council learn one of the benefits of this tax increase: “Removal of the exemption would further simplify the administrative burden of the tax code for retailers as the city would also apply sales tax to cigarettes.”

Yes. Cigarette sellers will be popping champagne bottles after chasing away their customers with another tax increase because they’ll get to re-program their computers to switch some products off the “exempt” list and on to the “non-exempt” list.

What’s odd is that smokers are so easy to kick around these days that if the Aurora council just pretended to respect their constituents, they’d have put the tax increase on the ballot, where it would most certainly pass.

Boulder just placed a 40% tobacco tax increase on this fall’s ballot. And the good people of Boulder who pride themselves on their tolerance and diversity will, of course, pass it.

The Boulder anti-smoker bigotry is interesting in its own way. The teen vaping “crisis” found its way to Boulder’s city hall, where all fashionable non-city-issue crises go.

Boulder’s city council nannies (again worth reminding ourselves these are tolerant and diversity-loving nannies) raised the age to buy vaping products to 21, banned flavored vaping products and put the 40% tax increase on cigarettes on the ballot.

So, to address the teen vaping, we are going to raises taxes 40% on adults who don’t vape. They smoke cigarettes. This is like kicking your dog because your teenager is running up your credit card bill.

The issue can’t really be teen vaping. The issue is restricting what adults do with their own bodies and controlling their lifestyles. This from people who are so supportive of the cannabis industry and a woman’s right to choose.

Banning flavored vaping products almost means banning all vaping products, since most vape juice is flavored.

Adults in Boulder will still be able to buy vanilla-infused vodka, vanilla-infused cannabis products, but not vanilla-infused vape juice.

I’m still foggy on what tolerance means.

And I get confused when they want adulthood to begin. To vape, you’re now an adult at 21. To vote, many want you to be an adult at 16. And to get off your mom’s health insurance, you’re an adult at 26.

Here’s a crazy idea to battle teen vaping: Penalize the teens when they’re caught breaking the law by vaping underage, not the adults just enjoying their own adulthood.

I mean, if you think teens are old enough to vote and all.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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