DENVER — A Denver-based group hoping to stop lawmakers from circumventing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is in the signature gathering phase to place an issue on Colorado’s November ballot that, if passed, would require a vote of the people for any new fee imposed by the state that would generate $100 million or more in the first five years.
TABOR is an amendment to the state Constitution requiring, among other things, that new or increased taxes be approved by voters.
The executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, Michael Fields, said Initiative 295, which would go into state statute, is more important now than ever as the state grapples with $3.3 billion in budget cuts and looks to find new sources of revenues.
Senate Bill 20-215 is “a perfect example of them trying to go around TABOR to raise revenue by calling them fees,” Fields said. “Clearly, this is the move they are going to make, raising taxes by calling them fees.”
SB-215, the Health Insurance Affordability Enterprise fund, has already made its way through the Senate and is now headed to the House, where it is expected to pass along party lines.
The bill would establish a new pot of money known as an enterprise fund by assessing a new, ongoing “fee” on health insurance companies and a “special assessment” on hospitals for two years. The money would be used for a variety of reasons, including funding of the state’s reinsurance program, which was established in the 2019 legislative session.
The state would begin collecting the insurer fee in 2021, with the amount based on a percentage of premiums collected by the insurer the previous year. It would collect the hospital fee in 2022 and 2023.
Fields said SB-215, which is projected to raise $300 million over the next three years, is just one example of what his group’s initiative would force to a vote of the people.
“This is what we’re trying to prevent from happening,” Fields said.
The group has until August 3 to gather 124,632 valid signatures.
According to Fields, had the legislature not been allowed to create special enterprise funds for fees such as the lottery and higher education, the courts would not have carved out exceptions to TABOR that have allowed the misuse since then, pointing to such recent examples as the Hospital Provider Fee, FASTER vehicle registration fees, the family leave bill that was originally planned for this legislative session as well as a new gas fee.
“They allowed the legislature to make up a new bank account and call it an enterprise fund,” Fields said. “Voters should be allowed to weigh in on if it’s a bad idea. This doesn’t prevent these things from happening.
If passed, Initiative 295 would only apply to newly created state fees; local governments are not included. As to why why proponents decided the $100 million limit was the right amount, Fields said it would cover those fees large enough to really have a financial impact on those required to foot the bill, “It was large enough that we didn’t want to vote on every little legitimate fee that will come up,” he said.