2020 Leg Session, Columnists, Elections, Jon Caldara, TABOR, Taxes

Caldara: Time for voter consent on big new ‘fees’

There are reasons why “politician” is considered a dirty word.

The word isn’t synonymous with “criminal,” but it does denote someone who is less than completely forthright, someone who isn’t telling you the real story, the whole truth.

You just can’t trust a politician.

It is why we Coloradans go around politicians and pass citizen initiatives to rein in their ability to hide what they do. Politicians just hate these citizen reforms even though they have to say they like them.

We’ve passed open-records laws, open-meetings laws, term limits, and the best we-don’t-quite-trust-you-politicians law in the state, our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

The idea of TABOR is straightforward: You must ask us before you raise taxes or debt, that’s it.

TABOR is described by one single word — consent.

You’d think politicians would get the idea and stop going behind our backs. If you politicians want more of our money, please have the dignity to look us taxpayers in the eye and just ask like consenting adults.

But they can’t seem to help themselves. This year it was House Bill 1420, slammed through in the closing moments of their artificially extended legislative session.

It is an utterly confusing bill for any layman to read, written in perfect bureaucratese. Its purpose is simple enough — get more money into the state coffers without directly asking voters.

HB-1420 will bring almost $100 million in increased tax revenue in the next year alone, of course without your blessing. It does so by changing what businesses can deduct from their taxes. It doesn’t allow businesses to deduct a lot of their net operating losses they incurred during this government-mandated COVID lockdown madness.

In keeping with the progressive goal of punishing the most successful it also disallows some deductions for people who make more than $500,000. Class envy is all the rage these days among the political elite running our state.

The state has an impressive record of raising taxes without a vote of those who will be paying for it. Their most favored ploy was made possible by our TABOR-hating state supreme court that ruled if politicians call a tax increase a “fee” then they don’t have to go to the voters.

So, in the last couple of decades while voters have given a resounding NO to tax increases at the ballot box, the legislature has given a resounding YES to raising taxes all the same by calling them fees.

When are you paying taxes without your permission? When you are at your most vulnerable and need to go to the hospital of course. The hospital provider “fee” is a massive hospital bed tax paid for by the sick and suffering.

A lot of other states also have this bed tax to fund their Medicaid roles, but Colorado is the only state that calls it a “fee.” The sole reason is so you can’t vote on it.

Interesting side note. Not only were you not allow to vote on this gargantuan tax, they wrote the law so their “fee” couldn’t ever be shown on your hospital bill. This way you get angry at the hospital for the high cost, not your state officials.

Wonder why being called a politician isn’t a compliment?

Look on your car registration bill. You now pay the FASTER fee, a car tax you didn’t vote on.

Does your property tax seem to be getting higher and higher? Thank former Gov. Bill Ritter and his legislature for passing the “mil levy freeze.” This fee jacked up your property tax without your consent.

We can play this tax-disguised-as-a-fee game all day long.

So, since they always find a way to wiggle out of respecting our simple plea for consent, it’s time to, yet again, rein in the politicians with another citizen’s initiative.

This time it’s Initiative 295 and I hope you sign the petition for it to make this fall’s ballot.

If passed into law, 295 requires — now get this crazy idea — your consent if the state wants to raise a “fee” of over $100 million a year. That’s it.

If you don’t support this, you simply don’t support fiscal consent, the guileless theme of our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Frankly, 295 is too modest but it is a fine start to rein in the “fee” monster the Supreme Court unleashed.

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

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