Governor Jared Polis and Progressive Democrat majorities at the State Capitol have spent the past three years ignoring clearly-expressed voices of Colorado voters on tax and economic issues. In fact, Progressive Democrats’ disregard for many of the same voters who elected them has become so brazen that they seem to be daring voters to hold them accountable.
With commanding majorities of 41-24 in the House of Representatives and 20-15 in the state Senate, it’s understandable that Democrats are developing a sense of invincibility.
However, it remains to be seen if the Democrats’ recent surge – in 2017, they held a 34-31 margin in the House, while Republicans had an 18-17 majority in the Senate – is due to their own popularity or because Donald Trump irritated many Colorado voters.
In 2018, Colorado voters rejected (59%-40%) a tax increase to raise $700 million a year for highways and transportation. In that same election, voters said “no” (55%-45%) to draconian restrictions on oil and gas development across the state. Polis, campaigning for governor, claimed to oppose those severe oil-and-gas restrictions.
But when the election was over and Coloradans turned their attention elsewhere, Polis and Democrat legislators hurriedly passed Senate Bill 181, which allowed state bureaucrats and local governments to impose similar restrictions to those in the failed ballot measure.
In November 2019, voters rejected (53%-46%) a proposal to repeal constitutional limits spending limits on government spending in our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Then last November, responding to legislators habit of disguising taxes as “fees” to avoid seeking voter approval, voters passed (52%-47%) a requirement that any new “fee” must be approved by voters if it will raise more than $100 million a year.
So, following their script to deceive voters on oil and gas, Progressive Democrats introduced a bill to raise “fees” by $3.7 billion over 10 years to increase transportation spending. Ignoring the voters yet again, they divided those fees into smaller portions to stay under the $100 million threshold requiring voter approval.
Not only did Democrats increase the cost of our fuel, they added other new fees that every Coloradan will pay any time we order food or an online merchandise delivered to our homes.
Progressive Democrats also continued their ongoing sleight of hand by hiking property taxes without voter consent. Since 1992, the Colorado Constitution has required voter approval of any “tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain.” From 1995 to 2006, lawmakers agreed that when property values increase, school mill levies must be reduced to prevent a drastic increase in property taxes. Then in 2007, Democrats voted to freeze mill levies so taxes would increase faster, in tandem with property values.
Democrats didn’t bother to ask voters and ultimately convinced the Supreme Court to bless this legal shortcut.
But freezing mill levies still didn’t satisfy Progressives’ insatiable appetite for spending. In 2020, they ordered school districts to retroactively raise mill levies back to 1995 levels, promising a tax credit so property owners wouldn’t pay more. This year, Democrats broke that promise, too, repealing the tax credit and raising property taxes in 127 school districts. Again, the Colorado Supreme Court said they can do that without voter approval.
And remember that during the COVID recession, lawmakers persuaded voters to repeal the Gallagher limit on residential property taxes because they feared that property values were going to collapse. Well, the collapse hasn’t happened so now homeowners are stuck with even higher taxes.
Progressive Democrats seem to care about voters only on Election Day. On every other day, they are perfectly willing to ignore the will of the voters and bet that no one will hold them accountable. Maybe they are right.
This much is certain: If voters let Democrats get away with these dirty tricks, voters will forfeit our right to have any control over how much we pay for government.
Mark Hillman is a former Colorado Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer
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