2021 Leg Session, 2022 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, TABOR, Taxes, Transportation, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Delivery tax disguised as a ‘fee’ adds insult to injury

My son and I heard the song “I Ran (So Far Away)” in the car on the radio, and I realized I didn’t have it in my personal collection and didn’t even know who performed it. I’m still old-fashioned enough that I purchase music rather than use a streaming service. (Obviously I don’t just steal it, as that would be wrong.) It’s A Flock of Seagulls, of course!

I ordered the CD of The Best of A Flock of Seagulls, on sale at Amazon for $4.99. But then government forced Amazon to tack on not only 42 cents in sales taxes but 27 cents in new “regulatory fees” (meaning, delivery taxes), raising the total to $5.68. Combined, that’s a 14% tax on my purchase. And that’s after the state already taxed my family’s income, not to mention all the other federal, state, and regional taxes. With rising costs and the country teetering on recession, all those taxes add up to real pain.

Even 9News, not exactly known for a free-market bent, admits, “The new fee is occurring at a time of record-setting inflation, spiking home prices, and a general sense of how unaffordable living in Colorado has become.” The station explains, “Colorado consumers will start noticing a 27-cent fee on receipts for almost everything that gets delivered to them, including restaurant food, after Colorado’s new ‘retail delivery fee’ took effect July 1.”

So where did this fee come from? At this point I recommend putting on some sort of helmet, as reviewing the legalese involved might make you want to smash your head into a brick wall. I apologize in advance. But I’m not the one who signed the bill. That would be Jared Polis, you know, the “libertarian” governor who just wants to “save you money.”

On June 17 of last year, Polis signed the measure in question, Senate Bill 260, a 163-page monstrosity that imposes a variety of new “fees” to subsidize electric vehicles and other transportation projects. In this context, “fee” means a tax that legislators did not have the decency to ask voters to approve, as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is supposed to require.

If you want to get a sense for how the legislature operates, just try reading the entire bill. In all seriousness, do you think even most of the legislators who voted for it read and understood the entire thing? Do you think that, when government is this hyper-complex in its central planning, the public has any hope of knowing in any detail what politicians and bureaucrats are up to? Bear in mind that SB 260 is just one of hundreds of bills considered last year.

Usually they put a bill’s summary on the bill’s main page. Not with this bill. The summary of the bill is so long and convoluted that they had to put on a separate page. So if you’re only mildly masochistic, rather than serious S&M whips and bondage level, you might want to stick to the summary.

Here is just the top paragraph, the summary of the summary: “Concerning the sustainability of the transportation system in Colorado, and, in connection therewith, creating new sources of dedicated funding and new state enterprises to preserve, improve, and expand existing transportation infrastructure, develop the modernized infrastructure needed to support the widespread adoption of electric motor vehicles, and mitigate environmental and health impacts of transportation system use; expanding authority for regional transportation improvements; and making an appropriation.”

One of the “new sources of dedicated funding” is the delivery fee. Another is a higher gas tax eventually of eight cents per gallon. But we’re not paying the new gas tax yet, because, this year, Polis also signed House Bill 1351, magnanimously delaying the new gas tax that he (working with the legislature) imposed.

At least Polis is “saving us money” in this case, right? Not exactly. As Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul explains, “The $63 million cost of House Bill 1351 will be deducted from counting toward the state’s cap on government growth and spending under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” so the money comes out of our TABOR refunds. (By the way, Kyle Clark has a nice run-down of how Democrats are now trying to take credit for the TABOR refunds that they previously tried to eliminate.) And the fees conveniently come back online “two months after the November election,” Paul notes.

The delivery fee is straightforward special-interest-group politics that harms delivery services relative to physical stores. The fee discourages energy-efficient deliveries and encourages more energy-inefficient driving. And, unlike the traditional gasoline tax, the fee has little to do with actual road use. I had the CD delivered to my UPS Store address, where the delivery truck was already going, and it’s not like a CD adds enough weight to affect road wear. But, no matter what you buy, no matter how much it weighs, and no matter where it’s delivered, the fee is the same. It’s ridiculous.

I acknowledge the challenge of paying for government-run roads as more people switch from gas cars to electric cars. The traditional gas tax tracks pretty closely with road use. One idea is simply to tax people according to miles driven (and maybe depending on vehicle weight), which could be self-reported annually but subject to audit. I’m not sure about that. But I am sure that SB 260 is a bureaucratic, social-engineering monstrosity and not the way to go.

Maybe you dream about getting away from asinine, economy-harming Democratic taxes masquerading as “fees.” I have bad news for you, Coloradans. You might as well sing with the Seagulls, “And I ran, I ran so far away. I just ran, I ran all night and day. I couldn’t get away.”

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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