2024 Leg Session, Cory Gaines, Gold Dome, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Gaines: The arrogance of Colorado’s one-party rulers on display

A recently passed and signed bill skirting transparency.  Higher fees on rental cars.  A bill about new fees on alcohol.

Disparate as these three things may seem, they all  speak to a level of arrogance and comfort with wielding power, with Democrat having had their hands solidly on all the levers of state government for years now.  And the interesting part is that the concern over Democrat dominance no longer extends just to their political opponents and ideological conservatives.  It’s starting to spill over into the general public and even those otherwise sympathetic to them politically.

Besides giving themselves a carve-out to sunshine laws, majority Democrats have put forth a bill about fees assessed on alcohol sales and teased one about raising fees on rental cars.  Both create new enterprises (essentially government-run monopoly businesses), in the first case taking money to funding alcoholism treatment and in the second to create matching funds for federal money to build out a passenger rail in Colorado.

Neither of these new “fees” should come as a surprise. Uncertain at the success of asking voters for new or higher taxes and unwilling to make hard budget decisions, majority Democrats have turned again and again to fees and enterprises.  These government run businesses provide a loophole which allows them skirt Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR; no voter permission needed to take more of our money, no timelines on how long they run, just more out of your wallet.

Sidestepping transparency

After being sued successfully twice, once by members of their own party and both times requiring tens of thousands in taxpayer dollars to defend themselves, legislative Democrats turned right around and exempted themselves from large parts of Colorado’s open meetings law.  The very same law they were successfully sued under.  The very same law voters put in place years ago demanding government business to be done in the open.

No one testified in favor of this bill, and social media has lit up with left-wing reporters and other liberals speaking out the legislature sidestepping transparency.

Nonetheless, when it landed on his desk, Governor Polis got out his Pontius Pilate bowl, and, while washing up prior to signing, said it was the legislature’s prerogative to decide how to run their own shop.  This is the same Polis known for his micromanaging presence under the gold dome via veto threat when it suits his fancy.

Taxes disguised as fees

Majority Democrats have already been cranking out new fees at a blistering pace, while thumbing their noises at Colorado voters.  The Denver Post, while not fully an official party organ but certainly a cheerleader for progressives, characterizes things pretty succinctly:  “State enterprises essentially allow the legislature to avoid the cumbersome process of asking voters for a tax increase as required by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights”.

Similarly, as the left-leaning Colorado Sun reports: “Under Colorado law, the legislature can impose fees without voter approval so long as the fee revenue is spent to offset the effects of activity that’s being charged and as long as the fees raise a limited amount of money or are collected by an existing enterprise.” This appears right under the much more telling portion: “The enterprise would be directed by the bill to focus the money generated by the increased rental car fee on Front Range passenger rail, mountain rail or state-run bus routes with an emphasis on securing federal grant dollars. In the future, the fee revenue could be used for other transit projects.”

Indeed, why go through the bothersome exercise of democracy, asking the consent of the governed, when you can simply charge a fee that you can keep collecting forever and put to other uses once we hit passenger rail nirvana.  You know, like a tax badly disguised as a fee.

Disregarding voters

In 2020 voters approved Proposition 117, requiring voter approval of any new enterprise expected to earn more than $100 million in its first 5 years. Democrats quickly developed a workaround by either chopping up their big enterprises into multiple, smaller ones, or by making sure that any revenue over that limit would be returned.

Two short years later and they’re not even bothering with that sort of subterfuge anymore, however.  According to the summary for the new alcohol enterprise: “The bill also exempts the enterprise from the prohibition on an enterprise receiving more than $100,000,000 in revenue in fees in the enterprise’s first 5 fiscal years without first receiving voter approval.”  Yes, that’s right, voters expressly put limits on enterprises, but our Democrat masters couldn’t care less.

Put aside the questions about the fairness of making everyone who drinks pay for someone to get treatment, or for making people who rent cars pay for a train they may never even use.  Instead, think through the process by which this is happening.

Colorado’s one-party rulers are telling you that they know better than you do.  They are loudly and clearly expressing the arrogance that comes with having too much power for too long now.

Cory Gaines is a regular contributor to Complete Colorado.  He lives in Sterling on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and also writes at the Colorado Accountability Project substack.

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