Supreme Court weighs in on TABOR
Legal standing of case to be reconsidered
Herald Denver Bureau
June 30, 2015
DENVER – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday dealt a setback to opponents of a Colorado constitutional amendment that mandates voter approval to raise taxes.
The nation’s high court sent the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) case back to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requiring the lower court to review the standing of the case given a decision Monday by the Supreme Court in a related Arizona case.
The 1992 voter-approved law – written into the state constitution – has been the subject of back-and-forth legal challenges and political debate since its inception. Authored by anti-tax stalwart Douglas Bruce, the law not only requires a vote to raise taxes, but it also ties the hands of government when it comes to spending.
Democrats generally oppose TABOR, while Republicans tend to support it.
In times of budget surplus, the state must refund money to taxpayers. Refunds could be sent to taxpayers as early as the 2015-16 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Plaintiffs in the case include state lawmakers, such as Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood:
“I’m happy that the Supreme Court is keeping this case moving forward; it’s important that the people of Colorado have their day in court against triple-felon Doug Bruce,” Kerr said, referring to Bruce’s criminal history, including tax evasion. “I’m confident that the 10th district court will continue its record of supporting this case moving forward.”
The argument behind the case is that the law cripples representative democracy by taking away a lawmaker’s “authority to tax.”
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that plaintiffs had standing to take legal action. With the lower-court ruling, Colorado would essentially have to prove to the courts that under TABOR, the state is still able to maintain a representative democracy.
Attorneys representing the state asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in, given the national implications of such a challenge, as the issue could pertain to other states considering similar TABOR-like laws. It also impacts questions concerning the nation’s republican form of government.
In its decision Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the lower court to re-examine the legal-standing question, pointing to the Arizona case. While that case had to do with a redistricting question, it also hinged on whether Arizona lawmakers had standing to sue. The Supreme Court found that the Arizona Legislature had standing to bring a lawsuit.
“While the case will have to go back to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, CFI looks forward to seeing the merits of the case finally argued in court,” said Carol Hedges, director of the Colorado Fiscal Institute, which has expressed concerns with TABOR.
“This case is about how TABOR strips away from the Colorado Legislature a power that is fundamental to having a republican form of government as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” Hedges said.
But Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, suggested that it is a good sign for supporters of TABOR that the high court vacated the lower-court’s ruling.
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court recognized the problems with the 10th Circuit’s ruling,” Coffman said in a statement. “As we’ve said all along, we believe this case to be without merit, and we look forward to once again defending TABOR. We will continue to defend our citizens’ right to have a voice in state tax policy.”
Free-market advocates are concerned with the prospect of eroding TABOR.
“Taxpayers’ rights are being attacked. If we lost TABOR we would see unlimited taxation. The fact that politicians and special-interest groups want to strip us of our rights should put everyone in red-alert mode,” said Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado. “Coloradans have every right to a voice in tax policy, and we cannot afford to lose that right.”