Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) could once again get national attention. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide the fate of a lawsuit against the 1992 voter-approved Constitutional amendment. The court’s decision will be watched because it could impact the ability of all states to govern as they choose.
Plaintiffs in the anti-TABOR lawsuit, who include state Sen. Andy Kerr and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, have made the argument that the law robs state legislators and local government officials of their “authority to tax.” They contend that TABOR’s requirement that all tax increases get the approval of Colorado voters is a violation of the constitutional mandate that each state have a “republican” form of government. By forcing the legislature to get permission through a statewide ballot question each time it wants to raise taxes, Colorado’s government is not republican but rather a direct democracy.
First filed in 2011, the lawsuit got a major break last year when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the plaintiffs had the right to take legal action. Now, Colorado is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on that question — whether the courts should even intervene in this dispute — and the high court’s response will go a long way in determining the future of the lawsuit.
In January the justices were scheduled to consider the Colorado case but they haven’t issued a statement yet. Denver Post reporter Mark Mathews said he’s heard nothing concrete yet. He said, “The thought is that the high court WILL take the case and because of that, the justices are taking their time now to cross their “t”s and dot their “i”s.”
At the start of Colorado’s legislative session, lawmakers already were arguing about what to do with money tied to TABOR. In addition to its restriction on new taxes, the law also puts a cap on revenue raised by the state. If Colorado collects taxes above the TABOR limit, the state must either refund the money to residents or ask them for permission to spend it.
As much as $200 million could be on the line this year. Gov. Hickenlooper said last month that he supports a refund, but is frustrated by the restrictive TABOR formula.