Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is under attack once again, this time by the very politicians whose actions TABOR is intended to check.
A lawsuit filed by state legislators and some local elected officials has been wending its way through the federal courts since 2011. They seek to overturn the voter-enacted TABOR amendment to the Colorado constitution, which requires voter approval before state and local legislative bodies can impose or raise taxes.
The lawmakers’ case rests on the dubious idea that by denying legislators a free hand on matters of taxing and spending, TABOR denies Coloradans a republican form of government, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The case will now be heard by the entire U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, although it seems likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually get the final word.
It’s a complicated case involving questions of standing — who has the right to bring a case to court — and whether constitutional guarantees of a republican form of government include the actions of political subdivisions such as school boards.
While the legal questions are complicated, the principle at stake is simple. Colorado taxpayers have voted repeatedly in support of TABOR. The politicians are asking a federal court to reverse those votes because they checked the excesses of those politicians.
That’s the opposite of a republican form of government.
The court should follow the law and precedent and reject the politicians’ arguments.
Elected officials have no constitutional right to enact tax increases, and nothing in the U.S. or Colorado constitution bars voters from having a direct say in the matter. But this lawsuit need not even get far enough to consider the merits of the case.
The politicians bringing suit have no standing to challenge a voter-approved constitutional provision simply because it denies them a particular power they wish they had.
For almost three decades, TABOR has been a godsend for Colorado taxpayers. Since it was first approved in 1992, TABOR has helped create an environment for innovation, economic growth, and job creation in our state.
That has increased the opportunities for Colorado Latinos to participate fully in the vibrant economy of our state.
TABOR has also increased the accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility of state government. But it has done more than that.
Going back to earliest days of the republic and the tradition of the New England town meeting, the voice of the people has been paramount.
That’s why the U.S. Constitution begins with the words “We, the People,” not “we, the politicians.” The legislators’ attempt to use the courts to silence taxpayers and overturn the will of the people on a matter so clearly within the people’s power is a dangerous usurpation and should not be endorsed by the 10th Circuit or any other court.
On grounds of both process and substance, the politicians’ attempt to get rid of TABOR falls short. After almost 10 years of back and forth, the court should swiftly dispense with this case and declare the people of Colorado the winners.
Jesse Mallory is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado. Angel Merlos is coalitions director of The LIBRE Initiative-Colorado.
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