Colorado Supreme Court: TABOR Beast Can Be Slain

The “Gordian Knot.”

As the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports, a major impediment to repealing the controversial 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) has been eliminated by a Colorado Supreme Court decision, clearing the way for what could be an epic statewide fight with enormous consequences for the state’s fiscal future:

For years the conventional wisdom has been that TABOR, which was put into the state constitution with a single vote, couldn’t be undone that way because it contained so many different pieces and parts. Colorado voters passed something called a single-subject rule after TABOR’s passage that narrowed the scope of ballot questions…

“The initiative could not be written more simply or directly,” according to the court decision. “It essentially asks voters a single question: should TABOR be repealed in full.”

A statement from the Colorado Fiscal Institute’s Carol Hedges, who filed the suit leading to today’s decision:

In answering this important question today, the Colorado Supreme Court has given voters additional options for addressing the fiscal challenges the state faces. Today’s opinion clarifies voters’ role in making changes to their state constitution. I’m thrilled that those options include a full repeal of a provision that has made Colorado an outlier on state tax policy for nearly 30 years.

This decision provides a new wrinkle in ongoing community-led conversations regarding inequities in our Constitutional tax system. Our ability to keep Colorado an awesome place to live, work, and play, starts and ends with fixing our upside-down tax code, and we now have an important new tool to fix the problem.

The passage of TABOR in 1992 resulted in sweeping changes, not just to tax policy with the requirement that revenue increases be subject to a vote but complex limitations on the ability of the state to retain revenue in good years, to grow to meet evolving responsibilities and higher costs beyond TABOR’s arbitrary formula, and restrictions on the wording and carrying out of required tax increase elections engineered to make the process unlikely to be successful. In response to concerns about TABOR’s wide-ranging effects, Colorado voters passed the “single-subject rule.” Subsequent to this rule, TABOR itself would not have qualified for the ballot–but its passage also meant that TABOR could not be repealed by a single measure either.

That is, until today’s Supreme Court Ruling resolved this conflict in a perfectly logical manner by ruling that a measure to repeal the entirety of TABOR as passed is consistent with the single-subject rule. For all of the piecemeal TABOR reforms that have been proposed over the years and generally failed due to being too confusing or nuanced to reduce to a sales pitch, there is finally a clear shot at repealing a law that has uniquely hampered the state’s ability to govern itself–and despite being sold as a “model” has not ever been replicated in any other state.

Now the task before TABOR’s critics is educational. TABOR may be a cautionary tale to other states instead of a model, but in Colorado the law is an inviolate article of faith for Republicans. As great an opportunity as this decision presents, there is also considerable risk: that another failed campaign against TABOR will only further entrench it.

In short, the Colorado Supremes have ruled that the proverbial beast can be slain with one bold stroke. That is a major development. But if you take this opportunity, you’d better be prepared to kill it.

9 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. bullshit! says:

    Gotta break the spell. TABOR is not invincible. It's hurting people.

  2. Pseudonymous says:

    Oh, just a quick shout out to my anti-TABOR homies who also decided to vote for Amendment 71 back in '16.  Thanks for making this harder!

  3. notaskinnycook says:

    The best part about this ruling is that Doug Bruce is going to have a hemorrhage over it and there isn't a thing he can do about it.

    And that photo at the top of the page ought to be a ball of snakes. That would better describe TABOR.


  4. JohnInDenver says:

    I wonder if a repeal of everything in TABOR except the requirement of tax increases being approved by voters would be a single topic. 

    The combination of requiring a balanced budget and taxpayer approval for any increase seems to me a likely way to encourage education among the citizens.

    • Davie says:

      I'm not an attorney, but the ruling seemed to say that only a straight up Yes or No to the whole shebang is the only way to stay within the single subject rule.

      My own preferred qualifier would be "and shall Douglas Bruce be required to leave the state before sundown?"

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