TABOR transgression needs to be reversed

For 20 years, local governments and the state of Colorado have sought means around the often-crippling revenue limits in the state’s TABOR Amendment. Most efforts were entirely legal and accepted by voters.

But the TABOR end run that Mesa County adopted in 2007 is another matter altogether, one of dubious legality that is contrary to the spirit of TABOR and was enacted without any input or knowledge by county taxpayers.

Because no minutes were taken at the meetings when this was discussed and enacted — and because county officials claim no public notice or minutes were required because this was only an “administrative direction,” not the major policy shift it clearly was — the change is all the more egregious.

On top of that, it may have cost taxpayers up to $3.3 million in TABOR tax refunds that would have been due had the county not excluded sales tax revenue from its TABOR calculations.

Word is that the new county commissioners are eager to rectify this problem and return to the way TABOR revenue was calculated prior to 2007. We hope they do, and quickly. Afterward, if they believe the county needs additional revenue that may be available as the economy grows, they can ask county voters for permission to keep the money.

As detailed in a series of news articles by The Daily Sentinel’s Duffy Hayes, county officials made a conscious decision in 2007 to remove sales tax from its TABOR revenue calculations. They did so based on the opinion of a Denver attorney, who said that because the county sales tax was passed by voters in 1981 — 11 years before TABOR was passed — it didn’t have to be included in the TABOR calculations.

That’s a novel reading of the law, one that almost no other jurisdiction in the state had previously adopted.

All of this came to light because a local man with a financial background and a watchdog mentality, Dennis Simpson, discovered the change and questioned the commissioners about it.

What’s included in the revenue calculation is important because, under TABOR, when a local government’s revenue exceeds a certain amount, according to a formula based on a combination of inflation and population growth, the revenue in excess of the formula amount must be refunded to taxpayers. Alternatively, the government may ask permission from voters, through a ballot measure, to keep the additional revenue.

When the economy is slow, as it has been the past few years, revenue rarely exceeds the TABOR limits, so no refund is warranted and exempting the sales tax from the revenue calculation has little impact.

But when the economy is roaring, as it was in 2007, or when it regains some of its strength in coming years, deleting the sales tax from the TABOR computations has a significant effect.

Hayes’ latest article chronicles the dispute between current and former members of the county team over who knew about this change and who approved it. Because no minutes were taken of the meetings when the issue was discussed — which is a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law — we’re left with little more than a he-said, she-said argument.

And the two new commissioners, Rose Pugliese and John Justman, are left with a mess created by a previous regime. They should act as soon as possible to change that and to demonstrate to voters they won’t accept the kind of financial shenanigans that previously occurred.


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