The state’s TABOR Amendment has served Colorado well

A bipartisan, but mostly Democratic, group of Coloradans has filed a federal lawsuit that claims the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, more commonly known as TABOR, is unconstitutional.

I’m no legal scholar and am perfectly willing to let the lawsuit work its way through the courts, but the legal theory behind the suit is creative, to say the least, and my non-legal mind says it will stand little chance of winning.

Frankly, that’s a good thing.

TABOR was passed nearly two decades ago. It has many provisions, but chief among them is a requirement that local and state government revenue is capped and any money collected above the cap must be refunded to voters. The cap allows for modest and reasonable growth in revenues. A second provision says any tax increase must be approved by voters.

Dozens of school districts and municipalities, including District 51 in Mesa County, have asked voters for permission to get out from under some of the TABOR provisions and succeeded. Others, including the city of Grand Junction, have asked voters similar questions and have been denied.

To my mind, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. I may not — in fact, I often don’t — agree with what the voters determine to be a course of action. But I have great respect for the process, and when a majority says yes or no to a question, or says this candidate wins and this one loses, we’re duty-bound to accept the decision. I may not like all of those outcomes, and I doubt if you do either. But we must respect the process and live with all of them, the ones we agree with and the ones we don’t.

Nineteen years ago, Colorado voters said yes to TABOR when it was placed on the ballot.

Politicians of every stripe since then have complained about it. There have been all manner of Chicken Little scenarios spun over the years that predicted the end of civilization as we know it because of the constraints of TABOR. But, as we always do, we have muddled along under TABOR. Our collective standard of living and quality of life have not declined in the past two decades. To the contrary, I think we’d all agree we’re better off now than we were 20 years ago.

Maybe some politicians have had to make some difficult choices and maybe they have been put in uncomfortable positions because of TABOR. That’s hardly a bad thing.

But back to the lawsuit, and the novel theory behind it.

The plaintiffs claim TABOR is unconstitutional because the U.S. Constitution did not establish a democracy.

That’s true. It established a republican form of government. The people don’t decide issues themselves. Instead, we elect people to do that for us. Therefore, the argument goes, since TABOR was solely the creation of the people — it was placed on the ballot via the petition process — and it eliminates the ability of the state Legislature to raise taxes on its own, then it violates the Constitution.

Judges can be fickle, but I can’t imagine one of them buying that.

Plaintiffs say they are only concerned with TABOR. All of the other provisions of Colorado law, both constitutional and statutory, that have been created via petition don’t bother them. But you can bet if some judge says TABOR is unconstitutional, then somebody is going to say that everything that was the result of petition is also unconstitutional. Seems to me they’d be correct.

I’ve always thought TABOR was reasonable. And I can’t help but wonder what problems we would be facing today if TABOR had not been on the books for the past 20 years. Many of those years were prosperous and the state and local government had to refund a lot of excess revenue. If they hadn’t been required to do that, they would have kept it. Politicians being politicians, they would have created more government to spend the extra money.

Then the economic difficulties of the past few years would have came along and the pain of the cuts required would have been much more severe than what has been. It’s been tough enough, but TABOR was one way of keeping the growth of government in check.

TABOR may not be perfect, but it has served Colorado well.

Denny Herzog is the retired executive editor of The Daily Sentinel. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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