Vision 2020 Responds to TABOR Ruling

For too long, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) has forced Colorado into a state of low expectations, in which we tolerate decaying infrastructure, an underfunded education system, and high tuition costs even though our economy is among the best in the nation. But there are signs attitudes and circumstances are changing.
 
Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court said we can ask the voters to repeal TABOR in one simple ballot question. This ruling came as a result of a small group of lawyers and advocacy organizations, like the Colorado Fiscal Institute convening as a part of the Vision 2020 Network, to consider our best options for the 2020 ballot. The Bell Policy Center is a proud member of this network and we look forward to the deliberative process ahead. 
 
That process involves educating Coloradans about our fiscal constraints, our options to fix them, and building a public investment majority that demands change from our elected leaders. A simple repeal is one of several options we must consider along with a progressive change to our tax system.
 
While the question that will face 2020 voters is still unclear, what isn’t is the new momentum building around fiscal reform. This ruling, the recent news of the first TABOR refunds in years, and the campaign for Referendum CC on the 2019 ballot all mark an important moment that provides the larger movement for change with new opportunities to engage our state in a bigger conversation and call to action.
 
We welcome feedback on how best to modernize and reform our system. If you are interested in making your voice heard, please let us know and tell us your thoughts.
 
Below you can find the statement from Vision 2020 on the recent TABOR ruling and its importance to Colorado:
 
Monday’s Supreme Court ruling gives Colorado voters a powerful tool to help build and maintain great communities all across the state by allowing them to repeal TABOR with a single statewide vote.
 
For some, this might seem not seem like news. After all, it’s common sense that voters should be able to take something out of the constitution with one vote what they put in with one vote. But conventional wisdom, based on legal interpretations of various court rulings and existing laws, said otherwise.
 
Repeal of TABOR is one approach for voters to consider, but it is not the only avenue for reform. For anyone interested in joining fellow Coloradans in thinking about the best options for reforming our fiscal policy making process, please reach out to a Vision 2020 member and you will be added to a growing list of Coloradans working together to fight for a Colorado that works for all of us and not just corporate interests.

In 1992, voters added Article X Section 20 (TABOR) to the Colorado Constitution. In 1994, voters added Article V section 1(5.5)(single subject rule) that requires “every constitutional amendment or law proposed by initiative be limited to a single subject, which shall be clearly expressed in its title.” Proponents of the single subject rule argued it was needed to keep misleading measures covering multiple topics off the ballot. TABOR was often cited as an example of the kind of measure that contained multiple subjects and would be prohibited if the measure was adopted.

In 1996, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Title Board not to set a title for a measure that repealed Art X sec 20 and reenacted a portion of its provisions. The court in that case stated that “if, for example, a constitutional provision contains multiple subjects and an initiative proposes to repeal the entire underlying provision, then the initiative contains multiple subjects.” This sentence was repeated in multiple Supreme Court decisions since 1996 and, for many years, was considered a statement of definitive law.

It rejects the assumption that an initiative contains multiple subjects just because it repeals a constitutional provision that contains more than one subject. This means, contrary to prior speculation, TABOR can be repealed by voters approving a single measure.

The court, in “In re Ballot Title #3” (the name of Monday’s ruling), was clear its decision did not change the law on what constitutes a single subject for a ballot measure. The opinion reiterated in order to be a single subject, an initiative’s subject matter “must be necessarily and property connected rather than disconnected or incongruous” and the single subject requirement has the “purpose of preventing surreptitious measures and apprise the people of the subject of the measure by the title.”

Further, the court stated this ruling does not mean repeal measures have a different standard for single subject. Each measure, whether a repeal of a section or an addition of a constitutional provision, must meet the single subject test it outlined.

Since 1996, it has been assumed the only way to repeal TABOR was through multiple ballot measures. That assumption has provided comfort to TABOR proponents as they felt it would be too expensive and too complicated for opponents to mount a successful campaign within those constraints. 

As of June 17, that source of comfort has been replaced with the possibility that TABOR could be undone in the same way it was enacted: by a single initiative.

This opinion does not start a campaign for a TABOR repeal. It does not even set a title for a repeal measure. The Title Board will do that on July 17. 

This opinion provides voters with an additional option to address the challenges presented by TABOR. With this ruling, Coloradans who are thinking about ways to improve public investments in valuable public services can now add a complete repeal of TABOR to their toolbox.

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