The Proposal To Repeal TABOR Could Go Back To The Supreme Court — Again

August 21, 2019
The Colorado Supreme Court building.
The Colorado Supreme Court building.
(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)
The Colorado Supreme Court building.

Proponents and opponents of a potential ballot measure that would repeal Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights will likely ask the state Supreme Court to decide how the measure is presented to voters.

That comes after the Colorado Title Board, which decides how measures appear on the ballot, denied requests to change the title at a hearing Wednesday. It's the latest development in a years-long fight over TABOR, a constitutional amendment voters approved in 1992 that has limited government growth. It also requires all new taxes get voter approval.

The liberal-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute wants the ballot measure's title to only include a technical mention of TABOR — Article X, Section 20 of the state Constitution. The Title Board, which includes representatives from the Secretary of State’s office, the state Attorney General and the Office of Legislative Legal Services, set a title in July that includes its more common name: The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Carol Hedges, CFI’s executive director, said that’s a catch phrase and should be removed.

“There's a good chance that we will be putting this question before the Supreme Court,” Hedges said.

Nathaniel Minor/CPR News
Douglas Bruce, a Colorado Springs resident and author of the Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, spoke in its defense at a Colorado Title Board hearing on August 21, 2019 in Denver.

The repeal measure was already in front of the Supreme Court earlier this year, where a majority of justices said the repeal measure met the state’s single-subject requirement. That rule was passed by voters in 1994, two years after they approved the highly complex TABOR amendment; it requires a ballot measure focus on only one section of the law.

A handful of TABOR supporters spoke against CFI’s “catch phrase” argument at the title board’s meeting Wednesday, arguing that putting a question on the ballot without “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” in it would only confuse voters. The most prominent among them was TABOR’s original author, Douglas Bruce.

"The response and the duty of this board is to be informative, to tell people the major features of what is probably the most controversial section, I'm proud to say, of the Colorado constitution,” Bruce told the board.

Bruce and other TABOR supporters said the ballot question should include not only “The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” but also a short summary of what the measure does. The title board voted two to one against the petition to include such a description, a decision Bruce called a mistake.

Bruce said he plans to file a petition with the state Supreme Court as well. But he said after a number of other court rulings over the years, and moves by the legislature to sidestep TABOR, the provision is no longer what is used to be.

"TABOR is already a skeleton, a shell of its original healthy existence," he said.