Denver City Council Endorsing Initiative to End State TABOR Refunds

Denver City Council Endorsing Initiative to End State TABOR Refunds
Denver City Council
In the coming weeks, Denver City Council will unanimously endorse Proposition CC, a statewide ballot measure that aims to de-fang a key tenet of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. If passed by Colorado voters in November, Prop CC will allow the state to keep revenue that it earns above a set limit on how much the state budget can grow each year. Currently, TABOR mandates that the state refund voters any excess revenue.

"I'm in favor of a total repeal of TABOR," Councilman Chris Hinds wrote to Westword. "The law limits legislative ability to create a budget that truly represents the will of the people. Our legislature is an elected body, and it represents the people. Prohibiting full legislative ability to set laws — including the long bill (our state budget) — is counter to that body's ability to fully represent the people."

Proposition CC won't be a full repeal of TABOR, since government representatives will still need to ask for voter approval to increase taxes. But it would significantly erode one of the most controversial constitutional amendments in state history.

Earlier this month, Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn asked his colleagues for their perspective on CC, since he represents them on the Denver Regional Council of Governments. DRCG members formally endorsed Proposition CC on September 18. This week, a city council committee will pass a formal proclamation supporting CC, which the full legislative body is expected to formally support.

Since TABOR came into effect in 1992, the state government has issued approximately $4.7 billion in refunds to residents. But 85 percent of municipalities, including Denver, 78 percent of counties, and 98 percent of school districts in Colorado have passed initiatives to stop the refunds, known as "de-Brucing" measures, according to data presented at the DRCG hearing on September 18.

“Denver citizens voted in 2012 to exempt the city’s property tax levy from TABOR restrictions, so it is consistent with Denver voters’ will to support CC, which exempts state revenues from the TABOR cap," Flynn wrote to Westword. "It merely allows the current rate of tax collection to be retained, and used for K-12, higher education and transportation. It mitigates TABOR’s ratcheting effect that inhibits public budgets from recovery after economic downturns."

Proposition CC made the ballot after a bill referring it to voters passed the state legislature during the most recent session. Only one Republican, Kevin Priola, supported the bill.

The governor's office is forecasting $1.7 billion in potential refunds over the next three fiscal years if CC passes. That money would be split into thirds, going toward K-12 education, higher education and transportation.

Committees supporting the initiative have taken in over $850,000 in contributions, while those opposed have gotten more than $460,000 as of September 11, according to Ballotpedia.

CC is being supported by Governor Jared Polis and the governing boards of Colorado State University and Metro State University. The opposition is being led by prominent Republicans like George Brauchler, who serves as the district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, Heidi Ganahl, an at-large University of Colorado Regent, and former gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton. A survey of 500 likely 2020 general election voters by the conservative-leaning firm Magellan Strategies found that 54 percent intend to vote for CC.

Coloradans will also get to vote this November on Proposition DD, a ballot initiative that would legalize sports betting in the state. If the initiative passes, gamblers will be able to place bets in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek and on their phones using sports-betting apps. House winnings will be taxed at 10 percent, and a majority of the proceeds would go toward the state's water plan.

A full repeal of TABOR may be on the ballot in Colorado in 2020 after the Colorado Supreme Court allowed backers of the initiative to start gathering signatures
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.