As the nation debates the role of government programs and taxes in the American economy -- in response to a leaked video of Mitt Romney -- Colorado taxes are now at the center of a vicious back-and-forth between two candidates battling for a local congressional seat. Yesterday, the re-election campaign for Representative Mike Coffman launched "Joe's Tax of the Day" -- a daily e-mail blast attacking Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi's record.
The first target? Plastic bags.
"Right now, we are in a recession. Everyone is hurting, whether it's middle-class families, small businesses owners, senior citizens," says Coffman spokesman Owen Loftus. "Joe Miklosi's response to the recession is to tax everyone."
This is just the latest move in a hard-fought race to represent the sixth district of Colorado -- a race which has become increasingly negative, most recently with a heated debate around higher education and a recent TV ad released from the Miklosi campaign focused mostly on attacking Coffman. The sixth district was redistricted and includes parts of Aurora, where Coffman has some enemies not affiliated with Miklosi.
The daily press releases from the Coffman campaign, which are scheduled to continue through October 15, are designed to draw attention to Miklosi's extreme record on taxes as a state representative, says Loftus. Coffman began this specific campaign by focusing on a measure that Miklosi sponsored in a statehouse bill that would have created a fee tied to plastic bags.
In response to the announcement of a daily attack on taxes, Miklosi's campaign argues that Coffman is completely misrepresenting some fundamentals of how taxing works in Colorado through the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights Amendment, or TABOR. Miklosi's campaign was quick to point out that the state constitution says only Colorado voters can actually raise taxes.
As is outlined by the Denver Post, part of the back-and-forth on this issue has to do with the difference between a "fee" and a "tax," since lawmakers can enact fees, but voters must approve taxes under TABOR. Fees are designed to cover the cost of specific goods or services, while taxes are more general. Additionally, Republicans have framed the elimination of tax breaks as tax increases.
Loftus says it's all just jargon.
"[Miklosi] can call votes to raise taxes whatever he wants. He voted to take away money from Coloradans during this recession," he says, adding that whether they are fees or taxes, they impact voters. "You are seeing it taken out of your paycheck. You are seeing that fee as a tax."
But Miklosi spokesman Ryan Hobart said in a statement: "This whole line of attack is a complete and total falsehood, and Mike Coffman knows it. The state constitution says only the voters of Colorado can raise taxes, under the TABOR Amendment."
Continue reading for more on the debate around fees for plastic bags. Interestingly, Coffman's campaign is starting its attack effort on a much-debated environmental issue. In June, we reported that some Denver officials have considered potential fees associated with plastic bags as a sustainability measure. At least two Denver Council members are interested in exploring options, given that plastic bags create a lot of unnecessary waste. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock at the time said he was interested, but wanted to be sure it wouldn't unnecessarily burden folks at the grocery store.
The first "Tax of the Day" e-mail goes after Miklosi for a proposal that would have, in some instances, required a collection of taxes for plastic bags from September 2009 to June 2012. The Coffman campaign e-mail says the effort would have raised $44 million in state revenue. The bill with that stipulation did not pass.
Loftus says: "That would've hurt families going to grocery stores. It would've hurt businesses. It would've criminalized businesses as well.... This is the kind of extreme agenda Joe Miklosi has. It just doesn't help anyone."
About the environmental component of a proposal targeting plastic bag usage, Hobart says in his statement that eliminating waste is important -- and also takes a swipe at Coffman for a completely unrelated issue:
Bottom line, trying to to reduce the amount of waste in Colorado landfills is much better for the state than Mike Coffman's support for banning forms of birth control and outlawing abortions even in the cases of rape and incest. It is pretty clear whose record is more extreme.
Hobart declined to comment further on why Miklosi supported this effort from an environmental standpoint or offer any additional details about that original proposal.
Loftus says Coffman recognizes the importance of sustainability, but feels this kind of tax isn't the answer: "We care about the environment. That's one of the reasons we live here in Colorado.... But we think...you don't need to tax Coloradans and criminalize small businesses in order to do that."
Today's e-mail, the second installment, focused on a "soda tax," and Loftus sent us a range of other efforts Miklosi supported, some of which we can expect to pop up in upcoming e-mails, he says. Those include taxes on fuel sales used for industrial purposes, taxes on agricultural compounds, pesticides and bull semen, taxes on vehicle registration costs to fund transportation and roads and taxes on candy. Hobart declined to comment on any of those specifics, deferring to his statement and again pointing out the distinctions laid out in TABOR.
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As per the criticisms related to abortion? It's a distraction, Coffman's campaign says.
"This is just another example of how Joe Miklosi just doesn't understand what Coloradans are going through," Loftus says. "We are talking about creating jobs, fixing our economy, and Joe Miklosi is talking about social issues."
More from our Politics archive: "Marijuana: John Hickenlooper compares teen pot smoking to underage drinking"