The Denver Post
Tax proposal disguised as multiple fees is all wrong
There used to be a time when citizens thought they were in charge of their governments. The threat of ouster at the ballot box meant that elected officials were reluctant to break the rules. Apparently, no longer.
Lawmakers are considering increasing the gas tax. Colorado purchasers already pay 18 cents per gallon in state taxes alone. Legislators expect to push forward a multibillion-dollar transportation bill that raises taxes by 8 cents per gallon phased-in over several years, in addition to several other fees including on ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft and vital delivery services such as Amazon.
If the taxpayers were still in charge of the government, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) would be mandating their right to vote on whether your taxes go up.
Sponsors of this bill, which has not been introduced yet, will lie to you and maybe even themselves that the new proposed gas tax is a fee. In a public Zoom presentation, state Sen. Faith Winter declared that it’s a fee because payers benefit from it. If that is now how we are to distinguish a tax from a fee, then is she saying that something is only a tax if the taxpayer does not benefit? That’s nonsense. Yet, Winter was almost gleeful in declaring that there are attorneys ready to fight for that lie.
A compliant judiciary has abetted the violations of TABOR many times. Essentially, the Colorado Supreme Court will allow the legislature to declare any tax to be a fee if it wishes to. It is the citizenry who must put down its collective foot.
Politicians’ old trick of pretending new taxes are “fees” was quashed last November when voters passed Proposition 117, stipulating that fees generating significant revenue, like taxes, require our prior consent.
The reason for requiring voter approval is self-evident. If a tax or fee has a valid purpose, its proponents should honestly and clearly explain the benefits to voters. The flaw in bypassing our vote is the dismissal of citizens’ control over how our tax money is spent.
If this is such a slam-dunk idea, with Colorado Concern and the governor behind it, then why do they fear citizens making the final decision? There are problems to solve and reasoned arguments for putting more funding into the transportation system. The wickedness of the effort is not in the intent to fix transportation problems, but in the dismissal of citizen control.
The Colorado Taxpayers Coalition instead proposes that a re-evaluation of spending priorities could direct more funds toward the hard costs of maintaining our transportation system. By wanting it all, the legislature is demanding more of your money at a time when families just can’t afford it. Your family makes difficult choices among many needs. Before government moves more funding from the private sector to the public sector, it should obtain final approval from the people who have to suffer the consequences
The proposed fiscal solution for a new gas tax without voter approval is an egregious violation of our constitutional guarantee that the people are the ultimate source of governmental power.
It is the citizens’ responsibility to call out those politicians who callously ignore the protections in our state Constitution. Insist that any new charge obtain prior voter approval before it is implemented. Bring to the attention of friends and family how the proposed measure would diminish your rights. Resist special interest arguments. An even broader action would be to protect yourself and other Colorado taxpayers by contacting your legislators and humbly urging them to vote “no” on any proposed gas tax hike.
Peg Brady, Christine Burtt and Penn Pfiffner are members of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Committee, an organization that works to protect the integrity of TABOR.