The Denver Post

Tax proposal disguised as multiple fees is all wrong

- By Peg Brady, Christine Brutt and Penn Pf iffner Guest Commentary

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.

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