When we filed suit in 2007 we knew the Colorado Supreme Court had never missed an opportunity to rule against the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution. But nothing has ever come close to the re-writing of the constitution that came out of the high court yesterday. (Our attorney Richard Westfall, who did an excellent job for us in court, joins me to discuss the verdict and its ramifications in our latest iVoices.org podcast). Vincent Carroll, now at the Denver Post, summed it up better than I could:
The audacity of the court’s claim is breathtaking. There is not one voter in this state who consciously approved the freezing of mill levy rates yesterday, today, and some day in the future when residential property values rebound and start to accelerate skyward again — not one who heard that issue debated at a local election. To the contrary, many were explicitly told their votes would have no impact on future taxes.
Voters merely agreed to forgo any surplus collected by their districts under the existing system, which did not foresee frozen rates.
“It is undisputed in this case,” noted Justice Allison Eid in her dissent, “that, prior to [the 2007 measure], state law prevented local school districts from keeping $117 million in excess revenues that they had collected after conducting waiver elections.” (That’s my emphasis.)
Just so. It is also undisputed — although the court majority naturally doesn’t mention it — that Colorado voters crushed a ballot amendment in 2003 that would have frozen property-tax rates. Amendment 32 would have adjusted the law in other ways, too, so the parallel with the current tax-rate freeze isn’t perfect, but the main reason the amendment failed is exactly on point: Voters feared that if they approved it, their taxes could soar as property values rose.
Given that history, it was strange — indeed, disorienting — to see Ritter, in reaction to the court decision, claim that “all we were doing was giving voice and respecting the will of the voters” by freezing property-tax rates.
The governor knows perfectly well that any measure proposing to put taxes on an escalator tied to inflating housing values — and thus squeeze homeowners whose incomes weren’t rising as fast — would stand no chance at the polls.
By all means, governor, exult in your victory before the court. But don’t pretend “that voters knew what they were doing in every one of those elections.”
Were they soothsayers, then, who foresaw Ritter’s victory in 2006 and his eventual plans for the property tax?
Colorado voters are smart, but they’ve been blindsided by this one — even though it will be years before they fully appreciate the consequences.
The lazy media is also parroting from Ritter’s PR playbook. I am seeing mis-reports that this money is for “schools,” or “children.” I encourage you to demand a correction every time you hear that. Senate Bill 07-199 doesn’t guarantee a single penny to schools or children. It will however put billions into the state’s general fund for legislator’s to spend as they see fit. The governor signing it surrounded by kids back in 2007 doesn’t change its wording.
Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court lived up to its national reputation as the most partisan court in the country. Rest easy tonight knowing that all three branches of Colorado’s government are so entrenched in their tax-and-spend mandate they are willing collude to turn a blind eye to the constitution.