By Seth Richardson
Proposed Amendment 60 has bureaucrats and politicians in a tizzy, and the political propaganda machine is running full tilt in its attempts to instill fear and trepidation in the minds of the public. But that’s what politicians and government bureaucrats do whenever their powers is threatened with constraint. What else is new?
Whatever the true effects of the measure, the hyperbole being shoveled out of the government manure bin by politicians and bureaucrats who have a vested interest in keeping control of the public purse strings so that they can spend your money as they see fit, stinks to high heaven.
Let’s analyze Amendment 60 somewhat more objectively than the current crop of hysterical campaign ads does.
First, the amendment expressly requires the state to “strictly audit and enforce” compliance with the new law, and it allows any citizen to file suit to force such action by the state.
This appears to be a reaction to the recent shenanigans of the Colorado Supreme Court and the General Assembly in weaseling around the requirements of TABOR. It’s a rational and reasonable reaction to government arrogance and excess. We should always support mechanisms that facilitate strict oversight and accountability of our government.
Second, the amendment allows those who pay property taxes to vote on property taxes wherever they own property in Colorado. As it stands now, a property owner who holds land in several different counties is only allowed to vote in the county of his principle residence. This disenfranchises multiple-jurisdiction landowners by denying them the right to have a say on taxation of their property, and that is manifestly unfair, particularly when it comes to ranchers and farmers who may have large land holdings, and who therefore pay a larger proportion of property taxes.
I see no problem with this part of the Amendment. It’s only fair that those who pay the taxes be given the opportunity to vote on them as TABOR requires. To allow non-property owners in a jurisdiction to vote on how to tax absentee property owners is patently unfair and undemocratic.
Third, it authorizes the taxpayers of the jurisdiction to petition a property tax lowering measure directly onto the ballot. This provides another level of entirely democratic control over government excess. If a majority of property owners in a jurisdiction believe their property tax is too high, why shouldn’t their vote prevail? It’s their property and their money, after all.
Fourth, it makes “enterprises and authorities” subject to property tax, and would lower tax rates in proportion to the revenue generated by such taxes.
The first thing to understand about government-owned “enterprises” and “authorities” (like the E470 highway toll authority) is that they were NOT created to foster efficiencies and to run government “more efficiently” as is claimed. The real reason that such pseudo-private entities exist is entirely to evade the restrictions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. They exist for no other reason, and don’t believe anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.
The purpose of the Colorado Springs Utilities Enterprise, for example, is to legally isolate the Utilities from having to comply with TABOR, and to give it independent and largely unaccountable authority to set utility rates as it pleases, even if that results in overcharging ratepayers to generate general fund revenues that the City of Colorado Springs would otherwise have to ask permission of the voters to collect.
The best course of action is to revoke the enterprise authority of the City Council and eliminate all city-owned enterprises entirely, but short of that, Amendment 60 will rip away part of the facade and truly make such enterprises pay their own way and c0mpete on a level playing field with private enterprise. Who knows, if forced to truly compete, we may find that it’s cheaper to sell the Utilities back to private enterprise.
You see, the fiction is that such enterprises are “businesses” that are supposed to utilize the free market to create efficiencies and lower costs for their owners, the People. But they enjoy an unfair advantage over private businesses because they are exempt from property tax, which means that these supposed “businesses” aren’t competing fairly and aren’t carrying their load when it comes to supporting the community.
Traditional city-owned utilities are tax-exempt because it makes no sense for the government to tax itself, and constitutional principles prohibit one government entity from taxing another government entity. This makes sense when the utility is operated as a public convenience intended to keep rates as low as is possible. That was the intent of the voters of Colorado Springs when they purchased the Utilities from private ownership decades ago. But that’s not now the Utilities operates today. Today, the Utilities Enterprise sets its rates to achieve the goals of the Utilities Board, which is the City Council, and which include generating substantial excess revenue that is funneled to the general fund.
So, the Amendment simply calls for “enterprises” and “authorities” that are supposedly operating as free-market business entities to be treated as free-market business entities, which means paying property taxes. No problem there.
Fifth, for the above reasons, the amendment prohibits enterprises from levying mandatory fees or taxes on property. This is consistent with the claim that such enterprises are businesses, not government agencies. Private for-profit businesses do not and must not have taxing authority, ever. If a private state-owned enterprise has independent property taxing/fee levying authority while being immune from the requirements of TABOR, all manner of mischief is possible.
If “enterprises” and “authorities” want to have the freedoms of the free market, then they need to operate under the same legal regimen as any other private, free-market business and not be given either TABOR immunity or competitive advantage. They need to face the same risks of economic failure and bankruptcy as any other business does if it does not provide a necessary service or product or does not operate efficiently.
Sixth, the amendment states that all property tax levies expire every ten years. This is perfectly reasonable and rational. There is no reason why we should grant unlimited, eternal taxing power to government, and “sunset” laws ensure that government must regularly come to the voters and justify their tax policies and ask that they be ratified. Ten years is plenty long enough for any tax to be collected without a review and vote of the people.
Seventh, the amendment requires “non-college” school districts to cut in half that part of their 2011 property tax revenue that is not being used to pay debt over a period of nine years. This means a gradual nine-step reduction in tax revenues to half of 2011 levels, but no reduction in tax revenues being used to pay already incurred debt, particularly bonded debt. The state is required to pick up the slack in funding each year.
This is by far the most contentious provision, and objectors wildly claim that it will somehow bankrupt the state by consuming all state tax revenues for education, leaving nothing for anything else.
This is hyperbolic propaganda of the worst sort, and here’s why: Absolutely nothing in this or any other ballot issue prevents the State of Colorado from putting a measure on the ballot to impose a uniform state-wide, state-imposed tax other than a property tax to replace the revenues now generated by each individual school district’s property taxation powers.
Let me repeat myself: The state is fully empowered to impose a tax to provide for the revenues required by this measure. The only thing inhibiting this power is TABOR, and all that means is that the state has to come to the voters, hat in hand, explain why the state needs the money and convince the voters to approve the new tax.
And that’s what nobody in the opposition camp will ever tell you.
They will trumpet the projected losses of revenue and wail and moan about destroying the economy and infrastructure of the state by shifting all state revenues to cover the gap in school funding caused by Amendment 60. But they will never, ever tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, which is that if our schools need funding, or our infrastructure needs funding, or anything else state government wants or needs to do requires funding, all the General Assembly has to do is be open, honest and forthright and ask us to approve a new tax by complying with TABOR. But politicians don’t like having to come begging to the people, because they are by their very nature arrogant elitists who think they know better than the people what’s good for them, so they will lie and perpetrate propaganda and half-truths in a desperate attempt to maintain their power and control.
And those lies and half-truths are the very reason that Amendment 60 is on the ballot, and it’s why you should vote for it and put the politicians and bureaucrats back in their proper place, as our public servants, not our masters.
I’m happy to pay taxes to support schools or other worthy, necessary state expenditures, but I’m not going to agree to let the General Assembly or anybody else decide how much to tax me without first asking my permission, and I’m done putting up with politicians abusing their authority to divert funds from needs approved by the people to their own favorite pork projects.
Let’s make them ask for our money, as TABOR requires, and let’s demand they spend it as they promised they would. That’s why we put TABOR in the Constitution in the first place.
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