Colorado Supreme Court approves 40% tax increase
Although Colorado voters decisively repudiated a recent attempt to raise taxes at the ballot box this week (the “Proposition 103” tax increase initiative, which at least did seek “voter approval in advance” as required by the Colorado Constitution, Article X, Section 20 – the ‘Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’), on the day before votes were tallied, the Colorado Supreme Court approved what may have been the largest (percentage) tax increase in the history of Colorado – increasing a severance tax (on energy production) by over 40%.
Sadly, this latest ruling only continues a pattern of judicial assault on the rights of Colorado taxpayers that is both politically motivated (the court’s majority has frequently expressed antipathy towards the Colorado Constitution’s Article X, Section 20 – the ‘Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ – despite their oath to support and uphold the entire Constitution, not just the parts they like) and entirely predictable. (Indeed, Clear The Bench Colorado forecast the court’s decision over a year ago in this article):
Colorado Supreme Court prepares additional assault on taxpayer rights, hearing another stealth tax increase case (31 August 2010)
The Colorado Supreme Court’s ‘Mullarkey Majority’ has now gone 0-16 in upholding TABOR, a “perfect season” establishing them as the 2008 Detroit Lions of jurisprudence
(Mullarkey’s replacement, Monica Marquez, recused herself from the decision due to her role as a former Deputy Attorney General arguing the case for violating taxpayer’s rights before the Court of Appeals)
Some of the most prominent examples of the court’s “perfect” record:
- ‘Mill Levy Tax Freeze‘ property tax increase (calling the tax increase a “rate freeze”)
- ‘Dirty Dozen‘ tax increases (2010) and the 2009 tobacco tax increase (calling tax increases “elimination of Tax Credits & Exemptions“)
- ‘Colorado Car Tax’ (enabling tax increases by calling them “fees” instead of taxes)
Following the pattern of earlier anti-TABOR decisions, the majority opinion tortures statutory language to extract a tenuous justification for a constitutional end-run in favor of tax increases, overturning a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that was a model of clarity and conciseness in legal language:
so simple, even a caveman could understand it:
We hold that TABOR precludes the challenged coal severance tax adjustments. Our holding is based on a simple syllogism:
(1) TABOR prohibits increasing tax rates without voter approval. Colo. Const. art. X, § 20(4)(a); Nicholl v. E-470 Public Highway Auth., 896 P.2d 859, 867 (Colo. 1995).
(2) Applying the statutory formula increased the coal severance tax rate (initially from $0.54 to $0.76 per ton) without voter approval.
(3) Therefore, TABOR was violated.
So how did the Colorado Supreme Court get around this clear, concise language?
The ruling majority declared that the tax increase was merely an “adjustment” to the “tax rate formula” that the statutory language “required” the Department of Revenue to increase – a “non-discretionary” mechanism (despite the undisputed fact that the Department of Revenue did exercise discretion – and complied with the Constitution by not raising the rate – for 15 years previously). The majority likewise ignored the well-established legal principle that constitutional language trumps statutory language, as Justice Coats pointed out in his dissent:
Not only is TABOR a constitutional provision to which legislative acts are subservient, rather than merely another statute itself, but its intent to limit the legislative taxing power by subjecting it directly to popular approval, see Bickel v. City of Boulder,885 P.2d 215, 226 (Colo. 1994), and to ‘s upersede” all conflicting state statutes could not be more clear, see Colo. Const. Art X, sec. 20 (1) (“All provisions are self-executing and severable and supersede conflicting state constitutional, state statutory, charter, or other state or local provisions.”). Starting November 4, 1992, the state is expressly required to have voter approval in advance for any tax rate increase that does not fall within a TABOR exception.
Colo. Const. Art X, sec. 20(4)(a). The language of TABOR simply does not admit of any construction permitting future tax rate increases without the constitutionally required voter approval, whether or not they were mandated by statutes enacted before the constitutional amendment, and this court has never suggested otherwise.
Despite the clearly-expressed intent of the voters, both in decisively repudiating a tax increase at the polls (in 2011) and in establishing constraints of the power of government to arbitrarily and without asking raise taxes (or “increase revenue” by any “tax policy changes”) by adopting a constitutional amendment (the “Taxpayers Bill of Rights” in 1992), the Colorado Supreme Court continues its unbroken streak of raising taxes by judicial decree, usurping the power and authority both of the legislature and of “We The People” – the ultimate sovereigns.
It simply strains credulity beyond the breaking point to assert, as does the majority, that raising the tax on every ton of extracted coal from fifty-four to seventy-six cents is not a tax rate increase.
A violation of your right to have a say before having your money taken from you is just as bad (arguably, much worse) coming from the courts as coming from the executive or legislative branches – your wallet can’t tell the difference.
Know your rights – as a Citizen – and defend them.
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.