Colorado Car Tax (er, ‘FASTER’ vehicle registration “fee”) increase on trial this week

The Colorado Car Tax (er, “vehicle registration fee”) increase passed in 2009 (SB108, the so-called “FASTER” bill) is quite possibly THE most unpopular tax increase in Colorado history – made all the more repugnant by how it became law (exploiting a 2008 Colorado Supreme Court ruling which declared that “fees” don’t count as “taxes” to circumvent the constitutional requirement (under Colorado Constitution Article X, Section 20 – Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a.k.a. TABOR) to receive prior voter approval for any ‘policy change resulting in net revenue gain’ to the state).

After two years of legislative inaction failed to repeal or roll back the unconstitutional and unpopular tax increase, the ‘FASTER’ Colorado Car Tax was challenged in court as a violation of the Colorado state Constitution (specifically, Colorado Constitution Article X, Section 20 – Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, TABOR).

That court challenge is on trial this week.

The court declined to grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment which was filed earlier this year, despite documenting the fact that the “”Colorado Bridge Enterprise” established under the FASTER legislation as a “TABOR-exempt business enterprise” (Ed. – see, “Life in the FASTER Lane – updates on the Colorado Car Tax“) fails to meet the constitutional standard to qualify for exemption from TABOR requirements.

Plaintiffs had the first shot at introducing and examining witnesses in the trial, which began Monday and continues into Wednesday (at least) this week.

Penn Pfiffner, in his capacity as Chairman of the TABOR Foundation and plaintiff, sent out an update to people on the TABOR Committee mailing list earlier today:

Five witnesses; two heroes.

Plaintiffs (us) get to go first. One central fiction to keep in mind is the scheme declares that as you drive over certain bridges on the highway system, you are paying tolls to do so; tolls which are collected through a “safety surcharge.” The first two witnesses were Ms. Chris Sammons and Willie Wharton who both explained that they had to register vehicles and therefore pay the bridge surcharge “fee,” although those specifically identified vehicles never cross a single bridge. They did you proud, providing testimony that was calm, convincing, certain, occasionally humorous, and very credible. To me, they are my newest heroes. Both took a day off, drove in from Grand County (think, from beyond the western border of Rocky Mountain National Park), leaving very early to get to Denver on time. Willie had to spend one of his vacation days to do so, and the trial managed to fall during the very busiest time of his professional year. Chris had to put aside the demands of her ranch and small businesses, and miss a school function for one of her two teenagers. These two deserve our special thanks.

Mr. Manley also called as witnesses the chief financial officer of the Colorado Department of Transportation (and “coincidentally” the chief financial officer of the Bridge Enterprise Fund) and the executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation (and “coincidentally” of the Bridge Enterprise Fund). They had to answer his questions about how the supposedly separate entities operate and coordinate, and supply information about funding issues.

The final of the five witnesses did not conclude his testimony before business wrapped up yesterday, and that is where the trial was to continue from this morning. Paul Wingard was there to prove expert information about the values of the bridges. Any TABOR enterprise is limited to taxpayer subsidy of 10 percent of annual income. The calculated limit in this case is met only because most bridges were transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Bridge Enterprise at a value of zero. Mr. Wingard brings a rare combination of experience and talents to the discussion. He is a professional engineer who has consulted in that profession, is a licensed contractor who built bridges, served as a senior administrator for a road and bridge department of a county government in Florida, and has participated in arm’s-length transfers of tolled bridges and a highway. We found him through Reason Foundation’s Bob Poole. Paul submitted a report about the values of the Colorado bridges being transferred.

More on this important constitutional challenge as the situation develops.

Bottom Line:

Colorado taxpayers have been forced to pay literally $100 Million per year in additional ‘FASTER’ taxes (under the label of “fees”) while simultaneously becoming obligated for over $300 Million in debt – all without a vote of the people, as required under Colorado’s Constitution.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent “continued enforcement and maintenance of the bridge safety surcharge” (i.e. stop the illegal collection of a portion of the Colorado Car Tax) and require that “all “[r]evenue collected, kept, or spent illegally” be refunded” – as mandated under the Colorado Constitution.

Now THAT would be a welcome “tax refund” for all Coloradans.

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.

However, we can’t do it alone –  we need your continued support; via your comments (Sound Off!) and, yes, your contributions.  Freedom isn’t free –nor is it always easy to be a Citizen, not a subject.

Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.

2 Responses to Colorado Car Tax (er, ‘FASTER’ vehicle registration “fee”) increase on trial this week

  • Kim says:

    I really value this post. I have been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thank you again

  • Jed U. Cortez says:

    Under FASTER, the CBE has forced Coloradans to pay “bridge safety surcharge” taxes approaching $100 million annually, without seeking the voter approval required by TABOR. See CBE 2010 Annual Report (“2010 Annual Report”) at 3.1 The CBE has also issued $300 million in new government bonds, again without a TABOR-required vote of the people. By taking these actions without a vote of the people, defendants have violated the rights of [Coloradans] to vote on the imposition of new taxes and debt, as guaranteed by TABOR.

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