Paul Jacob

Are Colorado citizens unconstitutionally infringing on the right of state government to hike up taxes and spend as legislators choose?

That’s what a lawsuit filed last week in federal court alleges. The plaintiffs are a thoroughly bipartisan collection of 34 sitting legislators, former legislators, former U.S. congressmen, school board officials, local politicians and other assorted bigwigs of the state’s political class. Their complaint in Kerr v. Colorado states, “An effective legislative branch must have the power to raise and appropriate funds. When the power to tax is denied, the legislature cannot function effectively to fulfill its obligations in a representative democracy and a Republican Form of Government.”

Put simply, this posse of politicians wants the federal courts to strike down the state’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment. Passed by voters through Colorado’s ballot initiative process back in 1992, the measure commonly referred to as TABOR caps year-to-year state government spending growth at the rate of inflation plus any population increase and mandates that tax increases be approved by voters. Spending can grow beyond the TABOR caps only if the people are consulted and, as “the governed,” actually give their “consent” to greater expenditures.

In short, TABOR gives the voters a measure of control over state tax increases and government spending growth.

Heaven forbid! Or rather, these professional tax splurgers hope the federal judiciary will forbid.

The legal claim is eccentric, pleading that for voters to have a check on a legislature’s spending proclivity is just too darn much “direct democracy,” and that, in addition to the fact that decision-making by citizens positively frustrates power-mad politicians, it also somehow violates the U.S. Constitution’s Article 4, Section 4 “guarantee to every state in this union” of “a republican form of government.”

Jon Caldara, head of the conservative-libertarian Independence Institute, called the legal challenge “another attack on the initiative process” and worried that, on the “fanciful chance” the lawsuit succeeds, “every initiative that the citizens of Colorado have passed will be summarily ripped from the books.”


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.