Court Challenges Lie Ahead

Oct 312005
Authors: Vimal Patel

If Colorado voters approve Referendums C and D, anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce said Monday he will file a court challenge questioning the measures' legality.

"It's illegal for a statute to amend the Constitution," said Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), a 1992 voter-approved amendment that mandates the state to return revenue collected beyond a certain limit to taxpayers.

Referendums C and D would suspend that spending limit for five years, allowing the state to spend about an extra $3.7 billion over that time period. The money would go mostly toward road repair, healthcare and education.

If C and D are approved, Bruce said, in five years time the state spending limit will be amended and be higher than where it is now. This, Bruce says, would be illegal.

"The state constitution is the supreme law of the state," Bruce said. "Every public official has sworn to uphold it, even though they never read it."

Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center, a pro-C and D group, acknowledged Bruce is correct in noting that it's illegal for a statute to amend the state constitution, but said that's not necessarily what the measures are doing.

"Proponents (of C and D) would argue that it's not amending the TABOR limit," he said. "What C and D is doing is allowed for under TABOR."

Whatever Colorado voters decide today, the fight over taxation and government services is far from over. If voters approve the measures, Bruce and other opponents will file court challenges. If C and D are rejected, it's possible similar measures could arise down the road.

"Certainly you could bring them back," Jones said. "Douglas Bruce failed at least twice before TABOR was passed."

Although prepared to eventually go to court, Bruce said he probably won't have to because he's confident Coloradans will shoot down C and D.

"I think people are going to be surprised," he said. "It's not going to be as close as people think."

Bruce made a bold prediction: C will be defeated 54 to 46, and D will fall 57 to 43.

He said he will be rejoicing at a victory party tonight.

Not so fast, Jones said.

"I think it'll be really close," he said, adding that the election could be so tight that results may not be known until Wednesday, and hinge on what demographics vote.

John Straayer, a CSU political science professor, recently told the Collegian that the fewer the votes, the better the chance of C and D passing. When more people vote, he said, there are more occasional voters who are less likely to be informed about the issues at stake.

"The more someone understands the predicament of our budget situation, the more likely (he or she is) to support C and D," Straayer said. "You have a more educated electorate with a 35 percent turnout than with a 70 percent turnout."

The stakes couldn't be any higher at CSU. Larry Penley, CSU president, said earlier this fall that if C and D fail, tuition could increase up to 50 percent. Already this year, tuition has increased 15 percent, double the national average, yet still remains below the national average.

According to Henry Sobanet, Gov. Owens' budget director, the state will have to slash $365 million out of its budget next year. The largest chunk of the cuts would probably come from higher education, he wrote.

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