Colorado is the only state to require a vote of the people to raise taxes. Voters adopted TABOR in 1992.
The lawsuit in federal court asks a judge to throw out TABOR because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that every state have a republican form of government – that is, the people vote for representatives, and the elected officials make the decisions on taxes and other policies.
Plaintiffs include five Democratic legislators and several city council members and school board members from both parties. Two retired Republican state lawmakers joined the lawsuit, including highly respected Sen. Norma Anderson of Lakewood.
In a case that could affect citizen initiatives nationally, a bipartisan group of current and former state legislators and local officials is expected to file a lawsuit today in federal court challenging the constitutionality of Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.
The suit alleges that TABOR, which prohibits the legislature from raising taxes without a vote of the people, limits the General Assembly's power in violation of the U.S. Constitution guarantee that states have a "republican" government, in which the authority to govern is given to elected officials.
The litigation is the handiwork of Boulder Republican attorney Herb Fenster, whose career spans five decades and has featured high-profile cases in Washington, D.C., including defending former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in Indian trust litigation and battling then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney over the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar contract for the A-12 stealth fighter.
Fenster is joined in the effort by other lawyers, including former Congressman David Skaggs and former state Sen. Mike Feeley of Lakewood, both Democrats.
All the attorneys are working pro bono on the case.
This has huge implications on a national level. TABOR requires a direct vote of the citizens for each and every tax increase, and limits the growth of government to population growth and inflation. Except if the size of government ever shrinks (as happens in a severe recession, like now) the future growth starts from the new lower baseline. Essentially TABOR is a prescription for the total budget of the state of Colorado to shrink as a share of the state economy over time. It's a libertarian dream.
Evidently the latest Supreme Court ruling on this is a century old, more or less. IANAL, so I cannot judge the merits of the case, but as I understand it, the gist of the lawsuit is that the US Constitution requires that each state have a "Republican" form of government, and that requiring "direct Democracy" to achieve a necessary activity of government - raising revenues - violates that requirement by dis-empowering the elected Representatives.
This lawsuit is driven in large part by the state's cuts in education funding. At some point something has to give - the artificial constraint to revenues, or the state stops performing essential services at a minimal level. And the legislature is too gutless to do it themselves, so here come the lawyers.