For the last two decades, the political left has tried time and time again to coax, cajole, scare and deceive Colorado voters into approving statewide tax increases to underwrite their big government fantasies. And for the last two decades, voters statewide have rebuffed them. Frustrated by their inability to sell voters on financing their dreams of a publicly funded, cradle-to-grave welfare state administered by an ever expanding army of unionized bureaucrats, Colorado liberals are doing what liberals do best: Going to court.
In one of the most egregious displays of elitism and hubris in recent memory, a cadre of plaintiffs led by State Representative Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood) is suing the state of Colorado to overturn the constitutional requirement that bars politicians from imposing higher taxes on all Coloradans unless they first convince a bare majority of them that it’s a good idea.
The crux of their argument – and we are not making this up – is that Colorado’s constitutional mandate that the government obtain the consent of the governed before separating them from their cash somehow violates the U.S. constitution.
While we doubt Mr. Kerr’s fast and loose notions of constitutionalism will win the day, one can never be too sure. And it would be a mistake to dismiss his lawsuit as some quixotic scheme cooked up by Carol Hedges and a few left-wing fringe groups. In fact we believe that Mr. Kerr’s legal challenge is the logical culmination of what has been a multi-year effort by the broader Democrat Party establishment to undermine every legal and constitutional mechanism designed to check the public sector’s expansion.
For years, Democrats have paid lip service to TABOR’s requirement of voter approval for all tax increases. Indeed, doing so was an oft-used misdirection tactic employed by big government proponents to paper over the long term implications of some of their more harebrained schemes to expand state government largess.
Former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and other proponents of Referendum C (which allowed politicians to retain and spend a whopping $3.5 billion dollars in additional revenue above and beyond what TABOR would have otherwise allowed) assuaged voters skeptical of the proposal that they had nothing to fear. TABOR’s voter approval mechanism, they assured us, would remain as a backstop to runaway government growth.
Bill Ritter and his legislative allies used the same rationale in 2009 to justify the repeal of the so-called Arveschoug-Bird limit, which capped most government spending growth to no more than six percent above that of the prior year. Critics who charged that the elimination of the limit would expand public sector spending – and with it government’s appetite for higher taxes – were overblown, Ritter’s allies said, because Colorado voters would be the final arbiters of any future tax hike proposal.
In the meantime, government spent one-time money to grow permanent programs, eligibility for state entitlement programs was expanded, the size of the state payroll (and the compensation provided to those on that payroll) steadily grew. And as it did, many of those proponents began to complain of a need for additional revenue to alleviate the impending – and largely self-inflicted – fiscal crisis.
Which brings us back to Mr. Kerr’s lawsuit.
Aided by the same liberal infrastructure that once floated the big government boats of Romanoff, Ritter, and their left-wing brethren, now Mr. Kerr has set out to put the final nail in the coffin of Colorado’s landmark taxpayer protection. Gone are the promises of Romanoff and fellow Ref. C supporters who said that the fundamental right of taxpayers to vote on tax increases would be protected. Gone too are the promises of Bill Ritter and statehouse Democrats over the last decade who likewise affirmed their support for taxpayers say-so on tax hikes.
Now, in the form of Mr. Kerr’s outlandishly brazen lawsuit, the decade long liberal jihad against TABOR has reached its final act – the repeal of TABOR’s cornerstone – the same cornerstone that liberals and Democrats pledged not to touch.
Unfortunately for Mr. Kerr and his posterity, Colorado voters will retain the right to choose their representatives, regardless of how this courtroom drama ultimately plays out. And we suspect they won’t appreciate his effort to treat them like subjects instead of citizens.