TABOR Lawsuit: A Seminal Moment For The GOP

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

We are about to witness a fight for the soul of the Colorado Republican Party. The catalyst for that fight will be the bipartisan lawsuit brought over the constitutionality of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

A small group of moderate Republicans have joined a larger group of Democrats in a lawsuit claiming that TABOR is unconstitutional because the amendment does not allow the legislature to raise taxes without voter approval.

Their argument speaks to the very basis of our government model, saying that since we are a republic, representatives of the voters should be able to raise revenue as they see fit. The lawsuit argues that since we are not a direct democracy, allowing voters to control raising taxes is unconstitutional.

That sounds like a topic for discussion of a constitutional law course, or maybe a political philosophy class. And while it would be appropriate for those settings, I believe it will be the setting for Colorado Republicans to battle over what kind of party they will be in the future.

Many high profile Republicans have credited TABOR with saving Colorado from even worse budget problems than we are currently facing. Yet other Republicans blame TABOR for handcuffing government and for disabling the legislature to address the current fiscal issues.

The reason this fight will be for the heart of the Republican Party is because the fight breaks down along clear lines.

Supporting TABOR is about sticking to a principle that spending beyond current means should be difficult to do, essentially creating less government.

Attacking TABOR is about practical governing, and trusting legislators to know, and more importantly, carry out the wishes of voters, essentially allowing easier government growth.

The fight over TABOR is about whom you trust more, voters or legislators.

Republicans have been working hard to be the party that embraces the idea that government shouldn’t be trusted. To Tea Party activists, not trusting government is almost a mission statement.

But what about practical governing? Do we really want the legislature to go through an expensive election every time they need more money for services that we, the voters, are clamoring for? Do we want roads, schools and prisons to all become dilapidated due to ineffective tax campaigns?

That’s the other side of the coin, represented by many Democrats, and by some moderate Republicans. But these moderate Republicans are a dying breed and this battle may very well be their last stand.

If moderate Republicans can make their case effectively, they may be able to persuade the majority of Republicans to think practically and support their efforts.

But if moderates lose this fight, if they fail to convince the party faithful that government can be trusted with the purse strings, that asking voters for permission to raise taxes is a recipe for disaster, then they risk losing everything. They risk losing the future viability of moderate Republicans in primaries facing Tea Party supported conservatives for a considerable amount of time.

This lawsuit will likely become a litmus test for GOP candidates in 2012 and will probably do more to tear apart the party than unify it. The Democrats involved in the lawsuit have nothing to lose in their own party and they will be content to just sit back and watch the fun.

It may look like a Con Law discussion point, but the TABOR lawsuit has the potential to make a lasting affect on Colorado’s Republican Party. What remains to be seen is what affect that will be, and if moderate Republicans will survive the fight.

About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

  • Snxrg

    “A small group of moderate Republicans have joined a larger group of Democrats” How is this turned into a Republican issue rather than a typical Democrat one?

  • Vinnie

    The people should dictate how OUR money is spent. Why should the so called lawmakers be able to have uncontrolled spending? There needs to me measures that keep the lawmakers from spending our taxes on frivolus spending. Maybe if they had to go through the people to spend money, we wouldn’t have the deficit we have now.

    • Jim

      the so called ‘Law Makers’ are in effect the people. We elected them to represent us. Just because who you voted for didn’t get elected should we all be subjected to a government that can’t respond to an emergency or maintain public roads bridges and other facilities? We all have a chance to vote. We hire a government because we can’t, as individuals, provide the things we all need to succeed in life. Government is there because it is expeditious. Without it our society would be paralyzed in a matter of months. The Tabor amendment has tied the hands of government over and over making it impossible for our elected officials to respond to immediate needs. As an example, when the Republican ranchers on the Eastern plains lost their herds in 2004 or 2005 after many heavy snows in a row, the government had no reserve cash to pay for helicopter lifts of feed for their herds and the helicopters designated for the National guard were all in Iraq fighting a Republican war to save us all from WMD that never existed. Things happen that are unexpected and can’t be planned for. Governments have to be able to do what is needed sooner than two years after the fact. Tabor was the short sighted vision of a money worshiping dullard.
      By the Way Vinnie, They have to go through the voters now. That’s why our state is on the verge of closing schools and going into default on our debt. A government that can’t respond to any emergency sure doesn’t appeal to any large company looking for a home either. Low taxes or not, if the roads are impassable and the schools are poor they’ll go elsewhere, where the gov can do it’s job and pay it’s debts.

  • gollyg

    “But what about practical governing.” I’m afraid this concept is still pretty far off. You only need to recognize the general tenor of the times (or the other comments on this blog) to see that people are still robotically regurgitating the same tax and spend/no taxes slogans. Things will have to get worse than they are now for people to abandon this idiotic thinking and look at our government in a more ‘practical’ way.

    • FreedomLover

      Maybe that’s because legislators are still regurgitating and wasting our tax dollars.
      Idiotic thinking, you say? How do you suppose we GOT to where we are, with obscenely bloated government without a great deal of idiotic thinking?
      How big do you want government to be? How bureaucratic?

      • Jim

        How about some examples of bloated government. What is it you call bloat? Public schools? highways? prisons, fire departments? What bureaucratic programs or policies are you talking about? You gonna fix our roads? You’re so wise! Tell us all the truth.

  • I. R

    Ummm….interesting…so regarding funding for schools, roads…I thought that was on a county level/school district level/property taxes? I think I am right…so what does that have to do with the state and legislators? Absolutely nothing. The problem with legislators is that they want to get re-elected and try to build an empire of voters, typically a base built upon entitlements, healthcare etc. Money typically given to legislators does not go toward schools and local roads…it goes to healthcare/prisons etc whose programs are unproductive and hardly a state asset which drain the money that could build the future of our children. Education is the first thing to go. That is the standard across our nation. Thus we must keep our money close to our neighborhoods. Whether Democrat or Republican, can’t you see that? Problems are not solved on a tax basis.

    • FreedomLover

      Well said!

  • FreedomLover

    Government OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people.

    That ideal seems to have escaped the power-hungry politicians.

    “Moderate Republicans”? LOL

  • FreedomLover

    By the way, why is this listed as a “news” story, when it’s really an editorial?

  • I. R

    One other thought…I hope together we can recognize the importance of obtaining control of the Federal Gov. because it is directly related to our success on a local/community & then state level and the current discussion. There is a man named Herman Cain (out of Georgia) running for president and he has proposed a 6.2% payroll tax cut across the board as a real stimulus. Now think of that. 6.2% of my income comes directly back to me. I would love to have an instantaneous raise so I can support my local schools/education and county expenses/infrastructure/delapidated water/sewer get the attention it needs. So I can see the direct benefit of money going into the system and smarter children coming out of the system in my local area/which will attract companies to my state.

    So now my question is: Dear Colorado Legislators, Where do you stand on payroll tax cuts? These discussions are linked and any other opinions suggesting otherwise is a power hungry grab by no-real-value politicians….2012 is a referendum on value-added vs. no value…real skills vs. political skills…the end of political life and a return to honest hard working Americans who seek to bring freedom to their home state and to its communities. I want legislators that are seasoned private sector men/women that bring value because of private sector experience. I am talking 20 yrs min. Not career minded politicians. Protect my property. Protect my religion. Protect my FREEDOM!

  • I. R

    By the way…that 6.2% and any other taxes are MY PROPERTY!!! GIVE IT BACK TO ME!

  • Bob

    D.D. said :

    Supporting TABOR is about sticking to a principle that spending beyond current means should be difficult to do, essentially creating less government.

    Attacking TABOR is about practical governing, and trusting legislators to know, and more importantly, carry out the wishes of voters, essentially allowing easier government growth.

    I disagree with both statements from Dominique.

    Neither voter control nor representative control of purse strings guarantees ease of government or size of government.

    Both situations depend on who the voters are.

    In some situations, voters are MORE likely to approve a new tax. Legislators can let the clock expire.

    This issue is more complicated than most people comprehend; maybe most people make it more complicated than it needs to be?

    I could only imagine how much garbage I would type if my lively hood depends upon a word count.

    Checks and balances are critically important but no so many as to create 100% gridlock.

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