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Will Bruce Conviction Trigger TABOR Attack?

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Douglas Bruce outside the courtroom on Feb. 13, 2012, with his lawyer David Lane. (credit: CBS)

Douglas Bruce outside the courtroom on Feb. 13, 2012, with his lawyer David Lane. (credit: CBS)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

Douglas Bruce, the author of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, one of the most controversial amendments in the Colorado Constitution, was sentenced to six months in jail this week for tax evasion. Most of the coverage has focused on Bruce, his notorious anti-government attitude and demeanor, and how he might fare handling prison.

However, few have examined how his most popular brain child will fare now that its author will serve time. TABOR’s affects on the state budget have been well documented, with even some Republican lawmakers resenting the rigidity that TABOR brings to the state budget.

With Bruce serving time for most of the election season, and for the remainder of the legislative session, will lawmakers take this opportunity to tweak or even kill off TABOR with their own proposed amendment?

RELATED: Douglas Bruce Gets 180 Days Jail, Probation For Tax Evasion

TABOR has been at risk for many years. Cities and counties have made “de-Brucing” — or asking voters to suspend TABOR’s rules for their communities — commonplace in Colorado.

Some state lawmakers have not been bashful about their disdain for TABOR. And while most Republican lawmakers outwardly support the amendment, it does not have unanimous, solid GOP support.

But since it is an amendment to the Constitution, it is not something that lawmakers can either work around or ignore. If TABOR and the other Constitutional budget mandates that tie up budget issues are to be addressed, either a Constitution convention needs to be convened, or each amendment needs to be addressed with a new amendment proposed to voters.

With a Constitution convention extremely unlikely, presenting an opposing amendment is the most predictable way that TABOR critics can really change the current law.

It’s been 20 years since Colorado passed the law, but the law took several tries to get passed. It wasn’t a landslide win on its first attempt. And since then, many new laws and new situations have arrived in Colorado.

It is hard to know how to predict the voter mood regarding TABOR in 2012. However, with the author serving time and successfully becoming a pariah known for kicking news photographers as much as writing TABOR, some lawmakers may smell an opportunity.

However, just because Bruce will be incarcerated for a few months doesn’t mean that TABOR does not have defenders. Many members of the GOP — and probably vocal Tea Party members — will fight to the death over TABOR.

But in a year where those same conservatives are going to be faced with supporting a candidate in Mitt Romney, who they really don’t want, their collective enthusiasm may be waning.

For me, the wildcard is Gov. John Hickenlooper. He has the political capital and election year charm to pull this off, but does he want to expend said capital on this issue? Would he prefer to wait to advocate a tax increase of some kind in 2013? Those are significant unknowns.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if any lawmakers use the next six months to mount a strategy to take down or at least address parts of TABOR. With Bruce serving time and the GOP likely holding their unmotivated noses as they vote for Mitt Romney, the iron may not get hotter for the striking.

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 CBSDenver.com 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.

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