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Douglas Bruce speaks out against Colorado Springs and El Paso County ballot measures

September 14, 2017 Updated: September 15, 2017 at 3:53 pm
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photo - Doug Bruce before the start of a City Council meeting at City Hall in downtown Colorado Springs on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010.  The Gazette, Bryan Oller
Doug Bruce before the start of a City Council meeting at City Hall in downtown Colorado Springs on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010. The Gazette, Bryan Oller 

Anti-tax advocate Douglas Bruce sang a familiar tune Thursday afternoon, decrying city and county ballot measures coming up in November.

Standing in front of a few reporters on the Pioneer Museum south lawn, Bruce called a set of stormwater fees - proposed for the city and championed by Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers - a "bait and switch" and a "rain tax."

If approved, the fees would charge homeowners $5 a month, while nonresidential property owners would pay $30 a month for every acre they own. The fees would last for 20 years and are expected to raise $17 million a year.

The city already spends $17 million on its stormwater obligations, Bruce said. Approving the fees would change where the money comes from but not the amount.

"There's not going to be one dollar more. Not one dollar," Bruce said. "That's fraud."

Currently the city pays for its stormwater obligations out of the general fund.

"This does, in fact, deprive us of necessary resources to adequately fund police, fire and other vital city services," Suthers said.

General fund money freed by the fees would be spent hiring police officers and firefighters, among other things, Suthers has said.

Bruce said those priorities are what the fees are really about, not the city's stormwater obligations, which have been "intentionally and cynically ignored" for decades.

But Suthers often references an ongoing lawsuit filed against Colorado Springs by state and federal agencies, which addresses contaminated stormwater runoff affecting Pueblo County and downstream communities and agriculture. Creating a dedicated source of funds for stormwater obligations would reflect positively on the city in that lawsuit, he has said.

Bruce wrote Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which uses population growth and inflation data to calculate how much revenue governments are allowed to retain. It also dictates that voters approve how excess revenue is spent.

Bruce, a former state legislator and El Paso County commissioner, was convicted of felony tax evasion and filing a false tax return in 2012.

The county's request to keep about $14.5 million in excess revenue would violate TABOR by allowing the government to hold on to millions of dollars in subsequent years without going to a vote, Bruce said.

But Lori Seago, senior assistant county attorney, has said other governments have made similar requests, setting a precedent for the ballot question.

Bruce is also asking voters to oppose a measure asking for about $10 million in tax revenues from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority to be set aside for a project to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock and a $42 million bond measure sought by Colorado Springs School District 11.

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