Supporters of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights have something new to worry about. Monday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals gave new life to an 8-year-old lawsuit seeking to nullify TABOR.

The 2-1 decision reverses a ruling two years ago by the U.S. District Court in Colorado, which dismissed the case targeting TABOR.

A collection of local officials filed the suit in 2011, saying the state constitutional measure’s cap on taxing and spending violates the U.S. Constitution, which gives tax-setting power to a representative, or republican, form of government.

Douglas Bruce launches defense of TABOR law

The merits of the argument, however, have not been tested. The case has been stalled over whether local agencies such as county commissions and school districts have “standing” — meaning they suffer a direct impact — to bring the case against TABOR.

“Citing a variety of reasons, the district court declared it ‘does not believe’ that the requirement of a Constitution ‘republican in form’ stretches to the political subdivision plaintiffs,” says Monday’s ruling by the appeals court. “But each proposed rationale is insufficient to extricate the standing inquiry from the case on the merits, which is not presently before us on this appeal...”

Voters put TABOR in the state constitution in 1992, led by Douglas Bruce of Colorado Springs. It requires the government to issue rebates or future discounts to taxpayers, whenever the state collects revenue beyond TABOR’s formula. Voters have to decide on new taxes and any long-term borrowing repaid with tax dollars.

Barring more appeals, the merits of that case could be argued soon.

But by then it could be immaterial.

Voters this November could be asked to repeal TABOR if its opponents move ahead with a proposed ballot measure. The state Supreme Court has ruled that the measure passes muster under the state constitution.

Separately, Democratic legislators this spring referred Proposition CC to the ballot, asking voters to decide whether to forgo future refunds so “extra” revenue could be used for education and transportation.

In yet another TABOR case, the Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments last month on whether fees should be treated like taxes under TABOR.

“We are confident that TABOR will ultimately be upheld,” the TABOR-defending organization Colorado Rising Action said in a statement Monday. “People give government its authority, and Coloradans again and again choose having a say on tax increases and the size of government. Not only has this law benefited our state, but it is enormously popular.”

Since he wrote and helped pass TABOR in 1992, Bruce has served on the county commissioners and in the state House of Representatives. He also has served two prison stints related to tax filings, financial disclosures and probation violations.

Contact Joey Bunch at or follow him on Twitter @joeybunch.

Colorado Politics senior political reporter

Joey Bunch is the senior correspondent and deputy managing editor of Colorado Politics. His 32-year career includes the last 16 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and he is a two-time finalist.

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