Last week the Independence Institute, the feisty little organization I run, delivered over 216,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office to place an income tax cut question on next year’s ballot. It would lower Colorado’s income tax rate from the current 4.55% to 4.4%.
I have little doubt that voters will approve it. However, I’m not nearly so certain that our taxpayer-loathing Legislature will let it count.
Some background here: Colorado has the initiative and referendum process. It is a crucial safety valve to the abuses of politicians.
Without the Citizens Initiative, we wouldn’t have term limits or ethics laws or campaign limits, or the Taxpayer Bill of Rights or open meetings or open records laws. These are the kinds of policies that citizens want to keep politicians in check. But almost no politician in office really wants any of them (no matter what they say publicly) because it limits their power.
Colorado lawmakers have always attacked our initiative process. Several years ago, I brought forward a successful federal lawsuit over a new law that banned paying petition gatherers by the signature. The law was meant to make sure people like me wouldn’t be able to afford to get reforms on the ballot.
But in the last year, Jared Polis’ Legislature’s war on the people’s will via the initiative has gone full nuclear.
And I’ve never seen anything as arrogant, disrespectful and downright odious in my three decades in politics.
What am I talking about? Well, the Legislature has bathed themselves in billions of dollars in tax increases without going to a vote of the people. They do this by calling a tax increase a “fee” increase. They call them euphemisms like “faster fee,” “mill levy freeze” and “hospital provider fee.”
So ugly is this practice that the voters of Colorado passed Prop 117 in 2020 to stop it, requiring that any sizable “fee” increase must be voted on by the people.
To spit in the face of the people and ignore their expressed will, instead of passing one large tax, “fee”, the Legislature broke it into several “fees” that in total is one massive tax increase. This includes an 8 cent-a-gallon gas tax you didn’t get to vote on.
The message from Polis and his Legislature was clear enough: screw you. No matter how often you demand consent over what we do to you, we will find a way to avoid your consent.
Outside of government, don’t private individuals, like Bill Cosby, go to jail for similar behavior? As if that wasn’t enough, knowing that a mill levy tax cut for residential property owners — Prop 120 — was going to be on the 2021 ballot via the initiative, the Legislature passed a bill to pervert and hijack it. This is why 120 failed last week.
The Legislature changed the legal definition of “residential” property so that Prop 120’s tax cut wouldn’t go to homeowners as originally intended.
This “win at any cost” operating system from Polis and his progressives makes Richard Nixon look like a Girl Scout.
An important aside here: if voters didn’t repeal the Gallagher Amendment in 2020, the Legislature wouldn’t have been able to pull this hoax. Gallagher, which was in the constitution, prevented renaming property categories.
To retard the power of the initiative and prevent future tax cuts, the Legislature passed a bill last session to put an ugly, scary and inaccurate preamble on the ballot to proceed any tax cut question. Think of it as the surgeon general’s warning on your ballot that says, “if you vote for the following tax cut it will cause birth defects in unborn babies.”
Fortunately, my income tax cut just made it under the wire. But here’s my fear. Like what they did to destroy Prop 120, will the Legislature do something to invalidate this income tax cut they know voters will pass?
It’s something citizens who brought forward initiatives have never had to think about before in Colorado history.
Sure, after an initiative becomes law, the Legislature can reverse it (assuming the change was to statute not the constitution). This happened after voters passed campaign donation limits in the 1990s. But never before has a governor, and Legislature, sabotaged initiatives before the people got to vote on them.
Something has the scent of tyranny.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver and hosts “The Devil’s Advocate with Jon Caldara” on Colorado Public Television Channel 12. His column appears Sundays in Colorado Politics.