The expansion of anti-TABOR* language in the 2007 ballot question increasing taxes was intentional, according to Park County Attorney Lee Phillips. As previously reported, the de-Brucing* language used in this year's tax increase went farther than the normal exemption of a new tax written into previous questions in Park County. The words "and other revenues of Park County" were added, expanding the request for exemption from government spending limits beyond the 2.5% increase requested in the ballot question.
Resolution passed with added language on September 6
Park County Commissioners Doc McKay, John Tighe and Leni Walker passed the resolution to put the request for a tax increase on the ballot with those words included on September 6, 2007. The attorney said that the words weren't intended to remove TABOR spending limits for the entire county, but he did say that there was a specific purpose for them - to de-Bruce all Road & Bridge Fund revenues. (The words "Road & Bridge" were not included in the phrase.) County Road & Bridge (R&B) revenues typically total about $5 million a year without the new tax, and included $173,000 in property taxes projected in the 2007 budget. Local governments receive much of their road funding from Colorado Highway User Tax Fund (HUTF) generated from gasoline taxes.
Phillips said the TABOR wording was copied from an El Paso County ballot question that passed with a similar phrase in it. The ballot was from 2004 and dealt with improvements to a specific list of projects, but there are differences otherwise. The phrase in the El Paso ballot was to de-Bruce "other revenues of the PPRTA" and not revenues of the county. The PPRTA is the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority - a specific authority limited in scope with required citizen oversight and independent audits. The Park County Commissioners decided to use the TABOR phrase from that ballot question, changing the "PPRTA" to read "Park County", Phillips said. They did not incorporate other assurances contained in the PPRTA ballot, such as limiting administrative spending to 1% of the tax and listing projects by priority with a guarantee that "Priority A" projects must be completed before spending on "Priority B" projects. (Read PPRTA Ballot Question here.)
Phillips said that he did not think the added words in the original question would have de-Bruced the county, but admitted he did not know what the result of the El Paso ballot language interpretation was. He added that, in his opinion, the language included in the original Park County question was "not broad enough" and was contained in a specific Road & Bridge tax question, so he thought it probably would not have affected other county revenues. He agreed that the phrase could be read by voters as an attempt to exempt all county revenues from spending limits and said that was why he recommended that the Commissioners delete those words.
The attorney went on to say that the intent was to de-Bruce all Road & Bridge revenues in order to make sure that the new tax would be exempt. However, he also said that the current language passed on September 20 does exempt the new sales tax without the additional six words. "But what the commissioners decided and I think what their intent was, always, to just make sure that sales tax generated by this particular tax issue would not be subject to TABOR spending and revenue limitations. And that's exactly what the language [in the current text] now does," he explained.
Ballot text changed after deadline for submitting questions
According to Commissioner McKay and County Attorney Phillips, the County Clerk physically deleted the phrase "and other revenues of Park County" from the ballot question on September 17, 2007, ten days after the deadline for submitting final ballot questions to the Clerk and Recorder. The Board of County Commissioners did not vote on the official resolution to change the ballot language until September 20 - one day before the deadline for citizens to submit "Pro" and "Con" statements to be printed in the TABOR booklet for voters.
Phillips said the late change in the ballot wording was "perfectly consistent with the statutory language" in election law, in his opinion. He cites a Colorado statute dealing with ballot "corrections", even though the original insertion of the added phrase was intentional and not done by mistake. He declined to address a hypothetical question on the ability of the Commissioners to add or change other ballot language at that late date which might also prevent citizens from submitting relevant objections for the TABOR booklet in time for printing.
*TABOR refers to a Colorado Constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1992 to limit excessive government spending. Since then, government requests for tax increases generally include a request to exempt the new tax from TABOR spending limits.
To "de-Bruce" is to remove government spending limits on certain revenues.
Related: Commissioner Intent On Changing Tax And Spend Question
Related: 2007 Park County Ballot Questions