If there are still officials trying to get around Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights by turning to government fees instead of new taxes, a proposed ballot initiative could complicate things.
Next week the Secretary of State's Office title-setting board is expected hear a pitch for three November ballot measures on three questions, initiatives 273 to 275.
The initiatives seek to require that a "fee-based enterprise" that is put forth by a state government be subject to voter approval.
"The success fiscal conservatives have had on the ballot has forced more deceptions on the liberal side about how do they get more revenue, and that's why this is so important, because they want to go around TABOR and not go to a vote of the people," said Michael Fields, the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action, which filed the proposal.
The rule would apply only to large government state enterprises, not local ones, that see to collect fees. The three proposed variations would affect fees that result in $50 million in revenue over three years, as projected by legislative analysts. The two other proposals peg $100 million over five years or $50 million over five years.
Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center think tank in Denver, said the idea is rife with long-term problems for a prosperous state struggling to keep up with growth and support basic services.
“These measures are either designed to be a political distraction or to cause real pain," he said. "Our fiscal ship is sinking and some of us are working our hearts out to keep it afloat. These guys are busy burning the lifeboats.”
Only one of the three variations would ultimately make it on the ballot, if proponents can collect 124,632 valid signatures from registered voters.
Those who contend the state is cash-strapped by TABOR — which sets a spending cap based on inflation and population growth — have tried and failed repeatedly over the years to get voters to subvert it, with an outright repeal vote in the works behind the scenes.
Last November, voters statewide rejected Proposition CC to allow the state to keep future refunds for transportation and education by nearly a 140,000-vote margin.
Fields is confident voters will support it the same way they've rejected previous attempts on TABOR.
"This just allows voters to weigh in," he said. "Whether it's taxes or big fees, people don't really care; it still impacts them and they want to vote on it."
The proposed measure this year would be a statutory change, not constitutional.
If proponents had chosen to try to amend the state constitution, they would have had a more difficult bar, because of Amendment 71 passed by voters in 2016. A constitutional amendment now requires valid signatures from at least 2% of the total registered electors in each of the 35 Colorado state Senate districts. The measure also would have had to pass with 55% instead of a simple majority.
The lower bar, however, leaves the measure vulnerable to future changes by the legislature, which could undermine the purpose if Democrats continue to win majorities in the House and Senate and maintain their grip on the governor's office.
Fields said he was confident that the will of the voters would, or should, prevail.