COLORADO TAXPAYER GROUP CHALLENGES ASPEN’S BAG TAX
August 21, 2012 - For Immediate Release
DENVER, CO. A Colorado nonprofit, public-interest group that educates the public on the dangers of excessive taxation, regulation, and government spending and protects citizens’ right to petition government today sued the City of Aspen and the five members of the Aspen City Council for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The Colorado Union of Taxpayers Foundation (CUT) alleges, in Pitkin County District Court, that its members should have been allowed to vote on a $0.20 tax Aspen imposes on each disposable carryout bag grocers provide to their customers. The tax, which went into effect on May 1, 2012, applies to paper bags, but only to those bags distributed by grocers. Plastic bags are banned. Like a sales tax, grocers collect the tax from customers and remit the proceeds to the City of Aspen. CUT seeks declaratory and injunctive relief and an order requiring refund of all revenues collected, along with the payment of interest, as required by TABOR.“The City of Aspen’s commitment to the environment is greater than its commitment to the Colorado Constitution,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF); MSLF represents CUT. “Aspen may not impose a new tax without a vote by those who will pay the tax.” In October 2011, the Aspen City Council passed a “Waste Reduction Fee,” similar to taxes imposed by Telluride, Carbondale, and Basalt, to collect a 20 cent tax on each disposable carryout bag grocers provide to customers. The City Council was urged to enact the tax because, “Aspen considers itself an environmental leader and this topic presents an opportunity for Aspen to continue to take a progressive stance on environmental issues.” During the first year of the tax, grocers may retain a portion to inform customers about the tax, train staff about the tax, and alter infrastructures to accommodate the collection of the tax. Revenue from the tax funds general expenses of Aspen government, including public educational campaigns, infrastructure, pollution-reduction equipment, and community cleanup events. The City of Aspen attempts to circumvent TABOR by calling the tax a “fee”; however, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that nomenclature does not control and that a tax is subject to TABOR if its purpose is to raise revenue for general governmental spending. A fee is charged to individuals who use a service; a tax funds the general expenses of government. The impact of bag taxes is significant. Research by the Beacon Hill Institute and Americans for Tax Reform found that Washington, D.C.’s bag tax cost at least 100 jobs and resulted in a $5.6 million drop in aggregate disposable income. Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.
Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) is a nonprofit,
public interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right
to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and economic freedom. It is an Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) entity
incorporated in the State of Colorado. Csontributions
to Mountain States Legal Foundation are tax deductible.
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