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TABOR Foundation v. Colorado Bridge Enterprise

Legal Question:

Whether the Colorado General Assembly can circumvent the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) of the Colorado Constitution by granting a government-owned enterprise the power to assess taxes and incur debt without a vote of the people?

Plaintiff:

TABOR Foundation, a Colorado nonprofit, public-interest foundation dedicated to protecting and enforcing TABOR, which requires a vote of the people before Colorado may create new debt, levy new taxes, increase tax rates, or institute tax policy changes directly causing a net tax revenue gain.

Defendants:

Colorado Bridge Enterprise; Colorado Transportation Commission; Trey Rogers, Gary M. Reiff, Heather Barry, Kathy Gilliland, Kathy Connell, Douglas Aden, Steve Parker, Les Gruen, Gilbert Ortiz, and Edward J. Peterson, all in their official capacities as members of the Colorado Transportation Commission

Court:

Colorado Supreme Court
None

In 2009, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 09-108, commonly known as Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act (FASTER), which provides for creation of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, a government-owned business chartered to repair and to maintain bridges in Colorado. Previously, that work was performed by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which is overseen by an 11-member board; that same board now also oversees the Colorado Bridge Enterprise. In addition, CDOT's Executive Director is the Director of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise and CDOT's CFO is CFO of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise.

FASTER imposes a "bridge safety surcharge," based on weight, which is collected whenever a vehicle is registered anywhere in Colorado. Almost half of Colorado's 64 counties will receive no direct benefit from the Colorado Bridge Enterprise; nonetheless, the residents of these 29 counties must pay the same bridge tax as residents of the counties allegedly benefitted by the tax.

Government-owned enterprises, which are exempt from the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights (TABOR) if 90 percent self-supporting and operating independently from state government, cannot levy taxes; they may only assess fees for their services.

Colorado's Independence Institute previously exposed FASTER's constitutional deficiencies in a pair of studies published in May 2011: "How Colorado Has Raised $300 Million In Debt Without Asking Its Citizens: The Colorado Bridge Enterprise," by Richard Sokol; and "Colorado Bridge Enterprise: A Case Study in Contravening Colorado's Constitution," by Tom Ryan.

On May 21, 2012, the TABOR Foundation filed a complaint in Denver District Court, alleging that the actions of the Colorado Bridge Enterprise violate TABOR.  On August 14, 2012, state defendants filed answers denying the substance of the TABOR Foundation’s claims.  On September 18, 2012, discovery commenced. 

On February 11, 2013, the TABOR Foundation filed a motion for summary judgment.  State defendants filed a response on April 1, 2013, and the TABOR Foundation replied on April 8, 2013.  On April 15, 2013, the district court denied the motion, but did not identify the facts remaining in dispute that prevented summary judgment.  Trial was held on May 13 and 14, 2013.  The TABOR Foundation and state defendants filed proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on June 4, 2013. 

On July 19, 2013, the district court issued a decision denying the TABOR Foundation’s claims.  On September 6, 2013, the TABOR Foundation filed a notice of appeal with the Colorado Court of Appeals.  On January 21, 2014, the TABOR Foundation filed its opening brief.  On March 13, 2014, the state defendants filed a joint answer brief.  On April 2, 2014, the TABOR Foundation filed a reply brief.  On July 8, 2014, oral arguments were held by the Court of Appeals.  On August 14, 2014, the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling of the district court.  On September 25, 2014, the TABOR Foundation filed its petition seeking Supreme Court review.  On October 21, 2014, state defendants filed their opposition.  On October 27, 2014, the TABOR Foundation filed a reply.  On June 29, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear the case over the abstention of one judge and the dissent of another.

No Status Updates
  • U.S. Supreme Court Remands TABOR Lawsuit

    Jun 30, 2015
    Colorado taxpayers defending the right to limit spending by use of a constitutional amendment today learned that the Supreme Court of the United States returned the ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to that court for a ruling consistent with the Court’s holding in an Arizona case.
  • Colorado Supreme Court Declines to Hear Tax Case

    Jun 29, 2015
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today learned the Colorado Supreme Court declined, over the objection of one justice, to review the August of 2014 Court of Appeals ruling in the group’s appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violating TABOR (Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights).
  • Taxpayers Urge Colorado Supreme Court Review of Tax Case

    Oct 27, 2014
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today filed its reply brief in its petition that the Colorado Supreme Court review the August 2014 Court of Appeals ruling in the group’s appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violating the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group Seeks Colorado Supreme Court Review in Tax Case

    Sep 25, 2014
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear and reverse the August 2014 Court of Appeals ruling in the group’s appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violating the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group Loses Appeal In Bridge Tax Case

    Aug 14, 2014
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today suffered a defeat before the Colorado Court of Appeals in the group’s appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group Files Reply Brief In Bridge Tax Case

    Apr 2, 2014
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today replied to arguments by Colorado officials in a brief filed with the Colorado Court of Appeals in its appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group Briefs Colorado Court of Appeals In Bridge Tax Case

    Jan 21, 2014
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today filed its opening brief with the Colorado Court of Appeals in its appeal of a Colorado state district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group Appeals Colorado Bridge Tax Ruling

    Sep 6, 2013
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today appealed the decision of a Colorado state district court dismissing its lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Taxpayer Group’s Challenge To State Bridge Tax Rejected

    Jul 19, 2013
    A Denver County district court today rejected a lawsuit by a Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • Trial Concludes In Colorado Bridge Tax Case

    May 14, 2013
    A Colorado state court today concluded a two-day trial in a lawsuit by a Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violating the Colorado Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
  • COLORADO’S BRIDGE TAX CASE MUST GO TO TRIAL

    Apr 15, 2013
    A Colorado state court today ruled a lawsuit by a Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violating the Colorado’s Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) must go to trial. In May 2012, the TABOR Foundation filed a lawsuit in Denver County Court alleging that its members should have been allowed to vote on $100 million in new taxes and $300 million in new government bonds imposed by the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, a government-owned business created by the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act in 2009.
  • COLORADO’S BRIDGE TAX IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

    Apr 8, 2013
    A Colorado group that defends the rights of taxpayers today responded to arguments by Colorado and continued to urge a Colorado state court to grant it summary judgment in its lawsuit against two Colorado bodies and their officials for violation of the Colorado’s Constitution’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).


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