High court leaves Colorado school tax law in place for now
December 5, 2008
DENVER ” A law that funnels more tax money to schools is still in force for now, allowing local school districts to raise taxes in 2009, the state Supreme Court said Friday. The court refused to say whether the law is constitutional, however.
The 2007 law is expected to raise $1.7 billion for schools over 11 years by blocking a scheduled decline in property taxes. Opponents filed suit, saying it’s an unconstitutional tax increase because it wasn’t approved by voters under Colorado’s strict limits on taxes and spending.
The state Department of Education asked the court to issue a ruling this week because school districts face a Dec. 15 deadline for setting property tax rates. The court denied the request without explanation and didn’t say when it would rule.
But it did issue an order saying the law remains in effect at least until it does rule. The Department of Education said that will allow school districts to set their 2009 tax rates, though it isn’t known how many districts plan to raise taxes.
Alex Halpern, a Boulder attorney representing supporters of the law, said the interim decision could signal that the justices expect to find the law is constitutional. A lower court ruling against the law “may not survive their opinion,” he said.
Halpern represented Denver Public Schools and three education groups that filed a brief with the court supporting the law.
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Republican lawmakers who oppose the law expressed frustration.
“I understand the need for a thoughtful decision, but the longer the court waits, the greater the impact this decision could have,” said House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker.
Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, called the order “tortured and strange,” and questioned why the court hasn’t ruled.
“I’ve always assumed that this court would place its loyalty to the Democratic governor ahead of its fidelity to the Constitution,” Penry said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “This Supreme Court is the most partisan branch of government in Colorado.”
Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, supports the school funding law.