Ed Quillen: Just another trick to raise state revenue?
Aspen Times Weekly
In some ways, it might be a good thing that our Legislature just passed an increase in auto registration fees to repair the state’s bridges. Given recent economic news ” foreclosures, myriad mortgages that exceed the house’s market price, rising unemployment ” Coloradans may well need solid, safe bridges to sleep under.
Even so, the FASTER measure, as it was called, was a bad piece of public policy. The governor and the General Assembly lacked the courage to raise this revenue in an honest way, by pursuing an increase in the gasoline tax, so they slithered through this with a “fee increase.”
This got me to wondering what other fees the state government might impose or elevate, so as to raise revenue without the bother of asking voters to approve something straightforward like a tax increase.
For instance, my Qwest bill not only includes local and state sales taxes, but a “local 911 fee” of $1. I did some checking a few years ago. In our rural backwater, 911 service arrived well after it was a fixture in more civilized zones. After it got here, the number of emergency calls more than doubled in the first year, which meant more demands on local law enforcement, fire departments, EMTs and ambulances, etc.
In other words, 911 means increased calls for government services, and that could give the Legislature ample justification for raising the fee to $5 or $10 a month per phone line.
But there may be another way our state government will try to raise revenue without increasing taxes. Ever hear of something called “Civil Asset Forfeiture”?
To understand it, start with criminal asset forfeiture. Your neighbor is cooking meth in his house. He gets busted and convicted. His beakers and flasks get confiscated. That’s fair enough.
But the government could also attempt to take the house in civil court ” and in some states, could do so even if your neighbor was acquitted. That’s “civil asset forfeiture.”
In other words, if you were merely suspected of a crime, or the local sheriff didn’t like something you said at a public meeting and suspected you had replaced a P-trap under your kitchen sink without getting a building permit, the police could seize your property.
Obviously, this procedure is ripe for abuse, and in 2002 Colorado adopted a law to prevent such abuses. It requires a criminal conviction before forfeiture, and protects innocent property owners whose tenants commit crimes. It requires forfeiture proceeds to go through the regular budget process, rather than to the policing agency. It has reporting requirements.
In other words, our current law allows asset forfeiture as a legitimate tool of law enforcement, but makes the process fair and open.
But apparently, it doesn’t bring in enough money, and thus House Bill 1238, sponsored by Joe Rice, a Littleton Democrat, would repeal the requirement for a conviction as well as the reporting requirement. In other words, it allows cops to seize property on mere suspicion and auction it off, with a big chunk of the profits going to the “seizing agency.”
Hey, why pay taxes to support police departments when they can finance themselves this way? And why bother with the burdens of convicting someone in criminal court when you can just grab his assets through a civil procedure, where there’s no right to counsel and no protection against self-incrimination?
Applied vigorously, HB 1238 could enhance revenues without raising taxes, and I can’t think of any other reason that this legislature would even consider such an assault on a quaint, old-fashioned concept like “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
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