Ed Quillen: Why the Colorado Constitution is meaningless | AspenTimes.com
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Ed Quillen: Why the Colorado Constitution is meaningless

Ed Quillen
Aspen Times Weekly

One might wonder why we pay so much attention to the state constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot when it’s increasingly obvious that no one pays much attention to the Colorado Constitution, as I’ve noted before with the oft-ignored provision that prohibits the state and local governments from aiding private enterprises.

The most recent example of “why bother with our state constitution?” comes from a ruling issued about a month ago by the district court in Canon City.

Whenever local or state taxes are increased, our state constitution (specifically, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR amendment) requires approval by a public vote. In this case, the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District (UAWCD) had received petitions supporting its expansion downstream to cover eastern Fremont County and a few acres in El Paso County.

The district collects a property tax, so taxes would rise in the expansion area. Thus, a TABOR election was required, and one was held a year ago. It passed.

But did this election conform to the state constitution? That was the question before Judge David M. Thorson.

He found these violations:

– TABOR requires a summary of pro and con statements, of up to 500 words, in the election notice. As Thorson observed, citing TABOR, “The summary shall not mention names of persons or private groups, nor any endorsements of the proposal.”

The pro statement, Thorson found, “violated TABOR and the election code by including endorsements in favor of the ballot issue.”

As for the con statement, the submitted version was less than 500 words. Even so, it was substantially trimmed by the district’s general manager (who also served as the election officer), and the judge found that “the election officer failed to summarize accurately the statements against the ballot proposal, as required by TABOR.”

– TABOR requires a disclosure of the estimated tax increase on the election notice. The UAWCD made it $10,141, when in fact it was more like $170,000.

As the judge put it, “The district did disclose a misleading and irrelevant amount of gain in tax revenue, an amount that had nothing to do with the question put to the voters.” He added, “The only saving grace for the district is that the disclosed number is so ridiculously low compared to the actually anticipated revenue that no reasonable person would rely on it.

Although it may have been calculated to mislead the electorate, it could not have fooled any intelligent voter.”

In other words, if you’re reasonable or intelligent (which may make you one of those dreaded elitists in the current political environment), you’ll know enough not to believe what you read in election notices.

So with these deliberate violations of TABOR before him, did the judge throw out that flawed 2007 election and order a new one?

“The district has gone out of its way to make it difficult for the court to find substantial compliance,” Thorson concluded, since it acted “in a self-serving manner.” Even so, he found that the district had “substantially complied with TABOR requirements,” and so he refused to set aside the election.

This opens a novel line of defense. If you’re charged with murder, just note that there were 4,861,514 Coloradans whom you did not kill on a given day, and thus you’re in “substantial compliance” with the law.

At any rate, why bother worrying about how to vote on all those proposed amendments to our state constitution this year? No matter what we put in there, it can be ignored with impunity.


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