GOP to Ritter: begin budget cuts
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” Colorado Republican leaders demanded Thursday that Gov. Bill Ritter immediately start cutting the budget to cover $118 million the state has spent from an education tax that a district court ruled was unconstitutional.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the GOP lawmakers say the governor also could call the Legislature back into session to decide which programs to cut if the ruling stands.
“If you refuse to act, we strongly believe you owe the people of Colorado an explanation as to why you are so certain that the Supreme Court will overturn the existing ruling,” the letter states.
The letter is signed by House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, and Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs.
Ritter’s spokesman said the Republicans are “playing politics.”
The letter cites a study that shows if the new budget goes into effect July 1 as written, the state could be on the hook for $272 million that may have to be refunded to taxpayers.
Lawyers for both sides say it’s unclear which governmental agencies would be responsible for paying back the money ” the counties that collected it through property taxes, the school districts that got the money or the state government, which provides general fund money for schools.
Whoever pays, the effect on government could be catastrophic, the Republicans said.
They also warned that it is difficult to win a case on appeal.
“We cannot help but wonder if you know something that the rest of Colorado does not, that causes you to be so confident that the Supreme Court, tasked with upholding justice and not agendas, will come down on your side,” the letter said.
They gave Ritter a deadline of June 16 to respond, saying they need enough time to act before the new budget year begins.
Ritter spokesman Dreyer said the governor believes the state Supreme Court will overturn the district court ruling.
“There is nothing imminent or pressing that needs to happen now,” Dreyer said.
At issue is a 2007 law that froze property tax rates in some school districts where they had been expected to decline and funneled the extra money to education. It is expected to raise $1.7 billion for Colorado schools over the next 11 years.
Last week, Denver District Judge Christina M. Habas ruled the additional revenue should have been approved in advance by Colorado voters under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that limits taxes and spending.
Habas rejected the state’s argument that the education finance law only redistributes revenue, rather than raising it. She ruled it is unconstitutional because it gives the state more tax revenue without required approval from voters.
The lawsuit challenging the law was filed by the Mesa County Commissioners, a business owner and four taxpayers with help from the conservative Independence Institute think tank.
They sued the state Department of Education and Ritter was named as a party to the lawsuit.
Ritter said he would appeal. The Board of Education is expected to decide next week.