Quit picking on Mr. Bruce
December 17, 2002
Most taxpayers take for granted certain protections from unexpected increases in their contribution to tax collections.
Government cannot unilaterally increase a tax, establish a new tax or incur bonded indebtedness without voter approval. Also, we expect to be protected from “appreciation” taxes, which occur when the valuation on our property increases more quickly than the general rate of inflation.
In other words, if the value of your property goes up by 20 percent some year, the mil levy you’re charged is supposed to be adjusted down so that the actual amount you pay doesn’t go up 20 percent as well.
This appreciation protection is considered especially important for people on fixed incomes; but for all of us, just because our property values go up, that doesn’t mean our income is going to increase as well.
Some of these protections had been assumed for many years, and most of the rest existed in Pitkin County prior to the passage of the Tabor Amendment, which extended them statewide. The person most associated with the Tabor Amendment is Douglas Bruce, and no sooner had the state constitution been amended than the vilification of Mr. Bruce began.
The people who like to take and spend your money didn’t particularly appreciate limitations on their ability to do so, but because the tax protection measures themselves were so popular, it was easier to attack the proponent than the proposition.
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Douglas Bruce soon became the despoiler of all that is good and holy, and the process to gain voter approval to roll back the protections he championed became known as deBrucing.
I can’t keep track of all the special districts, funds and types of taxes that have been deBruced, and I doubt anyone else has either, but nearly all new tax proposals which appear on a ballot include some form or degree of deBrucing. They tend to pass without question.
For example, when voters approved the extension of open space property tax collections in Pitkin County, they simultaneously voted away their appreciation protection for that portion of their tax bill. If your property values go up by 20 percent, the portion of your property tax which goes to open space will go up 20 percent as well.
It’s entirely likely that, over a period of years, voters will give back all the tax protections they support and assume are in place, all the while getting even with that bad man, Mr. Bruce.
The recent approval of a special fund for “health and human services” contained the most complete repudiation of tax protections that I can remember, though perhaps I’ve been sleeping.
The wording, “Notwithstanding the limitations of Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution, Article 9 of the county home rule charter or any other law,” seems to cover just about every possibility for the future ability to raise taxes for this purpose. If this represents the standard boilerplate language which will henceforth be added to all new tax measures, kiss your personal budget goodbye.
Right there in the body of the ballot question it also says, “… and the same amount, adjusted for inflation and local growth, in each subsequent year …”; an apparent reference to appreciation protection, in direct contradiction with the “notwithstanding” language in the very same sentence.
So, which is it?
A literal reading would suggest that the mil levy can be raised even after it’s adjusted for inflation and local growth. If that wasn’t the intention, I have a simple suggestion for all concerned: Stop the practice of automatically putting deBrucing language in all tax questions, and stop voting for any new tax measures until that practice ends.
If you can all remember until the next election, of course.
I’ll take odds against.
Meanwhile, an interesting project for an enterprising reporter would be to determine what proportion of our total tax bill has already been deBruced. Just how many horses have already left this barn?
Up the Crystal