When a Tax Increase Isn’t a New Tax

High court rules incidental, minimal tax revenue increase doesn’t violate TABOR

Carr Building
A wholly effective system with no transparency and no public confidence will not suffice,” said a recent report on judicial discipline from IAALS.

According to the Colorado Supreme Court, legislation that causes an incidental and de minimis increase in tax revenue does not amount to a “new tax” or “tax policy change” under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and consequently doesn’t require voter approval.

The decision issued April 23 in TABOR Foundation v. Regional Transportation District settles a 2013 lawsuit against RTD, Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and Colorado Department of Revenue that claimed House Bill 13-1272 violated TABOR because it resulted in a revenue increase without voter consent. The legislature passed the bill to realign sales taxes levied by RTD and SCFD with the state sales tax. Although the districts and state share a taxable base tangible personal property — the taxes levied had diverged over the years due to various differing exemptions.

House Bill 1272 removed exemptions from the districts’ taxes on sales of cigarettes, direct-mail advertising materials, candy, soft drinks, and nonessential food containers. Its passage resulted in a projected tax revenue increase of 0.6 percent for the districts, which amounted to less than 1 percent of SCFD’s budget and one thousandth of RTD’s budget. The TABOR Foundation sued the districts, claiming the removal of exemptions constituted a “new tax” or “tax policy change” because they resulted in the districts taxing things they had not before.

But the Supreme Court disagreed, and upheld the districts’ analysis of House Bill 1272’s purpose to simplify tax collections and ease administrative confusions associated with the exemption divergences. The court concluded the revenue increase was incidental and de minimis, so it did not violate TABOR.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the April 30, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.