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Electors of counties do not have constitutional rights of initiative, unlike state and municipal electors who have the right to adopt state and municipal legislation by initiative and referendum.
Although the text of TABOR contains nearly 2,000 words and addressed “multiple subjects”, its proponents convinced a majority of Colorado voters to approve it in 1992 with a campaign essentially based on one simple message: “VOTE ON TAXES!”
The advocates and supporters of TABOR promised above all that this constitutional amendment would inhibit the relentless “growth of government” by forevermore requiring the consent of the voters before any new tax could be adopted or before any existing tax could be increased.
The irony of this pitch, and one that was not lost on the courts, is that TABOR did not give rise to any new substantive voting rights as some of its supporters had suggested. The people of Colorado had long since reserved to themselves the powers of initiative and referendum, thus allowing for the direct control of taxation and other legislative matters at the ballot box.
Moreover, several preexisting state and local laws and charter provisions already required municipal voters to approve tax increases. For example, laws governing statutory municipalities (as well as many counterpart home rule charter provisions) already required voter approval for new or increased sales taxes. Likewise, voter approval was already required for tax increases to service general obligation debt.
Thus, the mandate to “VOTE ON TAXES” was hardly revolutionary to Colorado.
In contrast, far and away the single most radical change wrought by TABOR was its formulaic limitation on the annual growth of revenues. It does not limit the amount of money that may be budgeted. It does not limit the amount of money that may be appropriated. It does not limit the amount of money that maybe “spent” in any conventional sense of the word.
Instead, it limits the amount of revenue that may be retained in any particular year from most sources. (including both taxes and fees) according to a rigid one-size-fits-all revenue cap, and requires a refund of “excess” revenue received in any particular year absent voter approval to keep the excess. This is perhaps the most important thing for every official to understand about the way TABOR works.
The bottom line is citizens have the constitutional right to initiate municipal and state legislation. With one exception, they have no such right to initiate county legislative matters. That’s because that legislative power is vested in the General Assembly and was not reserved by the people in our constitution.