Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi cited the opposition of Republican state Sen. Steve Johnson in criticizing a Democratic-sponsored measure that would freeze property tax rates to help fund schools, but he did not mention that Johnson voted for a reportedly similar tax freeze measure in 2004.
In a May 3 column condemning school finance legislation proposed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, The Denver Post's David Harsanyi cited the opposition of state Sen. Steve Johnson (R-Fort Collins), who “contends that Ritter's freeze is 'unconscionable' and that it's 'extremely clear that this bill is a violation of' ” the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights -- a constitutional provision adopted by referendum in 1992. However, Harsanyi ignored the fact that Johnson voted for tax legislation in 2004 that the Post described as similar in a May 2 article.
Harsanyi wrote about an amendment to Senate Bill 199 that would freeze property tax, or “mill levy,” rates to help fund schools.
From David Harsanyi's column, “Tax 'freeze' is weasel-speak,” in the May 3 edition of The Denver Post:
In this column space, a “tax hike” will always be defined as a change in tax policy that nets more dollars for government coffers.
Sadly, it's necessary to clarify the obvious because in recent years a host of weasel euphemisms have been employed to avoid, at any cost, calling a tax hike what it is: a tax hike.
But make no mistake, Gov. Bill Ritter wants to raise your property taxes.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Sue Windels [D-Arvada] technically “freezes” mill levies to help fund schools. In reality, it's legislation that circumvents the Colorado Constitution.
Now, you may detest the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Or, like I do, you may believe it helps keep Colorado's economy humming and government accountable.
Regardless, TABOR was passed by the people of Colorado in 1992 and is part of the state constitution. And, among other things, it unequivocally states that government must ask voters permission to raise taxes.
When former Gov. Bill Owens had his eye on your tax refunds in 2004, he took it to the ballot as Referendum C. The state said yes.
Why does Ritter believe he's absolved from this process?
Sen. Steve Johnson -- who most Democrats will agree is the epitome of a moderate Republican -- contends that Ritter's freeze is “unconscionable” and that it's “extremely clear that this bill is a violation of TABOR.”
As Colorado Media Matters noted, Johnson was among several legislators the Post cited in the May 2 article who had voted for a school finance bill with a “similar provision” in 2004. In fact, Harsanyi appears to have drawn his quotes from the same passage that Colorado Media Matters quoted.
From Mark P. Couch's article, “Senate OKs tax Freeze,” in the May 2 edition of The Denver Post:
“I think it is extremely clear that this bill is a violation of TABOR,” said Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Larimer County, who called the move “unconscionable.”
Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, pointed out that Republicans spawned the property-tax idea in 2004 and said that four previous supporters were still in the chamber.
In 2004, Sens. Johnson, Ken Kester of Las Animas, Ron May of Colorado Springs and Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs voted for a school finance act that included a similar provision. All were no votes Tuesday.
In arguing that the school finance measure represents a “tax hike,” Harsanyi echoed statements Republican strategists have made, as the Post noted in a May 1 editorial:
In recent days, Republican strategists, led by Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, have tried to paint the property tax freeze as a tax increase. But it is nothing of the kind -- as Republicans themselves recognized in 2004 when they passed the very same plan in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate. Even then-Senate President John Andrews, whose aversion to tax increases is legendary, voted for the freeze.
Additionally, Harsanyi erroneously stated that voters passed Referendum C -- a ballot measure to suspend TABOR-mandated refunds of tax revenues for a five-year period -- in 2004:
In 2000, Colorado averted a supposed calamity by approving Amendment 23, which mandates increasing funding for K-12 every year.
We avoided another catastrophe in 2004, by passing Referendum C and handing over an “estimated” $3.7 billion extra cash to the government.
In fact, Colorado voters adopted Referendum C in 2005.