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Federal judge allows Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights challenge to proceed

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Colorado [official website] on Monday ruled that a challenge to the Colorado Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) can proceed. The lawsuit argues that TABOR is unconstitutional [Denver Post report] because it limits state spending and bars lawmakers from raising taxes without a public referendum, violating the US Constitution [Cornell LII materials] guarantee that every state is to have a republican form of government rather than a direct democracy. In a 73-page opinion Judge William Martinez rejected arguments by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers [official website] that the plaintiffs did not have standing [Cornell LII backgrounder] to bring the lawsuit, holding that the suit could be brought because some of the 33 plaintiffs are members of the Colorado General Assembly [official website]. Martinez also ruled that the political question doctrine [Cornell LII backgrounder] does not bar the TABOR challenge. Suthers' office did win one motion, successfully arguing that the court should reject the contention that TABOR violates the US Consitution's Equal Protection [Cornell LII backgrounder] Clause. The state already lost on its major arguments to have the lawsuit dismissed at a hearing in February.

Public referendums on tax laws can be popular with politicians who may benefit by passing the issue to their constituents, but may make governing difficult because citizens are not usually apt to decide to tax themselves. Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Missouri [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that revision to Missouri tax law [text] does not violate the Missouri Constitution [text]. The law was approved by Missouri voters through referendum in 2010 and requires the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City to regularly seek voter approval of municipal earnings taxes through elections. Last month the US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that an Indianapolis tax amnesty program did not violate the equal protection rights of those citizens who had already paid the taxes in full. The case involved an Indianapolis tax scheme that was changed mid-project such that several residents were forgiven the remainder of their balances on that tax.

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