Judge dismisses lawsuit filed by Douglas Bruce seeking public safety tax refund
Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - March 29, 2018 - Updated: March 29, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS — A lawsuit filed by anti-tax crusader Douglas Bruce seeking a refund for what he claimed were excess taxes collected by El Paso County has been dismissed.
On March 8, a 4th Judicial District Court judge ordered the dismissal of a claim Bruce filed late last year claiming that El Paso County owes taxpayers millions of dollars for violating provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.
Bruce, TABOR’s author, argued in the Dec. 26 complaint that the county understated the revenue a public safety tax would generate before voters approved the measure in 2012. In its first year, the 0.23-percent sales tax generated about $900,000 more than county officials predicted.
County spokesman Dave Rose said the county “made a good faith effort” to estimate the revenue that would result from the new tax, but had “no way of knowing” how much more revenue the economic recovery following the 2008 recession would produce.
Bruce, who was convicted on charges including felony tax evasion in 2012, declined to comment on the judge’s order.
The recent court decision isn’t the first time that he’s been on the losing side of a lawsuit that he initiated. The former state legislator and El Paso County commissioner has sued Colorado Springs, the county or both more than a dozen times over election-related issues, and the court has repeatedly ruled in favor of the governments.
TABOR, an amendment to the state Constitution that Coloradans approved in 1992, aims to limit the size of government by tying year-to-year increases in government revenue to population growth and inflation. It stipulates that governments proposing a tax increase must provide estimates for the maximum dollar amounts that will be collected each year; any excess must be returned to voters the following year or used for voter-approved purposes.
In 2012, Issue 1A asked for county voters’ permission to increase taxes “up to $17 million annually” to meet public safety needs. The revenue it has generated has always exceeded that figure and has increased steadily, from about $17.9 million in 2013 to nearly $22 million in 2016, according to county data.
Bruce argued in his complaint the county owes taxpayers a refund of about $4.5 million, plus 10 percent interest for 2013 and the following four years it held on to the $900,000 excess.
But Judge Thomas Kane found that the 1A ballot measure language expressly asked voters to approve a tax increase and permit those tax revenues be exempt from TABOR’s spending limitations.
“In approving measure 1A, El Paso County voters voted to lift all revenue and spending limitations contained in TABOR from the revenue generated by the tax increase,” Kane wrote in his March 8 order. He added that the state’s highest court “has consistently recognized the power vested in the voters to direct government spending under TABOR.”