Miller HudsonMiller HudsonAugust 9, 20187min461

Since Colorado voters pasted the TABOR amendment that steers spending and revenues into our state constitution in 1992, the myth of its sacrosanct power has been embroidered each year.  It is frequently viewed as the "third rail" of politics – attempt to tamper with it and you will surely die. However, only a slim majority approved Doug Bruce’s fourth attempt to handcuff government on an otherwise crowded ballot. While Bill Clinton won the presidential poll that year, Ross Perot’s message of budget rectitude scored its largest voter endorsement in Colorado.


Miller HudsonMiller HudsonAugust 2, 20186min370

A recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Science attempted to estimate the collective sense of narcissism shared in each state. The primary measure of perceived self-importance asked residents what percentage of American history was primarily shaped by their own state? Collectively, these estimates totaled a whopping 907%. One of the researchers, Henry Roediger of Washington University in St. Louis observed, “The question we asked is crazy in one sense, because there is no correct answer, but it told us a lot about people and what they believe about themselves. We thought the numbers would be high, but not this high.”

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 14, 20182min722

They’re calling the event “Another look at TABOR” — as in 1992’s voter-enacted Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — because of course it won’t be the first time skeptics of the epic tax-limiting provision in the Colorado Constitution have eyed it in hopes of changing it.

And while the March 19 forum, announced in a news release this week by the League of Women Voters of Denver, is billed as a mere briefing and discussion on the subject —  it’s a pretty safe bet change will be on the agenda.

The featured speaker is TABOR critic Carol Hedges, executive director of the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute and author of “Ten Years of TABOR.” Hedges, the league promises, will offer “an insightful presentation on TABOR and what impact it may have on Colorado’s future.” Her presentation probably won’t include praise for TABOR’s taxing and spending limits or for TABOR author Douglas Bruce.

Of course, if Hot Sheet were to solicit a comment from Bruce — the legendarily  less-than-personable Colorado Springs real estate investor and perennial political activist who served time for tax evasion — he likely would dismiss the forum as another attempt to gut the will of Colorado voters and engorge government. Then, he would hang up. We’d always welcome his input, though.

Here’s more on the forum:

Where: Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street in Denver, McCollum Room

When: Monday, March 19, 5:30 pm – Coffee & networking; 6:00 pm – Presentation

Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandMarch 10, 20186min481
A weekly look at the lighter side, or something, of what goes on at the state Capitol.   He did what?…Gov. John Hickenlooper didn’t participate in a caucus on Tuesday night. The governor explained he was double-booked and failed to remember that Caucus Night was on the horizon. But he also said that since voters […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 24, 20174min1250

It’s not that much of a stretch to say the history of Colorado fiscal policy over the past quarter-century is synonymous with the biography of Douglas Bruce. That’s by and large because of the one groundbreaking policy Bruce authored and relentlessly championed into law in 1992, the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution.

For all of the legendary Colorado Springs tax reformer’s exploits since then — from his repeated attempts to enact other laws through the ballot box, to his time in elective office, to his stints behind bars for tax evasion — it is that one milestone that has seemingly tied the state’s fiscal fate to Bruce’s persona.

Hence, Colorado Public Radio’s three-part series this month chronicling Bruce’s role in Colorado politics and policy, “THE TAXMAN: How Douglas Bruce And The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights Conquered Colorado.” To say the podcast/text rendering is both ambitious and compelling is to say the least; it arguably amounts to a new must-listen/must-read for any student of Colorado public policy. That includes not only aspiring officeholders but also many of those already elected to office who are still in need of a tutorial.

It’s such a significant undertaking by CPR — including the feat of nailing an extensive studio interview with the alternately media-craving, media-baiting and media-hating Bruce — that Westword’s Chris Walker took note of the epic effort this week in a story about the story. Walker interviews Bruce’s interviewers, CPR’s Rachel Estabrook, Nathaniel Minor and Ben Markus:

Westword: TABOR seems like such a difficult and technical subject for a podcast. What was your motivation to start this project, and why did you think it would work?

Rachel Estabrook: I got interested because I produce a lot of the interviews that we do with Governor Hickenlooper, and TABOR comes up all the time. I didn’t feel like a lot of people — even some people in the CPR newsroom — really understood what it was about. It felt right for a sort of explanatory piece, but then I started learning more about Douglas Bruce. He’s such a fascinating character with so many twists and turns and complex motivations.

Twists and turns and complex motivations; yup. Walker even delves into the extent to which Bruce himself may view his own identity as being intertwined with Colorado policy; some of his critics would might put it more bluntly — that he has no other life:

… did he understand that your project was as much about him as it was about TABOR? Did he get defensive when you asked him about his personal life, or did he understand why that was something you’d be interested in?

Minor: We talked about policy a lot. And he would say, “Oh, I really don’t want to talk about more private parts of my life.” But then he would go on and tell us about private parts of his life.

Walker’s profile of the piece is enlightening in its own right. The CPR series, even more so. Both truly worth your time.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 31, 20173min1477

That was the upshot of a telling update the other day in the Colorado Springs Gazette on the self-styled taxpayers’ champion, thumb-in-your-eye activist and proud pariah of the political establishment. As The Gazette’s Conrad Swanson noted, even Bruce’s latest stint behind bars for violating terms of his parole on tax charges couldn’t get him to mend his ways:

While pleading for his early release from prison, anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce said he would sell his properties, pay overdue taxes and “lead a quiet life” in retirement in Colorado Springs.

But since his release from the Delta Correctional Facility in September 2016, Bruce has thrust himself back into the political spotlight, sold only three of his 52 or more houses and let his property tax liens and fines multiply.

Two houses fell into such disrepair that they were demolished, and local governments reclaimed three others.

And when Swanson challenged him on it all, the response was vintage Bruce:

Asked last week about those promises during his July 2016 parole hearing, Bruce twice screamed a bovine vulgarity and hung up his phone.

Emailed later on the topic, he responded: “ARE YOU DEAF AS WELL AS STUPID? GO AWAY! DO NOT CONTACT ME AGAIN.”

Like a moth to a flame, Bruce can’t resist a return to the political fray. And each time, he rises like a Phoenix from his own ashes.

Think a comparison of the inelegant and legendarily abrasive political rebel to the mythic bird is a bit much? Consider that the unbowed Bruce is back at it, tearing into a pending Colorado Springs ballot issue to raise funds for stormwater drainage as well as another ballot measure raising taxes for local schools. The author of the state’s landmark tax-limitation policy, amended into the state constitution by voters in 1992, remains ready to fight every tax or fee increase to the bitter end. No matter how local; no matter how small.

Love him or hate him, he’s relentless.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 12, 20174min509

It’s not unusual to see environmentalists on the political left come to the aid of homeowners aggrieved at developers over the latest shopping center or housing tract to intrude on their neighborhood. Less common but at least as potent is when elements of the tax-cutting, government-baiting political right link arms with the left on the same issue.

The left worries about the effect of growth and development on Mother Earth; the right worries about the impact on taxpayers’ wallets. Both end up railing against purportedly rapacious developers as well as at local land-use rules and tax policies that are said to subsidize development.

A commentary this week by Colorado College student columnist Max Kronstadt in his school’s independent student newspaper, The Catalyst, illustrates the point. An acknowledged left-leaner, Kronstadt approvingly quotes none other than Douglas Bruce — the father of Colorado’s taxing and spending limits — in an overview of an upcoming Colorado Springs ballot proposal that would assess a fee on residents to finance stormwater drainage upgrades. It’s a long-standing, hot-button issue in the city — home to both Bruce and Colorado College — that often turns into a barometer on sentiments about growth and development. Writes Kronstadt:

I had the opportunity to talk to Douglas Bruce, a former Colorado state legislator, anti-tax activist, and author of the controversial Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). He argues that the city is milking its residents for money, putting unnecessary financial strain on low-income households. “The grandma who lives in a trailer pays the same as someone in a mansion in the Broadmoor—that’s a regressive tax,” Bruce said. He also argued that the city government relaxed regulations on developers and is now forcing residents to pay for it. “The city created the stormwater issue by subsidizing developers and giving them a free pass instead of forcing them to pay to deal with their stormwater. And they did that intentionally,” he said.

Kronstadt then notes: “Though Bruce and I likely disagree on many topics, I’m with him on this one. The City Council’s plans are a gift to corporations at the expense of taxpayers, particularly low-income ones. “

Kronstadt nonetheless concludes he’ll probably vote for the fee because, “Colorado Springs has already signed an intergovernmental agreement with Pueblo County that mandates we spend $460 million on stormwater infrastructure … and the money has to come from somewhere.”

The takeaway, though, is that nowadays, Coloradans are as likely to hear the likes of Douglas Bruce chiding cities for “subsidizing developers” as they are to hear it from Bruce’s onetime adversaries on the left.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 6, 20173min391

Sure, it’s a commission on which he once served. In his hometown. Where he first conceived and wrote the taxing and spending limits that, since voter approval in 1992, have been part of the Colorado constitution.

Yet, the current crop of commissioners stiff-armed Douglas Bruce on Tuesday, voting 4-1 Tuesday to move ahead with a November ballot issue asking voters to let the county keep an excess $14.5 million it collected in tax revenue. If voters approve the plan adopted by commissioners, the money will be used for park and infrastructure projects including the long-awaited widening of Interstate 25 north to Castle Rock.

As The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Rachel Riley reports:

… about $12 million of the surplus will pay for roadway improvements, including at least $6 million that will be set aside to help fund the widening of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock. The widening could get another boost from a ballot item that will ask many county voters if $10 million in tax revenues from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority should be reserved to help pay for construction, which transportation officials say could begin in 2019 if the money can be found. The pledges would be relatively small amounts compared to the cost of widening the roughly 17-mile stretch from two lanes to three lanes — estimated at $290 to $570 million — but regional leaders say the local contribution could be leverage for state and federal funds.

The taxing and spending limits, known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, require a vote anytime government at any level wants to keep increases in tax revenue that exceed the rates of growth plus inflation. Otherwise, the extra money has to be refunded to taxpayers.

Bruce had wanted the county to do just that, returning the money via a one-time, $40 credit toward property-tax assessments.

Yet again, the irony of Bruce’s consistent stance against presenting such requests to voters stands out: He is, after all, the one who wrote the provision allowing governments to ask permission to keep the extra cash in the first place. To date, he has never supported its use, always arguing the money is better spent by taxpayers than by their elected officials.

Plenty of times, voters have said no to the requests; they’ve said yes, as well, on many occasions over the years. El Paso County’s decidedly conservative voters are reputedly skeptical of government pleas for more revenue, of course, but just about nobody in the county cares for the bottlenecked drive to Denver anymore. Which set of sensibilities will prevail?