PERRY: Aurora’s cigarette tax guarantees TABOR smoke gets in their ayes


Again with the curse of the misnomered Taxpayer Bill Of Rights?

Colorado and every burg, school district and county in the state has been smote with TABOR since Colorado voters inflicted it upon ourselves in 1992.

And here it comes again, directly to Aurora.

The state Constitutional Amendment was sold to voters as a law that requires voters to approve every tax hike. TABOR, however, does so much more than that, and it’s turned every corner of Colorado into an endless problem.

Like here. Aurora’s current, brewing TABOR fever is self-inflicted and entirely preventable.

This week, city lawmakers, by decree, finalized a plan to “reinstate” the city’s sales tax on cigarettes.

They were able to do that because, earlier this year, state legislators passed laws that turn some cigarette taxing and rule-making authority back over to cities like Aurora. Until then, tobacco regulations were only a state and federal matter. The motivation behind the state change came from do-gooder legislators willing to give cities a shot at making rules that keep cigarettes away from minors and young adults.

Aurora jumped at the chance to impose a new sales tax on cigarettes, which they predict will net the city at least about $1.7 million a year.

“New tax” is the key here. Proponents of the measure, however, say it’s not new. Aurora has long had a tax on cigarettes. It’s just that they haven’t been able to impose it for a while because the state intervened and then prevented it. How long ago?


Please. The last time Aurora collected this tax TV cigarette hawkers were calling for “Philip Morris” and Aurora residents were watching dancing Doral cigarette packs beg smokers to “taste me, taste me.”

City lawyers persuaded members of city council that they’ll easily get away with imposing an almost 60-year-old cigarette tax, brought back from the dead. They think that not one of the hundreds of rabid TABOR zealots in Colorado will mind. Those are the same TABOR fiends who sue the hell out of anything just because it’s Thursday. To these people, TABOR isn’t a law, it’s a religion. Granted, it’s a religion that’s very much like believing in the Easter Bunny. The adults in the room know where the eggs really come from.

The TABOR system is so bad that no other state in the nation has adopted it. Everyone else knows better. But it’s not gone yet, and city officials know what’s coming next, whether they want to admit it or not.

So their interesting idea goes up in smoke. Set aside the fact that many more poor people smoke cigarettes than do wealthier people, and so it is inarguable that people who can least afford this tax will be paying Aurora $1.7 million for the privilege of getting smoked here. Set aside the fact that the change in state law was prompted by a desire to get fewer people to smoke, especially kids, not to raise money for cities.

Like most people, I’m not buying proponents’ arguments that an Aurora tax that’s a relatively small bump on a $7 pack of cigarettes is a viable way to price the masses into quitting.

I’m also not buying arguments from cigarette-tax critics who are suddenly horrified that Aurora’s going to reach into the pockets of poor people for nickels. As if there would be the same concern about ending expired-license-plate violations, which strike primarily struggling Aurorans who can’t scrape together the cash to pay for car plates.

So while the city council was pretty much split on raising this tax, they should agree that this is going to be trouble.

The biggest problem for proponents of the new Aurora tax  — and of course it’s new — is that Aurora will spend much or even all of its new booty on legal fees defending their absurd argument that it can do it.

It makes no sense.

All proponents had to do was ask voters in November to raise taxes on cigarettes to pave more roads or even hire people to personally snag coffin nails from kids smoking across the street from their high school.

Of course a measure like that would pass.

Too late. The 2019 ballot is already closed.

TABOR lawyers, start your engines.

The best idea would be to seriously start a campaign to repeal the TABOR curse that is largely responsible for the state’s crappy roads and underfunded schools. It keeps tempting cities like Aurora to try end-runs on TABOR by “resurrecting” taxes that haven’t been collected since the invention of ZIP codes.

Unless state residents get wise fast and scrap TABOR next year, Aurora is going to spend big money in court to rake in relatively little with this stunt.

Probably not. See everyone in court.

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