Conservative groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday evening seeking to derail new shipping costs passed by Colorado lawmakers last year, arguing they illegally sidestepped voters when they signed into law the landmark funding law.
The new fees, as well as other funding sources put in place by Senate Bill 21-260, are expected to raise $5.4 billion over the first 11 years to improve highways, strengthen public transit systems and expand the use of electric vehicles. Since July 1, the state will charge a fee on gasoline and diesel fuel purchases, retail deliveries, electric vehicle registrations, Uber and Lyft rides, and car rentals.
Lawmakers described them as road user fees that would help repair Colorado’s infrastructure and pay for transportation alternatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, Governor Jared Polis and lawmakers proposed to delay upfront 2 cents per gallon on gasoline and diesel through Jan. 1.
Even before Polis signed the bill Last June, opponents of the new fee configuration pledged to mount a legal challenge.
Americans for Prosperity and the Advance Colorado Institute argue in the new lawsuit, filed in Denver District Court, that certain provisions of the law violate Colorado’s long-running taxpayer bill of rights. These include violations of TABOR’s revenue and expense limits, as well as a claim that the bill’s inclusion of an increase of nearly $225 million in the annual revenue cap of the state â reversing a past bipartisan legislative compromise â violated both the state constitution and the single-subject requirement for legislation.
The lawsuit says several state-owned companies created to charge for the new freight charges run counter to Proposition 117, an initiative that Colorado voters passed in 2020. Supported by some of the plaintiffs, the initiative sought to extend TABOR’s voter approval requirement for tax increases to significant fee increases.
Proposition 117 requires voter approval if a new company raises at least $100 million in fees in the first five years. The same limit applies if that threshold was exceeded by the combined revenue of multiple new businesses “primarily serving the same purpose,” according to the measure.
The question is whether the new transportation companies have sufficiently different goals to avoid their revenues being lumped together, as the bill’s main Democratic sponsors argued at the time. The bill passed mostly along party lines, although it did gain the support of Sen. Kevin Priola, a moderate Republican from Henderson, who joined as a sponsor.
“The lawmaker’s sleight of hand is unlawful,” the lawsuit states. âAll new businesses were created simultaneously. Under Proposition 117, they should have been submitted to voters. The plaintiffs are therefore suing to uphold the rights of voters and prevent the government from illegitimately taking millions of dollars a year out of citizens’ pockets.
Polis spokesman Conor Cahill declined to respond to the lawsuit’s arguments.
“We’re not going to comment on the ongoing litigation related to this bipartisan transportation bill that will finally fix our fucking roads,” Cahill wrote in an email, “but obviously we all agree on the fact that there should be federal gas tax relief, and the governor also offered state gas tax relief now.
Lawmakers created four new companies to assess variable fees and also used a fifth company that already existed. The sponsors argued, supported by some legal analysts, that each company had a different goal, ranging from increasing community adoption of electric and cleaner-fuel vehicles to supporting public transit.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Americans for Prosperity, ACI President Michael Fields, Republican Senator Jerry Sonnenberg and Boulder County resident Richard Orman. The lawsuit targets the State of Colorado, Polis and the five state enterprises, among other defendants.