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TABOR lawsuit defending voter's rights could delay I-25 expansion, other projects

Posted at 8:46 PM, Apr 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-21 01:00:09-04

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CASTLE ROCK, Colo. -- A group wanting to defend the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Colorado may end up causing some collateral damage in the form of delays to some of the state’s major transportation projects, including the widening of Interstate 25.

The TABOR Foundation originally filed a lawsuit in 2015 in Denver District Court opposing the state’s hospital provider fee. They are now continuing that legal fight against the state’s new way of paying for some major projects, known as Senate Bill 267.

The state basically sells government buildings, leases them back, and uses the money to borrow more money to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. The TABOR Foundation said that violates the state constitution which requires new taxes and state bonds be approved by voters. 

“It should have gone to a vote of the people and say, 'we want to put you $2 billion in debt,” Penn Pfiffner, chairman of the TABOR Foundation, told Denver7. 

Pfiffner said it’s the lawsuit is about protecting voter’s rights. 

“The legislators can’t ignore the constitution that controls them any more than you and I can ignore the laws that govern us,” he said.

But while that lawsuit is still in court, the state money from the bill can’t be given out by the State Treasurer’s Office. 

"We intend to comply with the law and we will be ready to move forward with the transaction once the important questions raised in the lawsuit are resolved," State Treasurer Walker Stapleton said in a statement. 

It’s a form of a domino effect. The TABOR Foundation lawsuit against Bill 267 means the State Treasurer can’t give out that funding, agencies like CDOT don’t receive it, and then can’t pay for major projects including the widening of I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument. 

“Shovel in the ground is dependent on money coming in from 267 so that’s a process that we will continue to wait for,” CDOT spokesperson Amy Ford said. 

Two-hundred-fifty million of the project’s $300 million price tag comes from those now-challenged funds. Meaning if the money is tied up in a lengthy court battle, the stretch known as “the gap” will haves to stay at two lanes in either direction. 

“The likelihood of the project moving forward on the schedule we had hoped for which is to start construction this summer… would go on hold,” Ford added. 

“We are not trying to slow things down or damage things but fulfilling a watchdog role here,” Pfiffner countered. 

The State Legislature and the governor approved Bill 267 and its way of funding. The TABOR Foundation thinks it should be up to the people to decide. 

The funding battle could also impact several other CDOT projects, which are scheduled to be paid for by 267 dollars. Those include a mountain express lane of I-70 heading westbound into part of Idaho Springs and improvements to I-25 in Northern Colorado.

The foundation’s lawsuit has a tentative trial date start in late October. It could be resolved before then, but the foundation chairman said it could be stretched out for several years before a final decision.