Attorney General John Suthers’ opinion on Gov. Bill Ritter’s “school finance stabilization plan” set off a flurry of accusations today that the move was politically motivated, including an accusation by Ritter’s office that Suthers had already promised not to issue his own legal opinion.Ritter’s proposal to freeze property tax rates in order to fund public schools has been amended to the annual school finance bill, and Republicans have decried the plan as a “tax increase.” Also at issue is whether or not the plan would violate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), which would require a statewide vote for approval and prevent action from being taken by the legislature directly. Last night Suthers’ office issued a memo in opposition to previous legal findings that had concluded Ritter’s plan would not violate TABOR requirements.
Soliciter General Dan Domenico wrote in a letter advising Suthers that “My best judgment is that this proposal requires voter approval under the Constitution.” Suthers forwarded the memo to Ritter’s office along with a letter concurring with Domenico’s finding.
Ritter issued a sharp rebuke in a statement issued today:
“The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services has reviewed this issue twice, in 2004 and again in 2007. My legal office as well as numerous TABOR and education-funding experts also have scrutinized this plan over the past two months. They all have come to the exact opposite conclusion that the attorney general has reached.
“This debate has been going on for weeks. A bipartisan group of Coloradans from every corner of this state has expressed its support and enthusiasm. The attorney general’s argument, issued in an unsolicited and 12th-hour opinion, is flawed, and his timing is suspect.
When reached this afternoon by phone, Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer told Colorado Confidential that Suthers had previously informed Ritter that he would not make such a move.
“The Governor and the Attorney General had a conversation 6-8 weeks ago about this, and the Attorney General said that he had not been asked by anyone for an opinion, nor was he intending to offer an opinion,” said Dreyer.
Suthers was not available for comment on Friday, but his spokesman, Nate Strauch, did respond to Dreyer’s claims.
“I can’t comment on a personal meeting between the Attorney General and the Governor,” said Strauch. “However, I will say that a lot changed in those 6-8 weeks, and if [that meeting did occur], then clearly the particulars of the situation have evolved since that last point.”
Critics of Suthers’ opinion questioned the timing of the move as politically-motivated. Said House Majority Leader Alice Madden in a statement:
“I’m suspect of this memo as it was clearly done quickly, at the 11th hour, and given to one party, the Republicans, first. I am amazed that a measure to end the subsidy of the wealthiest districts by the poorest districts