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Ed leaders sign on to TABOR suit

Several Colorado education figures are among the long list of plaintiffs on a lawsuit filed in federal court this week seeking to overturn the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment to the state constitution.

Nearly half of the 34 plaintiffs have education roles or ties, several of them as elected school board members. Others include two former University of Colorado presidents and one member each from the CU Board of Regents and the State Board of Education.

The suit, being handled without fee by attorneys from two high-powered Denver law firms, claims TABOR violates the “representative” form of government required of each state by the U.S. constitution because the amendment takes away the legislature’s power to tax.

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The lawsuit’s 34 plaintiffs are a cross section of legislators, local government officials and others.

Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, is the lead plaintiff. A Jeffco Schools curriculum specialist, Kerr is a former member of the House Education Committee. Former Democratic Rep. Mike Merrifield, once chair of House Ed, also is signed on the suit. Other plaintiffs connected to education are:

  • Jane Barnes, a Republican member of the Jeffco school board and a director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
  • Elaine Gantz Berman, a Democratic member of the State Board of Education and a former member of the DPS board.
  • Paul Booth, a Democrat from Durango who teaches at Fort Lewis College.
  • Alexander E. Bracken, Republican advisory board chair for the entrepreneurship center at the CU business school and CU president in 2000.
  • Bill Bregar, a Democratic member of the Pueblo County school board, a CASB executive committee member and a member of the State Council for Educator Effectiveness.
  • Bruce Broderius, a Republican member of the Greeley school board who testifies regularly at the legislature on school finance issues.
  • John Buechner, Republican president of CU from 1995 to 2000, former mayor of Boulder and current member of the Lafayette City Council.
  • Dr. Richard Byyny, Democratic former CU-Boulder chancellor.
  • Theresa Crater, a Democratic English professor at Metro State.
  • Robin Crossan, a Republican member of the Steamboat Springs school board.
  • Stephanie Garcia, a Democratic member of the Pueblo City school board.
  • Monisha Merchant, a Democratic member of the Board of Regents.
  • Joseph White, a Republican teacher at ThunderRidge High School.

Former Republican state Sen. Norma Anderson of Lakewood, an expert in school finance and TABOR critic, also is a plaintiff.

The law firms handling the case are McKenna Long & Aldridge and Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck. The McKenna team includes Herb Fenster, who has longstanding ties to CU and who told legislators two years ago that such a suit was in the works, and David Skaggs, Democratic former congressman from Boulder and former director of the Department of Higher Education.

Brownstein is one of the most politically connected law firms in the state. On its team is Democratic former legislator Mike Feeley, an influential Capitol lobbyist whose clients include Colorado State University.

Quick udpate on other ed-related court actions

  • The TABOR case makes the third big state policy issue that’s now in court.
  • Lobato v. State, which challenges the adequacy of school funding in Colorado, is scheduled to start trial in Denver District Court on Aug. 1.
  • Justus v. State, which seeks to overturn the legislature’s 2010 reforms of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, is scheduled for trial next February. That suit could have important implications for the tens of thousands of teachers, retired teachers and higher education employees who are covered by PERA.