Jerry Kopel

Former State Rep. Tommy Neal has died. Neal, aged 77, suffered complications from an asthma attack in Grand Junction. In all the years I knew Tommy, I never saw him angry. If you wanted to calm down and lower your blood pressure, Tommy was the gentleman to talk to.

Tommy Neal was a product of the South, born in Texas, educated in Alabama, with a college degree from Baylor, and then an MA from Northwestern University. A World War II veteran, Tommy served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the European Theatre of Operations.

He was appointed to the Colorado House in December, 1965, as a Democrat from Durango, replacing the deceased Rep. R.E. (Pat) O'Brien. Tommy and I served together in the 1966 General Assembly, where the Democrats had a 42 to 23 majority. He was elected to the House in 1966 and again in 1968. Neal didn't seek re-election in 1970, opting instead to run the Kansas' state government reorganization commission.

In 1974, Tommy ran for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. He didn't make it to the Democratic primary, but he did leave one of the more memorable lines from that campaign. Standing on a street corner, interviewed by a reporter who asked him "Where's your campaign headquarters?", Tommy responded, pointing to his left, "Right in that phone booth."

Tommy's political career had not ended. Gov. Dick Lamm appointed him to the State Board of Land Commissioners, where he served two terms. His last position was with the National Conference of State Legislators, working until he retired in 1998 at age 76.

Tommy Neal's vocations knew no boundaries: High school teacher in Durango, journalist on the Durango Herald, co-publisher of the Silverton Standard, and administrative aide to then Congressman Wayne Aspinall.

Well educated, highly intelligent, Tommy became an accomplished legislator, who knew his way around the state legislative morass, getting his way more often than others realized.

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A recent editorial in the Denver Rocky Mountain News by Peter Blake on the casino gambling tax reduction (it isn't hard to figure out who writes which anonymous editorial) raised an interesting issue as to who came first, the chicken or the egg?

The state constitution gives the Limited Gaming Commission the power to decide annually how much casinos will pay in taxes, "according to the criteria established by the general assembly..." The only way to set a tax rate is by "rule".

Rules adopted or amended within a previous November 1 through October 31 are subject to annual review by the legislature. Those rules have a shelf life expiring May 15th of the succeeding year. The House-Senate Legal Services Committee reviews the rules and by way of a bill, they state which rules won't continue to be in operation.

The News editorial by Blake raised the issue of whether the TABOR amendment to the constitution, requiring tax hikes to be approved by the voters, applied to the gaming commission. However, Blake also mentioned in his editorial an aborted attempt in 1997 by the Legal Services Committee to repeal a 1996 gaming commission tax rule which raised the top tax rate from 18 to 20 percent.

The reason for the increase was that of 59 Colorado casinos, the top five had 43 percent of all the casino adjusted income (money left after payouts to gamblers), while the smaller casinos were not doing too well.

According to a 1997 Denver Rocky Mountain News article by John Sanko, the five top casinos claimed the (proposed) tax increase from 18 to 20 percent violated the TABOR amendment and they would likely appeal any increase to the courts. The tax was increased and no appeal was made to the courts.

Can the legislature repeal a tax reduction or tax hike put into effect by the gaming commission on casinos? What happens to the tax system in place for casinos? CRS 24-4-103 (8) (d) warns that "Passage of a bill repealing a rule does not result in revival of a predecessor rule."

Can the gaming commission simply ignore the legislature's action by repromulgating the same rule and claim it has the constitutional

authority to do so? Otherwise there would be NO taxes, since the legislature CAN'T pass a casino tax. I guess we will have to wait and see what the courts decide (if it ever gets that far).

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According to actuaries of the state's deferred compensation plan, I should live to be 86. Hah! They had to make that decision to determine the annual payout to folks at age 70 1/2 from retirement fund money. That payout is required by the Internal Revenue Service.

The state of Colorado doesn't agree. Under its mortality table in CRS 13-25-103, I'll only last until age 84. The table is important in insurance statistics and premium costs, as well as in damage claims for injuries and wrongful death. When the table is not updated to reflect real life expectancy, someone or some business is being cheated.

The present mortality table was adopted in Colorado in 1993, using the numbers available for 1988. That table is now 10 years out of date. A bill in 2000 could replace the present mortality table with one from 1998. Anyone interested?

However, the mortality table under CRS 13-25-103 is "space age" compared to the "stone age" table found in CRS 39-23-116 relating to taxation of annuities and other assets. Under "expectancy of life, American experience table" I should last until age 79.

While the interest rate on the value of annuities has changed (the last time was in 1945 when it dropped from 5 to 4 percent), the mortality table is the same as the one adopted in 1927 in a bill by Rep. Rudolph Johnson, R-Boulder and Sen. Henry Toll, R-Denver.

Those gentlemen would be "proud" to know their law has avoided ANY change in 54 years and it's been 72 years since the mortality table itself was revised. However, I wonder if all the previous directors of the Department of Revenue should feel as "proud".

If the law is obsolete and useless, it should be repealed, or if it is still needed, the Revenue Dept. should seek revision.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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