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Democrats pass Colorado property tax bill, critics say it shrinks TABOR refunds

Republicans and Democrats at odds about property tax relief and other tax measures
Potential high property taxes have Coloradans pushing for lawmakers to act
Posted at 9:18 AM, May 10, 2023

DENVER — Democratic lawmakers passed a property tax relief bill on Monday, the last day of the 2023 legislative session. The measure will now go before Colorado voters this November as Proposition HH.

It comes after many homeowners experienced sticker shock with their latest property tax assessments in the past two or three weeks. Some homeowners are reporting increases of 50% or more in their property values.

This relief package will lower those property taxes by about 18-20% for the average homeowner through a combination of creative relief and tax-cutting strategies weaved into Senate Bill 303.

“We know housing is far too expensive in our state,” said Governor Jared Polis at a news conference on Tuesday at the State Capitol. “And it’s pricing folks out of their communities.”

Proposition HH also includes a $600 TABOR refund for every Coloradan regardless of whether you’re a homeowner or a renter.

You can only get the refund by voting for the property tax decrease, which has some lawmakers calling foul about the connection between the two.

“I don’t think it’s fair to link those two issues together,” said Rep. Mike Lynch, a Republican from Larimer and Weld Counties. “They’re really different. They’re coming from a different tax revenue source, so why would those two things be attached? And it’s pretty blatant what’s going on. You get one thing if you vote for this.”

Senate Republicans take it a step further and said Prop HH is a bait and switch by Democrats to ultimately eliminate the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) permanently.

“Simply a marketing tool to try and incent the voters of Colorado to vote in favor of HH which will, over time, abolish the TABOR refund in order to get at a little bit of property tax relief,” said State Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-El Paso County. “That’s not the way it should be done.”

A nonpartisan council said Coloradans can expect approximately a 23% decrease in their TABOR refunds in 2025 if voters approve the November ballot initiative.

A preliminary 16-page analysis by the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council Staff was published after Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and other legislators announced SB 303 on Monday.

Democrats said the two are closely related enough, so why not put them on the ballot together?

“I think that’s a reasonable way to say, ‘Look, we can do all these things,’” Polis said. “We can show a strong and healthy surplus, we can reduce property taxes, by reducing property taxes it reduces revenues for many districts, we can backfill some of that.”

“This package is largely about property tax relief in a moment when property taxes are expected to skyrocket,” said State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “The opposition is saying we’re taking away everyone’s TABOR refunds and we’re not. We want to make it clear that everybody is still going to get a refund into the future.”