EL PASO COUNTY — Twelve counties have filed a lawsuit against the State of Colorado following Governor Jared Polis signing SB 23-303, a bill that refers a measure to the November ballot to try and reduce property taxes in the state.
Senate Bill 23-303 will require voters to decide on a ballot issue in November of 2023 to put measures in place to try and reduce property taxes in the state as well as retain excess revenue, typically refunded under the state's Taxpayer Bill or Rights (TABOR).
If the ballot issue passes, the state would take off $40,000 of a homeowner's taxable value and lower the assessment rate from 6.76% to 6.7%, which is used to calculate property taxes for the 2023 and 2024 tax years.
Allowing the state to retain excess revenue is something supporters of the bill say will help the state backfill the budget from revenue lost under tax cuts.
Governor Polis and bill sponsors say the average Colorado homeowner would save $1,078 over the next two years and $3,417 over the next five years if the bill is passed by voters.
Opponents of the bill argue that the backfill of state programs through the use of TABOR funds is not a permanent solution and something that the state knew was on its way after the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment in 2020.
When the bill was first introduced Minority House Leader Mike Lynch, R-Wellington stated:
“While we at the Capitol were making too many new laws that were way too expensive, real Coloradans across the state have been opening up their mail and finding tax bills they cannot pay. Democrats and the Governor waited until the last minute to fix a problem they knew was coming all along. House Republicans have been raising this urgent issue for months, if not longer. The Democrats cannot treat TABOR like an ATM machine to resolve the state's financial issues, most of which are self-inflicted. The people of Colorado should be skeptical of the Governor’s hastily introduced plan with only one week left in the session. He seems to want to convince us this plan will solve all financial shortfalls, such as school funding, teacher pay, fire, and police, and resolve Colorado’s property tax issues for homeowners and businesses. Given this sugar-coated plan must be approved by voters, it's concerning the Governor has no PLAN B if it fails."
In advance of Governor Polis signing the bill, Advance Colorado, a conservative advocacy group, has filed a lawsuit with representation from 12 counties across Colorado, including El Paso County.
In a press release Wednesday, Advance Colorado stated their lawsuit focuses on SB23-303 and Proposition HH and calls them single subject and "clear-title" violations.
“Rather than transparent and honest policy, this is an attempt to lure Coloradans in with a false promise of property tax relief, but is really an exploitation of struggling families," said Carrie Geitner, El Paso County Commissioner. "This bill is a sloppy bait and switch – a tiny tax decrease is the bait, but Coloradans will be worse off if they are tricked into giving up the TABOR refunds they are owed.”
The 0.06% assessment rate reduction outlined in the bill would continue in future years for primary residences, while second homes or investment properties would be excluded.
The lawsuit group cites the following five points from the complaint as to why the bill and voter proposition are unconstitutional.
"1. Colorado citizens are facing a $3 billion to $4 billion property tax increase in 2024. In response to the higher assessments, the General Assembly waited until the last day of session to pass SB23-303. Embedded in SB23-303 is a Referred Measure, Proposition HH. The Bill and the Referred Measure each unconstitutionally 'logroll' by pairing a politically popular notion (slightly reducing property tax assessment rates) with an unpopular notion (retaining an increasing amount of TABOR refunds – $10 billion over 10 years – and permanently eliminating them shortly thereafter).
2. SB23-303 sponsor, Representative Chris DeGruy Kennedy explained that this 'piece of legislation must tackle several problems at the same time.' (https://www.kennedy4co.com/ [kennedy4co.com]2023/05/19/rising-to-face-the-toughest-challenges/)
3. Indeed, the Bill’s title and Proposition HH's ballot language embedded in the Bill both fail to clearly express a single subject as required by Article V of the Colorado Constitution and intentionally mislead voters while failing to meet the standard of clearly describing the subject of the measure in a way the average voter could understand. The Bill and ballot titles each fail to include any numbers concerning the property tax assessment rates and do not inform voters that the property tax assessment reduction is a mere 0.06% next year.
4. Colorado law and precedent require that voters be fairly informed of significant changes to law – which the sponsor acknowledges exists here – and of relevant numbers when they are asked to vote on a measure. Moreover, Colorado law and precedent first requires that any bill, ballot initiative, or referred measure comply with the single subject requirement so that voters can make an informed choice. SB23-303 unconstitutionally includes at least four separate subjects.
5. Local governments and local government officials from all four corners of Colorado have joined this lawsuit to ask for declaratory judgment that SB23-303 and Prop HH – both separately and together – are unconstitutional and therefore void."
El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez, Jr. said he is on board with the lawsuit against the state. He said Gov. Polis' should, instead, sign off on Senate Bill 23-108 which would allow local governments to provide temporary property tax relief through temporary property tax credits or mill levy reductions.
"Bill 108 would allow government entities to reduce the rates and again, be able to fix this at the local level," Gonzalez said. "What Governor Polis is doing, I think he is trying to fool residents into approving a very, very minimal property tax reduction for the state keeping up to a billion dollars a year for them to use in any way that they want."
The Governor's Office sent News5 this statement regarding the lawsuit filed by Advance Colorado:
“We won’t comment on this active litigation. The Governor in partnership with the legislature is focused on delivering real property tax relief for Coloradans, seniors, and hardworking families who want to stay in their homes, and he is hopeful the plaintiffs of this lawsuit will not deny the voters the ability to prevent steep increases in their property tax bills.”
Michael Fields, President of Advance Colorado, said the litigation will go through an expedited process since it is in regard to the ballot measure on this November's ballot.
News5 will continue to track the lawsuit and provide updates when available.
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