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Polis calls special session on property taxes, says ‘cost of inaction too high’

November 10, 2023, 8:24 am

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called a special session of the Colorado Legislature Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver to address property tax cuts after voters rejected Proposition HH. (Lindsey Toomer/ Colorado Newsline)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday called for a special session of the Colorado Legislature to bring property tax relief to homeowners for the 2023 tax year. 

After voters rejected Proposition HH, Polis announced that lawmakers will be back at the Colorado Capitol on Nov. 17 with the task of providing short-term property tax relief, given anticipated record-high tax increases if no action is taken. 

“Any relief for the current tax year to homeowners has to be done now,” Polis said at a press conference at the Governor’s Mansion in Denver. “We have the ability to do more and frankly, the responsibility to do more — the cost of inaction is too high.”

Proposition HH would have reduced the state’s assessment rate for residential property and raised the amount of tax revenue Colorado could keep under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the 1992 constitutional amendment that places strict limits on the state’s taxing authority. The new revenue that the state could have kept would have been used to backfill property tax revenue that local governments would have missed out on from the lower property tax rate. TABOR says that when the state collects revenue above a cap that rises according to inflation and population growth, it must refund the excess back to taxpayers.

When lawmakers referred Proposition HH to the ballot, they also set aside $200 million for it, meaning they will have $200 million to work with as they seek a solution in the special session. Polis said he hopes the General Assembly will make room for additional relief on top of this. He spoke with Democratic and Republican leaders from the state House and Senate ahead of the announcement to help them prepare.

“With rising property values leading to unaffordable tax increases, our goal is to responsibly provide real relief to the people who need it most while protecting schools, fire districts and libraries,” Colorado House Speaker Julie McCluskie said in a statement. “In this special session, we will work to boost support for renters and working people and deliver urgent property tax relief for Coloradans.”

Republican lawmakers who opposed Proposition HH because of its impact on TABOR refunds have called for a special session to address property taxes since the spring.

“While it’s disappointing that it took the overwhelming defeat of Prop. HH to get their attention, it’s certainly my hope that the Governor and Democrats will now agree to common sense reforms to Colorado’s property tax mess and not just a simple band-aid to a complex problem,” House Minority Leader Mike Lynch said in a statement. “Instead of addressing the concerns of homeowners a year ago we now have only days to correct a mess that was avoidable.”

Local governments across Colorado need to set mill levy rates in just over a month, and county assessors will need to wait to see what the Legislature comes up with before they can accurately calculate and distribute bills. Polis said the General Assembly will need to come up with a plan by Thanksgiving. 

With the special session only focused on the 2023 tax year, Polis said he wants to see a blue-ribbon panel come together from the session to determine a long-term solution to property tax relief while still supporting local government. This work will continue through normal processes once the Legislature convenes next year. 

Food and nutrition benefits

Michael Fields, president of Advance Colorado, the conservative dark-money group that bankrolled opposition to Proposition HH, welcomed the call for a special session.

“The Legislature and the Governor must roll up their sleeves and work together to produce serious and significant property tax relief,” Fields said in a statement. “Taxpayers need real leadership to craft a substantive solution that will address this crisis head on. This can’t be a content free check-the-box session.” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis called a special session of the Colorado Legislature on Thursday at the Governor’s Residence at Boettcher Mansion in Denver to address property tax cuts after voters rejected Proposition HH. (Lindsey Toomer/Colorado Newsline)

Polis admitted that many voters found Proposition HH “long and confusing,” and he said in the future something as big as the that measure could be broken down into two or three smaller packages. He said he also thinks voters want additional specificity about how changes impacting their TABOR refunds will actually save them money.

“Using the $200 million for property tax relief, I assume probably everybody liked that part of HH,” Polis said. “Now we want to take that $200 million since it was already set aside for property tax, we can get out the door rather than just sit on it. That’d be completely irresponsible to sit on it just because voters didn’t want the package of things that were in that initiative.”

The special session will also jump on a new federal law that could allow the state to provide over 300,000 children in Colorado access to food and nutrition benefits next summer. Polis said achieving this “requires immediate legislative action to meet the critical federal deadline that will bring about $35 million in benefits to low-income Colorado families and children next summer.”

A news release from the governor’s office said certain projections anticipate property tax increases of 40% to 50% in some parts of Colorado, based on higher property value assessments. 

This is the second time Polis has called for a special session. The first occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The next most recent special session in Colorado was in 2017 for addressing retail marijuana sales tax. 

In Colorado, a special session of the Legislature convenes when the governor calls for one or when requested by two-thirds of each chamber.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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