Amendment E aims to expand homestead exemption to include Colorado's Gold Star spouses

Posted: 10:30 AM, Nov 02, 2022
Updated: 2022-11-04 00:39:07-04
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DENVER — Of the 11 statewide ballot questions voters will face in November, only one does not have opposition. Amendment E would provide a tax break to the spouses of military members who died as a result of their service.

However, the ballot question needs a super majority 55% vote in favor in order to pass. The question made it onto the November ballot after state lawmakers passed a bill asking voters to weigh in on the change.

What Amendment E Does

Amendment E expands the current homestead exemption in order to reduce the property taxes paid by homeowners who lost their spouse due to their military service, also known as Gold Star spouses.

It applies to both service members who died in the line of duty and veterans who died as a result of service-related injuries or disease.

For qualifying homeowners, 50% of the first $200,000 of the home’s value would be exempted from taxes. For a home worth $500,000, homeowners would see a savings of roughly $630 a year.

“That can be a meaningful amount of money for them. For us as a state, it's a miniscule amount. It's estimated to be about $500,000, across all the people who might draw this money across the state budgets,” said Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument.

Right now, the homestead exemption applies to Coloradans aged 65 and older who have lived in their home for at least 10 years and veterans with service-connected disabilities rated at 100% permanent.

“The people of Colorado some time ago said we honor our elders and so elders, the senior citizens of Colorado, are the broadest group that has a homestead exemption,” Lundeen said.

If passed, Amendment E would apply to roughly 490 surviving spouses in Colorado who otherwise do not qualify for the exemption.

The Case for Amendment E

Even five years, it’s hard for Margaret Sebern to talk about her husband’s death. Sean Sebern served in the military for 23 years. The couple had enlisted together after graduating from high school.

Sean Sebern was a pilot who was diagnosed with ALS as a result of his service.

“After serving, you come home, and you think I've survived the battlefield. You don't expect this bullet, this slow bullet that comes at you,” Margaret Sebern said.

Because the military took responsibility for the diagnosis before his death, the couple qualified for Colorado’s homestead exemption. After Sean passed, that benefit carried on with his wife.

“It is a personal and financial crisis to lose your spouse, especially in the cases where it's an abrupt loss,” she said. “That monthly budget becomes a big deal. And me, just like everyone, I know you're looking at what do you do without when you're just trying to play the shell game with the monthly budget.”

While Margaret qualifies for the exemption, many other Gold Star spouses, people she has come to know and lean on for support over the years, do not.

She says it’s unfair that the exemption applies to some Gold Star spouses but not others.

Now, she would like to see that changed for the sake of the service and sacrifices their families made.

“So often people say 'thank you for your service' and we really appreciate that. But this is an opportunity to put action to words,” Sebern said. “When you're killed in action defending your country, this is the least we can do, and I know that Colorado is — they always do the right thing.”

For her, Amendment E is about trying to keep a roof over the heads of the surviving family on behalf of the service member who gave their lives for the sake of duty.

Lundeen also believes that this is the least the state can do to honor its heroes.

“We should, as the people of Colorado, honor the surviving spouses of those who gave their last full measure of devotion, who died in service to our country,” he said.

The Arguments Against Amendment E

There is no organized opposition against Amendment E. However, because it is a constitutional amendment, 55% of Colorado voters would need to approve of the ballot measure in order for it to pass.

A nonpartisan Blue Book analysis also found that the amendment only reduces taxes for Gold Star spouses who are financially able to own homes and not those who cannot afford to own a home, which could be unfair.

It also found that the intent of the homestead exemption for 100% permanently disabled veterans is to help address employment and income limitations from their disabilities. However, Gold Star spouses may not have the same employment challenges as their permanently disabled veterans.

You Decide

For years, homestead exemptions in Colorado have only applied to some veterans and their spouses.

In November, voters will decide whether it’s time to expand that property tax exemption for all spouses who lost their loved ones as a result of their service.

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