DENVER — Colorado voters will soon decide the future of Proposition HH, a proposal from state Democrats to reduce property tax rates and spend money that would otherwise be sent back to taxpayers through Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds.
State Republican lawmakers have been vocal in their opposition to Proposition HH, saying it is using a "property tax crisis" to "undermine the Taxpayer Bill of Rights."
At a press conference at the Colorado State Capitol Wednesday, several gathered to call on Governor Jared Polis to call a special session on property taxes.
"Coloradans are currently experiencing the largest tax increase we have ever seen," said Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen. "The average increase in taxable value on a home in Colorado is up 37 percent. In Pitkin County, homeowners are seeing an 81 percent increase in taxable value on their homes. In 10 Colorado counties, homeowners are seeing an increase exceeding 50 percent. Homeowners are now wondering if they will be able to afford these increases when they come due in February. We cannot wait until January 2024, until the next legislative session to address this. The people of Colorado need tax relief now."
Proposition HH: What is it? Why is there so much debate over it?
In addition to demanding a special session from Polis, Republican lawmakers shared three policy proposals they would introduce as bills.
First among the proposals is an expansion to the exemption currently available to seniors and veterans with disabilities, offered through the Homestead Exemption Act. The bill, as described, would raise the current exemption from $100,000 to $200,000.
"That would be a 50 percent reduction, essentially, on homes valued up to $400,000," Senator Barbara Kirkmeyer said.
The second proposal would drop the state's property assessment rate from 6.77% to 6.7%, the same reduction in Proposition HH. Republican lawmakers said this would be the "starting point" for the assessment rate statewide, and that local governments could reduce the rate further from there.
"Our goal is to... work with our partners in government to talk about how far they can go down, what they can tolerate and still provide the services they need to provide within their local government taxing entity," Kirkmeyer said. "And how far can we as a state go down and still be able to fund education, and make sure that we have the appropriate funds in place for the School Finance Act."
The third proposal shared was not directly related to property taxes, but would impact every Colorado taxpayer. It would permanently reduce the state income tax from 4.4% to 4%.
Kirkmeyer said the reduction in taxes would cut into projected budget surpluses, and would not require budget cuts. She said leaving more money in taxpayers' pockets would help them weather the higher property taxes.
"The governor did say in the State of the State [address] that he thought we should reduce the state income tax by using the TABOR surplus," Kirkmeyer said. "We agree wholeheartedly."
Colorado voter guide 2023: A look at the key issues on the November ballot
Ultimately, even if Polis did call a special session, Democrats hold the majority in both chambers of the legislature and would control what bills are vote on and passed. When asked about that, Lundeen said these calls for a special session and policies are the Republican conference "pushing our way into the conversation at this point."
In response to the calls from the GOP, the "Yes on HH" group sent Denver7 a statement calling the move a "last minute political stunt to try and confuse voters."
"Prop HH is a responsible approach to meaningful property tax relief in a way that doesn't result in cutting budgets for local services like schools, fire districts, and libraries," the statement reads in part. "Time and time again, the far-right has demanded that we cut taxes without paying for them - and demanding a special session two weeks prior to Election Day is just a distraction and a political stunt."
Voters will ultimately decide the fate of Proposition HH on Election Day, November 7, 2023.