Colo. lawmakers punt property tax dilemma to summer
Author: Associated Press - May 3, 2018 - Updated: May 3, 2018
After a late legislative push fell apart, Colorado lawmakers won’t take action this session on one of the state’s most pressing financial dilemmas: a constitutional trigger that’s expected to cut statewide property taxes by as much as 15 percent in 2019.
Instead, a bipartisan coalition of 42 lawmakers in late April won approval to study the complicated policy issue in an interim committee this summer with the goal of sending voters a reform package on the 2020 ballot.
Since its adoption in 1982, the tax-limiting provision of the state constitution known as the Gallagher Amendment has steadily reduced residential assessment rates from 21 percent of a home’s value to 7.2 percent today.
That’s provided relief to homeowners, who are constitutionally protected from paying more than 45 percent of the state property tax base, with commercial and other property owners picking up the rest. But it has also steadily chipped away at local government services, such as fire protection, that rely on property taxes for revenue.
Schools districts, too, have seen their property tax revenue plummet over the years, shifting more of the costs of education to the state government, which is required to backfill any decline in revenue.
There’s broad bipartisan agreement that the current trajectory is unsustainable. The state now covers 64 percent of the costs of schools, up from just 43 percent in the 1980s, squeezing other needs such as transportation. But any solution is likely to be complicated — and politically difficult.
Rural areas are the hardest hit, but they are predominantly represented by Republicans who are ideologically opposed to higher taxes — even in the form of preventing future tax cuts.
Democrats have fewer qualms about raising taxes, but the urban areas they represent are largely being provided tax relief without the accompanying pinch on public services — at a time when the rising cost of living is among the top issues their constituents face.
Punting the discussion to the legislative off-season means Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is likely to leave office without accomplishing one of his top goals: A meaningful untangling of what he calls the state’s “fiscal thicket,” the complicated interplay between the state’s many constitutional requirements on spending and taxation.
Changing or repealing Gallagher requires a constitutional amendment, which needs supermajority support from lawmakers and voters.