Opinion: Amendment B will increase property taxes

Michael Fields
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Discussions about the Gallagher Amendment are nothing new at the state Capitol, but what is new is the extent politicians are willing to go to hide the facts about Amendment B (Gallagher Amendment repeal) from voters in an attempt to get their way. Legislators must fear that if voters knew that this ballot issue is actually a huge property tax hike, they would overwhelmingly reject it.

One thing Coloradans should understand is that the Gallagher Amendment has been an important Constitutional protection against skyrocketing property taxes. Still, property tax revenue in Colorado has gone up 53% in the past five years. Even during this recession, revenue is projected to go up another 10% this year. But if not for Gallagher, your property tax bill would be considerably higher still.

The Gallagher Amendment, along with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, has provided a strong check on residential property tax increases, but it isn’t without its flaws. There are some areas (especially in rural Colorado) where property values aren’t increasing and local services are suffering. But instead of looking at a regional or county-based solution, legislators want to raise taxes on everyone. While proponents of Amendment B are quick to point out the current high tax burden on businesses in our state, their proposal does nothing to address it. The commercial tax rate will remain at 29% if this amendment passes.

That’s one of the most concerning things about Amendment B: It would repeal the Gallagher Amendment without a plan for how to replace it. We know it will be an immediate tax increase on residential property, but then what? Do you think the majority will push for higher or lower taxes? 

Legislators rushed this proposal through at the end of the session and are asking us to blindly trust them with whatever they decide to do next. Over the years, the Legislature and courts have blown holes in TABOR on everything from enterprises to mill levy freezes to certificates of participation. I’m worried about the uncertainty that comes with repealing the Gallagher Amendment, and you should be, too.

It’s especially hard to trust legislators on this when they aren’t even honest in the ballot language or in the blue book. The ballot language starts out by saying, “Without raising property tax rates … .” If Gallagher is repealed, the assessment rate on residential property will be 7.15%. If it is not repealed, it is set to drop to 5.88%. To say that’s not a higher rate is simply not true.

The legislators also took it upon themselves to completely rewrite the blue book voter information guide language in order to further confuse voters into thinking this isn’t a tax increase. (Editor’s note: A lawsuit attempting to delay printing of the state-issued voter guide because of changes state lawmakers made to language describing the question was dismissed in Denver District Court.)

Their actions amount to a campaign advocacy mailer to repeal Gallagher. If any of us wanted to do that, we’d have to raise millions of dollars to distribute our message and report it to the Secretary of State. 

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According to Ballotpedia, a person needs 43 years of formal education to read and understand the ballot language. Repealing the Gallagher Amendment will have big, long-term impacts on property taxes, and the state legislators who wrote and passed this referendum are doing a disservice to Coloradans by making it so difficult to understand.

The last time voters were asked to repeal Gallagher (although under less confusing ballot language) they rejected it by a 78% to 22% margin. When voters understand the implications, they will again realize that raising taxes on homes and apartments (especially during a recession) is a bad idea. 

I’m one of the first to admit that there are problems with the Gallagher Amendment, and I hope that when Amendment B fails, we will have a chance to work on solutions that make our system work better for the whole state. We can do this by moving to a regional approach, which already has a lot of bipartisan support and by addressing the education funding formula.

We know that the cost of living for Coloradans continues to increase, and part of that is the government’s fault. On top of incomes taxes, sales taxes and skyrocketing fees, politicians now want more property taxes, too. Enough is enough. 

Amendment B takes a hammer to our constitution when what we really need is a scalpel and lawmakers who are willing to take the time to do the hard work. The Gallagher Amendment isn’t perfect, but a repeal means higher property taxes for everyone.

Vote “no” on Amendment B.

Michael Fields is the executive director of Colorado Rising State Action.

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