Attention mountain homeowners: The Colorado legislature wants to reward you for what you have to do anyway.
(It’s already rewarding most of us for simply getting old and staying put, but we’ll get to that later.)
House Bill 1012 is a warm and fuzzy bipartisan bill, which should make you immediately suspicious in this hyper-partisan session. It swept through the House 57-7 on Feb. 11 and now awaits action in a Senate committee.
The measure would continue for 11 years a state income tax deduction of up to $2,500 for those living in or near the mountains who spend money on “wildfire mitigation measures.”
It is sponsored in the House by Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen and Claire Levy, D-Boulder, and in the Senate by Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, and Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk. Pandering for votes with the tax code, apparently, is something Republicans and Democrats can agree on.
If you live surrounded by brush and trees, you can’t even get homeowner insurance unless you make sure you remove nearby brush and weeds, cut down trees within a certain distance, remove the lower branches on trees farther away and take other safety steps.
What’s more, testimony in the House Finance Committee indicated that at least some volunteer fire departments tell mountain homeowners they won’t even try to save their structures unless specific mitigation efforts are made.
So why do you need some penny-ante break on your state income tax to encourage you? You don’t, but H.B. 1012 will provide it anyway.
Half the money you spend on a chain saw, say, and on any other out-of-pocket expenses creating a defensible space around your home can be deducted from your taxable income — up to $2,500 a year. You have to have receipts for your payouts, but apparently the Revenue Department rarely checks you out. Your own labor and volunteer help is not deductible.
There is no means testing, meaning the break is available for those with hovels or $2 million homes.
The seven lawmakers voting no weren’t impressed. “If you’re going to move into an area where fire is a risk, it’s your responsibility to do your own fire mitigation,” said Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton. A mountain home is a major investment, he noted, and “I don’t see why government should be subsidizing your personal choice.”
Two of the other six no votes, Reps. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, and Lori Saine, R-Dacono, voted yes in committee, but apparently got religion later.
The bill isn’t projected to cost the state much — only $58,000 by fiscal 2015. Apparently mountain dwellers either don’t know about the existing deal –it’s been around four years — or don’t take the deduction. But even if it doesn’t hurt the state too much, sponsorship might look good on a re-election brochure.
IN ADDITION TO NEEDLESSLY HELPING OUT mountain homeowners, the legislature likes to subsidize the old and inertial.
People like… well, me.
I got my property tax bill a couple of weeks ago, and it’s about half of what it was last year. That’s because lawmakers last year agreed to reinstate the infamous senior property tax break. It exempts 50 percent of the first $200,000 of a residential property’s actual value. To be eligible you must be 65 or older and have lived in the house at least 10 years.
If you’ve had the gumption to move to a smaller or larger place in the past decade — too bad! You don’t qualify. There is no means testing. Rich and poor alike can claim it.
Do I like it? Sure! Do I need it? No. I may have been a frayed and humble newspaperman, but the mortgage is paid off and I can pay full taxes.
This is a tax break so unreasonable that even TABOR’s Douglas Bruce himself — you remember him, don’t you? — was against it.
The law first took effect for property taxes paid in 2003. The legislature is entitled to suspend it when the state budget is tight, and this is the first time in the last four years — and the fifth in the last 11 — that it’s been in effect.
Serious money is involved. It’s expected to cost the state almost $100 million this year, since the state has to compensate the local governments for what they don’t get from us geezers. It’s money that could otherwise be spent on roads, schools and other essentials.
It’s not a necessary tax break, even for the poorest homeowners. Under another program in effect for decades, seniors can have the state treasurer pay their property taxes until they die and the home is sold, when the state gets the money back plus a little interest.
It’s strictly a pander for the old folks. “The days of balancing the budget on the backs of seniors are over,” proclaimed former House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, when announcing he would push for reinstatement of the exemption.
But does it work as an election tool? Apparently not. Though McNulty managed to ramrod the break through in 2012, the Republicans slipped from 33 seats to 28 in November, losing control of the House.
Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake andwww.CompleteColorado.com