Families and seniors living in Jefferson County (JeffCo) are currently protected from unlimited county tax increases by a reasonable spending limitation imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). But if passed in November, Ballot Issue IA will remove this long-standing taxpayer protection, resulting in increased taxes and an overall increase in the cost of living for everyone living in JeffCo. As taxpayers we will also lose our right to vote for or against tax increases imposed by JeffCo. This will be especially harmful for low-to-moderate income families and seniors living on fixed incomes.
Your tax burden will go up
Under TABOR, JeffCo is limited by how much they can increase our taxes. This limit is called the “TABOR cap.” JeffCo must ask our permission to increase our taxes above this protective cap. Ballot Issue 1A will remove this protective tax increase cap and allow county government to take any overcollected taxes that would otherwise be refunded under TABOR as “excess revenue” to spend virtually any way it chooses.
In order to comply with the TABOR cap requirements, JeffCo has reduced the property tax mill levy in prior years resulting in a lower property tax burden for homeowners. Based on anticipated 2020 “excess revenues,” a homeowner with a $400,000 home will receive a mill levy reduction, resulting in a $218 annual reduction in property taxes for a husband and wife jointly owning a home. Under the Issue 1A scheme, the County would instead keep and spend overcollected taxes, resulting in a higher property tax burden for homeowners and rent increases for Jeffco residents who are already struggling to make ends meet. The $218 tax increase in the example above may not seem like much to some, but many families simply cannot afford such an increase in their housing costs.
JeffCo Ballot Issue 1A will also allow similar increases in business property taxes and in sales taxes. This will increase the cost of goods and services for everyone in Jefferson County, disproportionately impacting families with lower incomes including seniors on fixed incomes.
1A is a blank check
We all want to support fire and police protection, and social services to care for those among us who need our help, but under Issue 1A there is no guarantee how the “excess revenues” kept by JeffCo (your TABOR refund) will be spent. The ballot language indicates that excess revenues (your refund) could be spent on things like public safety, transportation, and maintaining public facilities, but it could also be spent on “providing services traditionally offered by Jefferson County and other Colorado County governments and other statutorily required services.”
What does this last statement really mean? Because the language is so broad, there is absolutely no guarantee the money that would otherwise be refunded to taxpayers will be spent by JeffCo on things like public safety or other taxpayer priorities.
Families living in JeffCo recognize that we must live within our means. Why shouldn’t our county government be expected to do the same? Jefferson County can already spend 5.5% above the TABOR cap or the percent of inflation from last year (3.1%) plus the growth rate (.91%), whichever is less, meaning this year Jeffco increased spending by over 4%, and can increase spending again next year, without 1A. If your income went up, did it increase by this much this year? How about low-income individuals and seniors on fixed incomes?
The 1A language is complicated and misleading
The 1A ballot language approved by the Jefferson County Commission begins with the statement “without creating any new tax or increasing the current authorized county mill levy without voter approval, shall Jefferson County be permitted to retain and spend or reserve all revenues received during 2020 and expiring in 2026 (7 years), notwithstanding limitations on spending and revenue contained in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights….provided that the maximum amount the county may retain and spend or reserve above such limits in 2020 may not exceed $16.1 million….”.
It is true that no new taxes will be directly created, and the authorized county mill levy will not be increased. However, this completely misses the point and is meant to distract the voter from the fact that they will lose their TABOR refund, due to the cancellation of the mill levy reduction that they have been receiving, resulting in future increases in their property taxes. The ballot fails to directly and honestly inform the voter about this very real increase in their property and other taxes that will result if Ballot Issue 1A is approved.
JeffCo Ballot Issue 1A will result in virtually unlimited property tax increases through 2026, and unlimited sales and other non-property tax increases forever. 1A is bad for families and seniors on a fixed income. Vote No on Jeffco Ballot Issue 1A.
Steve Kopp is an attorney from Evergreen, CO who currently serves as the Senior Policy Advisor to the Colorado State House of Representatives Minority Office.