Do you know anyone with 43 years of education? According to Ballotpedia, a person needs this much formal education to read and comprehend the ballot initiative to repeal Colorado’s Gallagher Amendment.
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.
Not only is it confusing, it’s also extremely biased. The first sentence of the ballot initiative starts: “Without raising property tax rates.” This is misleading because if Gallagher is not repealed, our residential assessment rate is projected to be 5.88%. If Gallagher is repealed, that rate will be 7.15%. Put simply, this is absolutely a tax increase.
The Gallagher Amendment was passed by voters in 1982 to ensure that there was a balance between residential and commercial property taxes. While the residential property assessment rate has declined over the years, the number of local taxes and the value of your property have both gone up a lot in most parts of the state. That’s why you typically see higher and higher property taxes each year. But because of Gallagher, state legislators cannot arbitrarily raise property tax assessment rates to bring in revenue. In short, your property taxes — and the rates that property owners charge to renters — are lower than they would be without the amendment.
Some legislators are rightfully concerned about what Gallagher means for businesses in our state. The commercial assessment rate has remained the same through the years, which means businesses are bearing the brunt of property taxes. The problem with repealing Gallagher, however, is that it would do nothing to help businesses. The commercial rate remains the same for now — and it is extremely unlikely that legislators would ever lower it in the future. Can you imagine the government cutting its revenue to provide business tax cuts? I can’t.
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.
The Gallagher Amendment isn’t perfect, and parts of it can and should be examined by the legislature — like the education funding formula. But a complete repeal is bad policy and will have unintended consequences that make it more difficult for our state to recover from this recession. The last time voters were asked to repeal Gallagher (although under less confusing ballot language) they rejected it by a 78%-22% margin, and we expect that when voters understand the convoluted language and the implications, they will reject it again.
Michael Fields is executive director of Colorado Rising State Action.