DENVER — A bill introduced in the Colorado Senate on June 2, in the waning days of the regular legislative session, seeks to establish new property tax classifications. But according to the proponent of a ballot measure to reduce property tax rates, the bill is aimed at circumventing the constitutionally protected citizens’ initiative process.
“It sets a big precedent,” said Michael Fields executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a Denver-based, non-profit, which according to the group’s website focuses on fighting for lower taxes, affordable and accessible health care, free enterprise, and against over-regulation.
Fields is referring to Senate Bill 21-293, Property Tax Classification and Assessment Rates. The bill would essentially make Fields’ initiative, which is currently in the signature-collecting phase, moot.
Fields’ initiative, “Property Tax Assessment Rate Reduction and Voter-Approved Revenue Change” would lower the property tax assessment on both residential and commercial properties by 9 percent.
Currently residential assessments are at 7.15 percent and commercial property is taxed at 29 percent. If passed by voters, Fields’ initiative would permanently change those to 6.5 percent and 26.39 percent, respectively.
The biggest issue under SB 293, Fields said, is it changes the property tax classifications by adding “sub-classes” under both the residential and commercial classifications, including classifications for agricultural property, lodging property, and renewable energy production property as new sub-classes of commercial property, as well as multi-family residential real estate as a new sub-class of residential property.
SB 293 would also temporarily lower the assessment rates for those new sub-classes to 26.4 percent and 6.8 percent respectively for tax years 2022 and 2023. All other residential classifications would be temporarily reduced from 7.15 percent to 6.95 percent. There would be no reduction for other commercial property.
The new classifications would make the definitions in Fields’ initiative, which lowers tax rates across the board, mostly moot.
“It says in any case if the legislature doesn’t like something citizens do, they can just change the language in the law at the last second,” Fields said.
In fact, the bill specifically identifies Fields’ initiative and states the temporary reduction for certain classifications would only take effect if the ballot measure were to fail.
“Temporarily reducing the assessment rate … contingent on a related initiative not being approved by voters,” the bill reads in part.
Fields said his group will both legally challenge this bill and still continue with the initiative. He does not believe any court could allow the bill to move forward.
“It takes away the initiative process,” Fields said. “We have timelines and deadlines we have to meet. I just don’t see how that happens. Our initiative is a $1 billion tax cut. If it doesn’t happen, Democrats can explain to voters why they didn’t get it.”
Western Slope Republican Bob Rankin and Denver Democrat Chris Hansen are sponsors in the Senate, along with Pueblo Democrat Daneya Esgar in the House.
“It’s just games they are trying to play to not let voters weigh in on stuff,” Fields said. “They are saying ‘citizens can bring something forward, but we’ll just change things around if we don’t like it.’ ”
The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Finance Committee on June 3.
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