DENVER — It appears Colorado voters will get the opportunity — again — to give themselves some tax relief, as well as decide who gets to spend what are known as “custodial funds,” or money that flows into the state from sources other than Colorado taxpayers.
Proponents for ballot Initiatives 19 and 27, which would ensure that all state money is allocated by the legislature and cut property tax assessment rates by 9 percent, respectively, say they have collected the needed signatures to put both measures on the November 2021 statewide ballot.
They turned them into the Secretary of State’s office Monday.
Michael Fields, executive director of Colorado Rising Action, a Denver-based, non-profit, which according to the group’s website advocates for lower taxes, affordable and accessible health care, free enterprise, and against over-regulation, said signatures were cross checked throughout the gathering process to ensure they were valid, so he is confident his group has more than enough to meet the roughly 125,000-signature requirement.
“People were excited to sign them,” Fields said. “Especially the property tax one. I think they were relevant this year because of all the COVID money the governor spent, the money he’s getting from companies to hire staff and the settlements coming into the AG’s office. The legislature should be deciding how to spend that.”
Fields was referring to Initiative 19 which, instead of allowing the Governor or Attorney General to spend money that comes into the state from outside sources such as legal settlements or federal COVID relief funds, the state legislature would have the necessary oversight to determine how the money should be spent.
“There is always extra money in there, and it sits in the bank for a very long time, gathering interest,” Fields said. “Millions get spent how they want.”
Initiative 19, for which Fields turned in a little under 200,000 signatures, is a change to the Colorado Constitution and therefore needs more than 55 percent of voters to approve.
Initiative 27, for which proponents gathered around 192,500 signatures, would cut property tax assessment rates by 9 percent on both residential and non-residential property as well as provide $25 million in funding for the Homestead Exemption, a property tax break for seniors and disabled veterans. Because it is a statutory measure, it only requires 50 percent plus one vote to pass.
In 2016, when he was with American’s For Prosperity, Fields was part of the coalition that overwhelmingly killed Amendment 69, which would have added a 10 percent payroll tax to fund universal healthcare in Colorado.
In 2018, Fields helped defeat Amendment 73, which would have created a progressive state income tax system to replace the existing flat income tax rate and raise taxes on many Coloradans, as well as hiking the corporate income tax rate.
And in 2019, Fields helped defeat Proposition CC, which would have effectively killed Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment by allowing the state to automatically keep over-collected tax revenues rather than refunding the money to taxpayers.
It was in 2020, that Fields got on the proactive side of the initiatives, working with folks like the Independence Institute’s* Jon Caldara to go to the voters with new laws, including cutting the state’s income tax (Proposition 116) and requiring voter approval on certain new “fees” and enterprise funds (Proposition 117), both of which were successful.
He is also currently working on two other initiatives to bring to voters in 2022. One would cut the gasoline tax and one would cut the state sales tax.
To combat Fields, lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation that may land Initiative 27 in court if passed with Senate Bill 21-293, which establishes new property tax classifications and offers temporary property tax relief.
“It sets a big precedent,” Fields said. “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.”
People don’t understand the whole process, he said, from drafting the bill, to title board proceedings to getting the title you want to the legal challenges, but he learns a little more each time, and it helps, he said.
Fields said so long at the majority representatives in the state legislature continue to ignore their constituents, he will continue to bring initiatives to the voter.
“Gathering the signatures is just a small portion,” he said. “Every time you do it, you do understand the system a little bit better. I plan to bring several ballot issues a year if the legislature keeps doing what they are doing in going around the will of the voter.”
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