On Nov. 2, Colorado voters will have an important decision to make which would not only cut property taxes, but also stop an amazing example of legislative arrogance. At its simplest, Proposition 120 would reduce property tax assessment rates by 9% for both residential and non-residential property.
Proponents argue that this cut is overdue and necessary to address Colorado’s soaring property values over the past several years. Their argument is that Colorado’s sharp increase in property values should not, therefore, mean unlimited increases in property taxes. Opponents argue that government needs more revenue.
I am voting “yes” on Proposition 120 because it is a responsible measure meant to address Colorado’s soaring cost of living. I find it compelling that Colorado’s property tax revenues will actually remain higher after this tax cut because property values have increased so dramatically. In addition, Colorado is currently flush with cash, increasing its budget by $4.4 billion this year alone, while receiving an additional $12 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Of most importance, this tax reduction is critical for many homeowners across our state who are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with Colorado’s growing costs of living and soaring property tax bills.
But while I do support the tax cut in Proposition 120, there is far more at stake on Election Day with this one ballot measure.
In the closing days of its 2021 legislative session, the Colorado General Assembly took an unprecedented — and I believe unconstitutional — action designed to block the citizens’ constitutional right to pass laws by initiative. One day after Proposition 120’s ballot language was set (and couldn’t be changed), several Colorado lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 293 which changed definitions in the tax code in order to prevent Proposition 120 from becoming law after its passage by voters. The bill was passed and signed into law.
Having served as Colorado governor, as well as state treasurer and in the legislature, this is the most troubling assault I have ever witnessed on our citizen initiative process. It is simply a “let them eat cake” moment, where elected officials have decided that the people of Colorado simply cannot be trusted with passing laws, especially when it comes to lowering taxes.
Fortunately, Colorado’s Constitution is durable and designed to repel such attacks on direct democracy. Article V, Section 1 of the Colorado Constitution is clear: “the people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws and amendments…independent of the general assembly…” The Colorado legislature’s actions to subvert a citizen ballot initiative is not only an exercise in arrogance but clearly unconstitutional. Even if SB-293 survives constitutional scrutiny, I believe Proposition 120 will still become effective after passage by the voters because the Colorado Constitution explicitly provides that if two laws conflict, the newer law prevails.
The General Assembly’s attempt to usurp the citizens’ right to the initiative process should not get a pass from Colorado voters. The backers of SB-293 made it crystal clear that the very intent of this bill was to prevent Colorado citizens from exercising their constitutional right to decide a critical policy issue through a ballot measure. The Denver Post reported that the sponsors were “open about the fact that they’re seeking to thwart the ballot measure,” with one sponsor saying the legislature had a “moral responsibility to intervene.”
No matter how strongly the Colorado legislature felt about Proposition 120, it should never have passed a law designed to preempt the people’s constitutional rights to the initiative. Should SB-293 be allowed to stand, it would serve as a precedent that anytime the Colorado legislature does not like the potential results of a citizen ballot measure, it could simply pass a law that prevents the people’s vote from being put into effect. This is in direct conflict with the plain language of our state Constitution granting citizens an independent right to initiative.
I am going to vote for Proposition 120 based on my belief that property taxes are too high in Colorado. Many of my friends and neighbors are going to reach a different conclusion and vote against Proposition 120. We will respect each other’s rights to cast our own independent vote and we will accept the results. That is democracy.
But no matter how you vote on Proposition 120, I hope that we can all agree that the Colorado General Assembly’s attempt to block the citizen initiative process is actually an attack on our basic right to initiative and should not be allowed to stand. Colorado is better than this.
Bill Owens served as the 40th governor of Colorado from 1999 to 2007 and as state treasurer, state senator, and state representative. A version of this article originally appeared in The Denver Post.
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