DENVER —Gov. Jared Polis’ rushed property tax plan, that took just seven days to go from introduction in the Colorado Senate to final passage on the House floor contains more questions than answers, including whether language added in a last-minute amendment could invalidate the bill, which is slated to go to voters in November.
The language in the bill includes a ballot title that labels the measure as Proposition HH, which is already referred to the ballot from a previous bill. It appears the Polis property tax plan should actually be Proposition II, according to the state’s election rules.
Part two of Senate Bill 23-303 sets the title of the referred measure in part with: “… backfill counties, water districts, fire districts, ambulance and hospital districts, and other local governments and fund school districts by using a portion of the state surplus up to the proposition HH cap as defined in this measure?”
Part three of the bill defines the HH cap as increasing annually based on the excess state revenues cap from the prior fiscal year and “adjusted for inflation plus 1 percent and population changes … and also annually adjusted for the qualification or disqualification of enterprises and dept service changes.”
However, labeling ballot measures is the responsibility of the secretary of state, not the state legislature. And how measures are labeled is laid out in the Colorado Code of Regulations (CCR).
Not following proper protocol is what has caused the mess, those who understand the process say.
First, the labels on referred measures are alphabetical and start in one election where the referred measures left off from the last election. In the 2022 election, Proposition GG was the last label used.
Additionally, the CCR says the secretary of state will place any measures referred by the legislature on the ballot in the “order they are received.” So, Proposition HH should be given to the first referendum from the state legislature, which is House Bill 23-1290, passed on May 5. Senate Bill 303 was passed on May 8.
Natalie Menten, a long-time political activist from Lakewood, who noticed the error, said this bill was rushed through so quickly that this is likely not the only mistake.
“I’ve been involved with ballot labeling for many years, and as I started to look through this, I realized they already referred a measure that is HH,” Menten said. “This measure that they passed at the last minute should be II.”
Menten said she inquired with the Secretary of State’s Office and was told they are aware of the problem and are working with their legal counsel to figure out how to move forward. Menten said she was told there is likely to be more information by the end of the week.
Complete Colorado reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office and had not heard back by press time.
“They rushed this bill through so fast it resembled a kid doing their homework mere seconds before it was due,” Menten said. “It made me laugh and cringe because who knows what other impacts are in there and hasn’t been caught yet.”
Former Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Taheri agreed, adding she has never seen the legislature put the title in the bill — as it usually is passed with a concurrent resolution sending it to the ballot. That is then sent to the Secretary of State to set the ballot order.
House Minority Leader Mike Lynch said he was not surprised to hear of the mess up.
“This bill was not properly thought out,” said Lynch, who along with all the Republicans in the House walked out during floor work on the bill. “It was narrowly stakeholdered. Not only was the content of the bill bad, but the execution was worse. We didn’t want to be a party to this attempt at destroying TABOR.”
Lynch said the mistake was one of the amendments to the bill that Democrats rushed through to backfill special taxing districts after pushback from counties, school districts, fire districts, and others that would be severely crippled by the bill as originally written.
Lynch questioned whether the mistake could now jeopardize those districts again.
“I’m absolutely worried about more mistakes,” Lynch said. “But what I’d really stress is just like the governor was able to sneak this bill through, watch and see how they sneak the fix to this. Throughout this session, we discovered rules we didn’t know existed, and I’m sure we’re now going to hear about a fix that we didn’t know existed.”
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