2023 Leg Session, Featured, Michael Fields, Sherrie Peif, TABOR

Gov. Polis’ property tax plan faces legal challenge; questions around measure piling up

DENVER — A bill that has caused conflict with the ballot numbering through the Secretary of State’s Office, still has more questions than answers, including whether the bill violates Colorado’s single-subject law, whether the ballot language is clear, and even how long citizens have to challenge a referred measure.

Senate Bill 23-303, Gov. Jared Polis’ rushed property tax plan that will ask voters to sacrifice Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds in the name of property tax relief, took just seven days to go from introduction in the Colorado Senate to final passage on the House floor.

The initiative that SB 303 places on the ballot is now being challenged in Denver District Court after Advance Colorado filed in opposition on Wednesday, citing several issues.

“We think it violates the single subject rule,” said Michael Fields, President of Advance Colorado. “It’s taking away TABOR. It talks about property tax relief. It puts money toward renters.  And it changes the TABOR formula permanently. That all can’t be done on the same measure. If as citizens we brought this to the title board, we’d be laughed out of the title board. Legislators should have to abide by the same laws.”

Fields is also challenging the ballot title language, which promises property tax reduction but doesn’t say how.

“It doesn’t give rates. It doesn’t point out that this is TABOR money. It doesn’t point out that the state can’t keep this money,” Fields said. “It is very unclear what people would be voting on.”

Fields said the language in the bill causes many problems.

More questions than answers

Complete Colorado first reported last week that language in the bill includes a ballot title that labels the measure as Proposition HH, which should be the ballot number for a previous referendum that passed the state legislature first, which appears to make the Polis property tax plan actually Proposition II, according to the state’s election rules.

Speculation since the story has led most to believe the measure will end up on the ballot as Proposition HH, as the legislature declared. However, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office still won’t commit to that.

Complete Colorado reached out several times to those in the office who work in ballot numbering but never received a response prior to publication. After the story broke, media relations for the department contacted Complete Colorado.

First, Deputy Communications Director Jack Todd said: “The Department of State has no jurisdiction over the conduct of the legislature and cannot rule on how the legislature makes decisions.”

When pressed for clarity about the ballot lettering the bill would receive, Todd said: “Until the measures are received by the Secretary of State’s office (neither has been at this point), the Department cannot speculate on the labels of any referred measures.”

Former Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Taheri told Complete Colorado she had never seen the legislature put the ballot 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.

Fields agreed, adding the way this referendum is making its way onto the ballot is unprecedented. The law gives citizens five days after the legislature makes the referral to challenge its validity. However, because the legislature embedded the referendum into a bill, Fields said no one knows if its five days after passage or five days after the governor signs it.

“There is no precedent on this,” Fields said. “So we didn’t want to miss out on something if we waited for the governor to sign the bill.”

Fields said Advance Colorado plans to file an amended challenge after Governor Polis signs the bill, as he said many other groups have come forward who want to put their names on the challenge in support of the opposition.

“The fact the governor has to sign this before it goes to the voters is not normal,” Fields said.

Complete Colorado will continue to follow the story as it progresses.


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