2023 Leg Session, Exclusives, Politics, Proposition HH, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Bustamante: Proposition HH is deceptive, devious, and unconstitutional

Politicians are like Scooby-Doo villains. Outwardly friendly but secretly cold and devious.

But instead of robbing people with hair-brained schemes, politicians manipulate ballot questions to swindle voters out of their hard-earned money. And that’s exactly what they are doing with Proposition HH.

The architects of the measure advertise it as property tax relief. It is—sort of. But its primary function is to end taxpayer refunds.

Putting these two unrelated topics into the same bill may seem strange, but it was a calculated political move. Politicians inserted property tax reform into Prop HH as a bait-and-switch to win consent for ending taxpayer refunds.

And they would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for a meddling lawsuit.

Last month, a group of citizens and Colorado counties sued the state, arguing Prop HH and the bill that put it on the ballot—Senate Bill 23-303—violate the state Constitution. This summer, they will make their case before the Colorado Supreme Court.

The suit highlights two primary constitutional infringements.

First, the Colorado Constitution has a provision that requires bills to address only one subject. This prevents a party from “logrolling,” or lumping an unpopular policy in with a more popular one to help get the former adopted.

Prop HH violates this rule in textbook fashion.

After increasing property taxes by around 40%, politicians have offered a slightly smaller tax increase with Prop HH. But Coloradans will only get that relief if they vote to give up taxpayer refunds forever.

In 2019, lawmakers tried to end taxpayer refunds on its own merits. They referred Proposition CC to the ballot, asking voters to give up their refunds—just as HH does. But when it appeared as a stand-alone measure, voters resoundingly rejected the proposal.

Because voters initially rejected giving up their taxpayer refunds, politicians have married the same policy with what they’re calling “property tax relief” to logroll the elimination of taxpayer refunds.

This is exactly what the constitutional provision was designed to prevent!

In a 1997 ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court explained that the purpose of the provision was “to make each legislative proposal depend upon its own merits.”

Dissenters of the lawsuit will argue that this issue doesn’t apply to Prop HH.

The district judge who first heard the case ruled that reducing property tax rates and taking away refunds to fund state priorities is not “so disconnected and incongruous” as to be “constitutionally impermissible.”

For the judge, because eliminating taxpayer refunds adds money to the budget while property tax relief subtracts it, the two fall under the same subject.

However, as the Colorado Supreme Court explained in the same 1997 ruling, “[T]he fact that there is a ‘single common feature’ in the sense of finding additional moneys, or reducing expenses, to fund certain priorities, doesn’t qualify as ‘one subject.’”

The multiple components of Prop HH are not related simply because they fund one another. It’s no surprise the Supreme Court took up the appeal after a district judge disregarded the higher court’s precedent.

The lawsuit also argues the measure violates the Constitution’s clear title mandate, which requires every bill’s single subject to be “clearly expressed in its title.”

But the bill’s title is a convoluted mess that doesn’t give voters the faintest clue what the law would do. It drones on about the reduction of property taxes for hospitals, businesses, and so on. It never mentions taxpayer refunds, except in the obscure phrase “permitting the state to retain and spend revenue up to the proposition HH [sic] cap.”

The ballot title voters will see for Proposition HH does the same thing.

For example, the bill writers used the vague synonymous phrase “state surplus” instead of commonly used terms like “taxpayer refunds” or “TABOR refunds.” They clearly hope to hide the measure’s effect from voters.

Nobody is surprised to see politicians insert bias into ballot language, but there’s a limit to this manipulation. That limit is voter deception. The lawsuit rightly argues that Prop HH is not just standard political fare; it’s deceptive, devious, and unconstitutional.

We should know whether the Supreme Court will rule on the side of the state Constitution and Colorado taxpayers or choose to play politics by upholding this unconstitutional tax hike.

Paul Joshua Bustamante is a junior at Hillsdale College double majoring in Economics and Mathematics, and is part of the Future Leaders Program at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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