2023 Leg Session, Columnists, Gallagher Amendment, Jon Caldara, Proposition HH, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Caldara: Colorado Proposition HH loaded with legislature’s lies

(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)

There are two axioms that perfectly fit the property tax rip-off going on right now in Colorado.

The first, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

Voters got conned into repealing the Gallagher Amendment two years ago, realizing only now our property taxes are going through the roof because of it. If they vote for Proposition HH this fall, we’ll lose our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds forever, yes forever, and then, “shame on me.” We’ll be fooled again.

Which brings us to the second old bromide, “History is written by the victors.” Although in Colorado the platitude is modified to, “Ballot victories are written by lying legislators.”

This takes a moment to explain, but it’s well worth the ride.

When you get your ballot every fall the questions on it are called “ballot titles.”

When citizens petition to bring something to the ballot, as I’ve done several times, we write up a proposed change to law, just like a legislator writes a bill. The bill is way too long for the whole thing to go on the ballot. So, voters get a summary, the ballot title.

Citizens, again like me, by law must bring our bill up to a well-intentioned, but very bureaucratic committee, called the Title Board who come up with what you read on the ballot, the title.

Their mission is to write a title so it explains to voters what the bill they’re voting on really does without that title campaigning for or against the measure.

Now here’s where the fun is. By contrast, when the legislature brings forward a ballot question, their bill doesn’t go through the Title Board. They get to write it by themselves!

They write it as deceptively as they like to con voters to vote for it.

This is why voters were suckered into repealing Gallagher.

The Gallagher repeal’s first sentence said, “Without raising property tax rates.” The key word being “rates.” Voters innocently thought that meant it wouldn’t raise property taxes.

You see, when your property values go skyrocketing, as they did the last few years, and your property tax rate stays the same, your property tax doesn’t stay the same. It also skyrockets!

I’m oversimplifying, but Gallagher used to lower the property tax rate of your residential property to make sure that property tax was basically the same as the year before, even if your property value went skyrocketing. Pretty cool.

No wonder the legislature hated it. The lying ballot title then went on to say how repealing it would (without raising tax “rates”) fix education, first responders, fire departments and give orphans unicorns.

In the same way, this fall’s Prop HH, also written by the legislature, lies. It’s first line says “Shall the state reduce property taxes …” You had me at hello!

Whether HH passes, you are going to have the largest property tax increase in Colorado history. Period. You’re paying the price of repealing Gallagher.

Should HH pass your property tax will be just a tiny bit less than otherwise, kinda, but in exchange you will over time lose your TABOR refunds forever. No TABOR refund checks for you, your kids, their kids, and so on.

HH’s Ballot Title doesn’t mention that its itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie property tax reduction comes out of your TABOR refunds. It only says it’s paid for by, “Using a portion of the state surplus.”

The lying Legislature doesn’t even mention in its ballot title that those state surplus would have gone back to you anyway!

As an amusing side note, I filed an initiative to force the Legislature to go through the Title Board process when bringing something to the ballot, like we citizens must, so they couldn’t play these games. My initiative was rejected. The Title Board ruled it had “multiple subjects” and killed it.

How do they get away without saying HH will take away your TABOR refunds forever? It’s clever really.

The state only does budget forecasts for a couple of years ahead. So, there are no TABOR refunds in the future because they refuse to look ahead that far.

But since HH keeps property taxes rising whether property values go up or down, it has a compounding effect. The increasing tax take overtakes any surpluses that could be refunded.

You can’t fight the math and they know it.

Hell, they love it.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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