DENVER — While all eyes are on the statewide ballot measure Proposition HH and what it means for both property taxes and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) should it pass in November, communities across Colorado are also busy putting local initiatives on the ballot with TABOR implications.
In Jefferson County, for example, at least 11 different taxing entities plan to ask voters for some sort of tax or debt increase. Although it is unclear what the question will be at this time, according to an open records request submitted by TABOR Foundation Board of Directors member Natalie Menten, Golden, Littleton, Wheat Ridge, Elk Creek Fire Protection District, Evergreen Parks and Recreation, Idledale Water and Sanitation District, InterCanyon Fire Protection District, Ken Caryl West Ranch Water District, Mountain Water and Sanitation District, North Fork Fire Protection District, and Richards Farm Metropolitan District have all reserved space on the November ballot coordinated with Jefferson County for initiatives that relate to TABOR.
Menten, who lives in Jefferson County, is a long-time activist who spends much of her time during election season educating voters about ballot issues and how to oppose them through the little-known TABOR clause that often goes unused.
TABOR is a constitutional amendment passed in 1992 that, among other things, subjects local ballot measures which increase taxes, add debt, or suspend government revenue limits to a ballot issue notice. The notice is in the form of an election guide that is sent at least 30 days before the election to all households within the district where there are one or more registered voters.
In that book are both pro and con statements. What most people don’t know, however, is that those statements can be written by anyone who lives in that district. They must be 500 words or less and include the name of the person who authored the statement, although the name of the submitter is not published in the statement.
The idea was to give everyone a voice in sharing their opinions without fear of repercussion. But it’s rarely used. Early in TABOR’s history, Menten said, about 50 percent of the time people submitted statements.
Every year Menten does open records requests on some of Colorado’s largest cities and towns to see what’s on the ballot and then seeks out people to write the statements.
“It gives me heartache to see a local ballot issue notice, and no one submits comments before the deadline happens,” Menten previously told Complete Colorado. “People need to see how that measure will impact them. When a ballot issue starts with ‘without raising taxes,’ the hairs on the back of your neck should go up because what the government is seeking to do is eliminate your taxpayer protections.”
Menten was referring to caps under TABOR that limit the amount of revenue any taxing authority can collect.
“That was not the intent of TABOR, so you have the right to submit a comment in the guide that you are giving up your rights forever if the measure passes,” she said. “TABOR’s intent was to only allow a temporary lift of revenue limits for four years. They never wanted to take away the choice of a future generation. We need people to speak up in the voter guide. Don’t give up your right to vote forever.”
The deadline for submission is Friday, Sept. 22 by noon to the designated election official (DEO) for the government placing the measure on the ballot.
“A large chunk of these will drive up property taxes,” Menten said. “Maybe some can afford it, but are you sure the senior citizen down the block can afford it? Think outside your own financial scenario; not everyone is as blessed, many are struggling.”
Menten added that once the guide is out there, it empowers those who get involved in writing the notices to speak at local neighborhood gatherings about the issues.
“It makes them the one that is speaking up for the little guy who can’t attend the meeting because he has to work,” Menten said.
Menten will now contact the communities who have reserved space on the Jeffco ballot for TABOR issues to get the exact language of the initiative and from there will begin searching for people impacted to write the opposition notice.
Complete Colorado has published an opinion piece by Menten giving complete instructions on how to write and submit the statements. Anyone interested can also email email@example.com for more help.
Complete Colorado will continue to follow the process.
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