DENVER — Although Coloradans last week overwhelmingly told Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers that they do not want their Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds messed with, it appears no one was listening, as Polis has opened the door for majority Democrats in the legislature to turn a blind eye to voter intent.
Just days after voters rejected Proposition HH, Polis called for an executive session, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 17, and gave direction on passing property tax relief that includes paying for it with TABOR refunds.
“The General Assembly should consider taking legislative action to create a property tax relief package … This could include but is not limited to changes to reserve policy, general fund, and TABOR tax refund mechanisms,” Polis’ executive order reads in part.
A pre-draft document obtained by Complete Colorado shows that Rep. Chris DeGruy Kennedy, D-Littleton is planning to do just that. The bill is expected to use TABOR surplus funds to backfill local governments — despite that with or without legislative action, all governments will get a large boost in revenue from ever-growing property values — expand the Colorado Earned Income Tax Credit (COEITC) and give community organizations money under the guise of rental relief. However, all the tax credits come along with keeping the current assessment rates on everything except multifamily housing the same (which is only proposed to be lowered by .065 of one percent) and expanding exemptions on single-family houses and commercial property by minimal amounts.
Senate Minority Whip, Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton, said she’s tired of Democrats being tone-deaf to voters.
“When we give tax credits, that lowers the TABOR surplus,” Kirkmeyer said. “And I’m pretty sure everyone just said, ‘We want our refund. Quit giving it to everyone else.’ Just less than three weeks ago, people said, we want our refund.”
Kirkmeyer is working with other Senate Republicans on both short-term and long-term tax relief plans that they will introduce during the special session. Those plans will both include cuts to income taxes and tapping into reserve funds.
“We live in one of the most expensive states in the nation,” Kirkmeyer said. “Yet, here we sit as a state government on at least $2.3 billion in unrestricted reserves, and Democrats are not willing to go to the mat for taxpayers.
“The reality is Coloradans are hurting, and right now they are trying to figure out, do I pay for my kids’ dental bill, or am I going to pay my property taxes? Seniors are worried about being taxed out of their home, and we’re sitting on at least $2.3 billion in reserves. That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Sen. Byron Pelton, R-Sterling, agreed with Kirkmeyer. Pelton said he hopes a task force that includes members from across the state who are knowledgeable in property taxes and local government can come together and design an effective long-term solution.
“Whatever meaningful tax relief is, nothing can come out of TABOR surplus,” Pelton said. “And Republicans are rallying around that.”
Kirkmeyer notes there is still time for the governor to amend his executive order and take TABOR off the table during the special session, prioritizing tax relief with cuts to the income tax rate — something he has called for his entire tenure.
“How about you just reduce my income tax?” Kirkmeyer said. “Where is the straight-up income tax deduction like the governor has asked for in his last five state-of-the-state speeches? There is no reason to mess with tax credits when the state is sitting on unrestricted surplus revenue that can be replenished next year.”
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