Colorado legislature will convene to address skyrocketing property costs

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis hoisted a red baseball bat and smashed emergency glass Thursday in a silly demonstration for a very real crisis — Colorado homeowners are looking down the barrel of a potential 40% jump in property tax bills.

After a ballot measure meant to quell soaring property taxes failed in Tuesday's election, Polis turned to the emergency option of calling a special legislative session to begin Nov. 17 with the goal of providing homeowners relief before the year is out and many are stuck with unaffordable property tax bills.

Colorado's situation isn't unique. The last several years brought the steepest rise in home values nationwide in decades. The consequent hike in property taxes threatens seniors on fixed incomes and families struggling to afford their mortgage payments.

“The cost of inaction is too high,” Polis said at a press conference, the red bat lying on the floor behind him.

The Colorado proposition that floundered in Tuesday's election would have limited property tax increases over the next decade in part by pulling money from the state's one-of-a-kind tax refund, known as the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR. The refund system caps the amount of tax revenue Colorado can take in, requiring the surplus be returned to taxpayers.

The intent was to use TABOR funds to bolster local services — including schools and fire departments — that might see a drop in property tax revenue.

But last year, TABOR provided Colorado's taxpayers with $750 each. Those checks are dear to the state's voters, and the measure was handily beaten.

“We always knew that if Proposition HH failed, property taxes would rise dramatically for thousands of Coloradans,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Democrat. “Our caucus will now be laser-focused on providing short-term relief ... while protecting our schools and fire districts.”

While Michael Fields, president of the conservative group Advance Colorado, which opposed the measure, was glad the governor called the special session, he said he remains wary of what Colorado's majority Democratic legislature will accomplish.

Conservatives are looking for much deeper tax cuts than the ballot measure offered — and than Democratic legislators may be comfortable with.

In a statement, Republican Rep. Mike Lynch, the state’s House minority leader said: “While it’s disappointing that it took the overwhelming defeat of Prop. HH to get their attention, it’s certainly my hope that the Governor and Democrats will now agree to common sense reforms."


Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.