Colorado House takes up initiative involving property taxes

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Senate has passed a measure to ask voters to repeal a constitutional amendment that severely limits residential property tax rates.

The House on Wednesday took up the measure, which is bitterly opposed by fiscal conservatives but gained some Republican support as state and local tax revenues plummet during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the cross-hairs is the 1982 Gallagher Amendment to the state Constitution, which has lowered residential property tax rates since its inception.

Under the amendment, total property taxes are fixed at a 45% to 55% split between residential rates and commercial property rates, respectively. Colorado Politics reports that as statewide home values rise faster than commercial property values, homeowners have paid proportionately less while businesses pay more.

Lawmakers have been forced to reduce the statewide residential tax rate to keep the balance in check, and it's now 7.15% of a property's value. Rural communities with fewer commercial properties have been hit especially hard, with less tax revenue going to schools, fire departments, police and hospitals.

The measure under consideration would freeze residential rates at that lower percentage. It passed the Senate Tuesday by a 27-to-7 vote and, if passed by the House, would not require any action from the governor to appear on the ballot.

Republican Sen. Larry Crowder, who represents rural Alamosa, voted for the measure but warned that “if legislation gets involved in raising property taxes, you’ll see a firestorm like you won’t believe. It’s the one Holy Grail for the citizens,” he said.

Colorado voters historically have rejected most ballot questions asking them to raise taxes. Colorado Rising State Action, a group that opposes the Gallagher repeal, noted that voters rejected a similar repeal effort in 2003 by 78% to 22%.