Judge clears property tax, TABOR measure Proposition HH for November ballot

A multi-faceted proposal to increase Colorado’s cap on tax collection and reduce property owner’s tax burden is clear enough for the ballot this November, a Denver District Court judge wrote Friday.

The legislature, with Gov. Jared Polis’ backing, passed the referred measure, known as Proposition HH, this spring. Voters will need to approve the proposition this November for it to become law. If passed, the measure would alter the formula used to establish how much property tax is owed by owners — potentially reducing their burden by hundreds of dollars a year, according to advocates’ projections.

The measure would also change the formula set in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, that’s used to establish how much tax money the state can keep for about the next decade. It would also flatten the refund mechanism for overcollections for the next year. A flatter refund mechanism means lower-income Coloradans will receive a bigger refund, while higher-income households see a decline. Otherwise, the state defaults to a six-tier mechanism where higher-income households get bigger refunds under the theory that they had more of their money collected as taxes.

The extra money would help backfill local governments that would otherwise miss out on the higher revenue from the property taxes, and use the excess for renter support programs and the state education fund. It would also expand the homestead property tax exemption and allow qualifying seniors to keep it if they move.

Soon after the bill’s passage, Advance Colorado and several Republican-led county governments sued. The complaint argues that the ballot measure, Proposition HH, violated the state Constitution’s single-subject rule and failed to meet clear title requirements.

On Friday, Denver District Court Judge David H. Goldberg rejected that argument. In his decision, he cast doubt that he had the jurisdiction for the matter, but due to the “extraordinary time crunch” of a looming election expanded on his decision to speed up any further review.

Single-subject complaints in general have a high bar, as the topics only need to be connected to each other. Because the pieces feed into each other and the overall objective of the legislation, he found the ballot measure in compliance with the single-subject rule. He likewise found the title clear enough for the object of the bill and the ballot measure.

In a statement Friday, Polis spokesperson Katie Jones said the governor “appreciates the court’s ruling to allow the voters the opportunity to enact Proposition HH as passed by the legislature in November and save people money.”

Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and sponsor of the legislation, likewise celebrated the ruling. He called the proposition “transformative,” and said he was glad that voters will have their say on the matter.

“It’s remarkable that a right-wing fringe group was hellbent on preventing Coloradans from lowering their property taxes in the first place,” Fenberg said in a statement. “We will not stop fighting to deliver real relief for seniors, families, and businesses while responsibly protecting critical funding for services like schools, libraries, and fire departments our communities rely on.”

Michael Fields, president of the Advance Colorado Institute and backer of the lawsuit, said he still believes the proposition “undoubtedly violates the single-subject and clear-title provisions in our constitution” and he plans to appeal the decision.

“If Prop HH passes, Coloradans will still experience the largest tax hike in state history – and would also lose $10 billion in TABOR refunds over the next 10 years,” Fields said. “Coloradans need real property tax relief — and we renew our call for the Governor to call a special session to immediately address this problem.”

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