BY FREDA MIKLIN
On October 23, 9News’ Political Reporter Marshall Zelinger moderated a debate on Proposition HH, which appears on all Colorado ballots currently in voters’ hands.
Proponents for the measure were Governor Jared Polis and national conservative author and economist Arthur Laffler. Speaking against the measure were State Rep. Rose Pugliese and Advance Colorado’s Michael Fields.
Zelinger opened the discussion by listing the impacts of Prop. HH.
If it passes:
Property taxes will be lower than they would be without Prop. HH for the next 10 years. The higher the value of your property, the more you’ll save in taxes.
Seniors will be able to get the senior property tax exemption on any property they own and live in, rather than having to live in it for 10 years to qualify for the exemption, as the current law requires.
Future Tabor (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) refunds will be lower than they would be without Prop. HH. The first year, everyone will get the same amount, benefiting those who earn under $99,000.
Extra money the state is allowed to keep by raising the Tabor cap will be used for:
a) Local governments for lost tax revenue;
b) Up to $20 million for rental assistance;
c) School districts for lost tax revenue;
d) The state education fund.
If Prop. HH fails, property taxes will go up by a higher amount, potentially an average of 40% in this area. Seniors will not get a property tax discount unless they’ve lived in their home for at least 10 years. Future Tabor refunds will be unaffected thus the more one earns, the higher the amount they will receive.
Fields opened the debate by pointing out that the governor and the general assembly could have cut tax rates without “going after our Tabor refunds.”
Gov. Polis said that Coloradans will pay lower property taxes under Prop. HH than they would without it. He made the point repeatedly throughout the debate that he believes it is far better to pay less in taxes than to pay higher taxes in the hopes of getting a Tabor refund later. He also noted that the need to pass property tax relief arose because “home values have gone way up,” and, “Without Prop. HH, people are looking at a 40% tax increase.”
He pointed to a Fields’ initiative, Proposition 121 of 2021, that he supported and voters approved. It lowered the state income tax rate from 4.55% to 4.40%, which, the governor pointed out, also lowered future Tabor refunds by $150.
The governor also asserted that Prop. HH will save Coloradans $9 billion to $13 billion in taxes while it reduces Tabor surpluses by only $2 billion to $3 billion. He said that the data the Republicans have used and publicized is wrong.
Fields’ repeated the view that the “governor and the general assembly” used the idea of cutting property tax rates to raise the Tabor cap.
Zelinger challenged both sides on the wording of ads and mailers used to promote their positions.
He pointed to a mailing sent by GOP State Rep. Lisa Frizell that Fields’ group, Advance Colorado, paid for, that said that Prop. HH “eliminates Tabor refunds forever and is not property tax relief,” which Zelinger said are untrue statements.
Fields responded that property taxes will go up even if Prop. HH passes, which is not a disputed point due to the large increase in home values. He did not argue that it is not true that property taxes will go up less if Prop. HH passes than if it fails, conceding Zelinger’s point. He also offered a scenario under which Tabor refunds could be reduced by “$5,000 over the next ten years” and eliminated many years from now if certain economic conditions occur.
Zelinger challenged Polis for having changed a public statement from saying that Prop. HH was the “only” way to lower property taxes to the “best” way to do so, a point the governor did not strongly dispute.
When it was pointed out that Fields had asserted that Prop. HH “could drive seniors out of their homes,” Gov. Polis was quick to retort that Prop. HH is supported by AARP.
Another point made by Fields’ is that the governor and the general assembly knew that property taxes would go up significantly when the Gallagher Amendment was repealed in 2020 after being in effect for over 30 years, keeping residential property taxes (artificially) low. They could have done something about it before the huge increase in home values exacerbated the tax increases that they knew were coming, but they chose not to do so.
Laffer, who, it was noted is a conservative economist who strongly endorses Prop. HH, made the points that:
Lower tax rates are better than Tabor refunds.
Renters will benefit from the reduction in property taxes by Prop. HH by lower rental rates, as has been shown in Connecticut and California, where similar measures passed.
Asked by Zelinger if he was being paid to appear on the panel, Laffer offered a robust rebuke, saying he wasn’t getting paid at all, and in fact, paid his own way to travel from his home in Tennessee.
Pugliese raised the point that the governor should call a special session of the general assembly to deal with this problem. Polis said the legislature would be back in January regardless and they could act in any way they see fit but he did not envision them passing a tax measure that would be as helpful to Coloradans as Prop. HH, saving $9 billion to $13 billion.
The governor’s closing argument was that, “Colorado’s booming economy is producing surpluses. We can deliver lower taxes without cutting services.”
Fields and Pugliese’s continuing assertion was that taxes could have been cut without raising the Tabor cap.
Ballots are due back by November 7 at 7:00 p.m.