Election results are in, and Proposition HH was a big, fat failure.

Why Proposition HH failed is obvious. It was overly complicated, messy and pitted Coloradans against each other. Plus, HH supporters took to cheap tactics that would make even the most staunch Trump supporters proud.

And guess what? Republicans are gleeful. They’ve been taking unearned victory laps, claiming Proposition HH failed because of their stellar messaging and Coloradans’ unwavering support for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Phooey. Those corrupt clowns had little to do with it.

The fact of the matter is that Colorado Democrats have few people to blame but themselves. They are the super-majority that failed to address the rapid spike of property taxes immediately after promising to do so following Gallagher’s repeal. They are the ones who crammed a massive bill in at the end of the session without sufficient input from constituents and stakeholders. And they are the ones who sat on their high horses, refusing to discuss alternatives or acknowledge the shortcomings of their proposed policy.

The price for this failure? Paired with the loss of the land use bill earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis now boasts two huge, failed policies that created backlash across the state and were ultimately kicked back to the Stone Age. Even with a minor win on Proposition II, it’s not great.

Per politics as usual, Democrats have no interest in admitting fault. Initial reactions from party leaders have amounted to nothing more than mostly blaming the other side for sabotaging them with zero interest in self-reflection. One quote by Senate President Steve Fenberg summed up the lack of responsibility perfectly:

“Prop HH was a nuanced, balanced policy that appears to have fallen prey to a misinformation slogan campaign by the far right, who would prefer to cut property taxes on the backs of our schools and fire districts.”

Balanced policy? No. Just admit you lost.

Luckily, Democrats have a path forward, if they want it. It starts with immediately fixing TABOR refunds.

Under Proposition HH, there would have been flattened TABOR refunds for one year before it reverted back to income-driven recovery. This made HH more lucrative for wealthier people in the long run, and is likely part of why Proposition HH failed; the flattened refunds should have been secured throughout the duration of the policy.

But now that Proposition HH has failed, there is no plan to flatten the refunds, even for one year. This is wrong, and taking immediate action to equitably disperse TABOR refunds must be Democrats’ priority. 

Unfortunately, Polis has previously threatened not to flatten them if Proposition HH failed. It’s yet another example of his strong-armed tactics that are unfair and retaliatory against those who dare to disagree with him, and this time his threat would directly impact the people of Colorado if carried out. All because we want a different solution.

But if Polis is willing, Democrats could absolutely flatten TABOR refunds. They’ve done it before. They can do it again. This time, they should make the refunds even more equitably dispersed toward lower- and middle-income homeowners and renters, as they are the ones most burdened by spiking property taxes.

Next, Democrats need to stop looking for state solutions to local problems. In Colorado, school districts share K-12 education costs, with any portion not covered by local taxes being picked up by the state. As local property tax rates lagged, school districts picked up much less of the tab. According to Chalkbeat, where they used to cover two-thirds of K-12 costs, in 2021, it was only one-third. This has left the state covering two-thirds of the funding, all while homeowners gain massive equity with skyrocketing real estate prices.

This suggests that while rising property taxes may feel like the problem, they actually aren’t. As I outlined in my original column on Proposition HH, the property tax spikes still only put Colorado in the national average for tax rates. That’s not unreasonable, and letting local property taxes go up a bit would ultimately shift the responsibility for education funding back to local school districts, thereby reducing the state’s overall percentage of contribution.

Of course, in the meantime, rising property taxes will still be felt as a burden by lower- and middle-income homeowners and renters who weren’t expecting such costs. But this is primarily due to ongoing economic concerns such as inflation and lagging salaries that aren’t keeping up with costs, not inherently the property tax rates. So while reducing property taxes would help to alleviate this burden, seeking solutions that would better target relief to those most in need, while not disproportionately benefiting the rich and still preserving funds for education, is preferable.

Coloradans have spoken. Proposition HH was not the right solution to address their cost-of-living burdens. Now it’s time for Polis and Democrats to listen and make things right.

This starts with reinstating the equitable division of TABOR refunds.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio