A lot can change in a year.
Colorado Republicans are vowing to fight any property tax relief proposal debated during the special session that would use the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights surplus to reimburse schools and local governments for all or some of the money they would lose as a result of the cuts. They say voters sent a clear message when they rejected Proposition HH: They want their TABOR refunds, which come from the surplus, untouched.
Democrats appear to have interpreted HH’s failure the same way and aren’t planning to use the TABOR surplus for the property tax reimbursements — at least not for now. They do plan, however, to expand the earned income tax credit, which in turn would reduce the surplus and the amount available for refunds.
The GOP’s hard-line position is interesting because in 2022, every Republican representative and senator present in the General Assembly voted to use TABOR surplus dollars to reimburse schools and local governments for property tax cuts.
Senate Bill 238, which was debated at the Capitol last year, slashed property taxes for the 2023 and 2024 tax years and used $240 million in TABOR surplus for reimbursements. Two of the four prime sponsors of the measure were Republicans: Sen. Bob Rankin of Carbondale and Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock. (The cuts were determined not to be sufficient to counteract the effect of rising property values, which is why Proposition HH was introduced.)
The legislation passed 62-0 in the House (with three representatives — including Republican Marc Catlin — excused) and 33-0 in the Senate (with two senators — Republicans Don Coram and Kevin Priola — excused).
Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, said the GOP’s position has changed given the big failure of Proposition HH.
“A wise man once said: ‘When the facts change, I reserve the right to change my mind,’” Lundeen said this week. “The facts have changed fundamentally with HH.”
The House and Senate Republican caucuses Wednesday unveiled their property tax relief proposal. It calls for:
Republicans also want to cut the income tax rate during the special session to 4% from 4.4%, which is also not going to pass in the Democratic-controlled legislature — even if Gov. Jared Polis wants it to.
MORE : All of the Republican proposals are almost certainly dead on arrival at the Capitol, but what’s notable is that Colorado GOP Chair Dave Williams this week was warning Republican lawmakers not to try to use either the TABOR surplus or general fund reserves for reimbursements.
“Both options are a disaster for your pocketbook and morally wrong,” Williams wrote in an email to party supporters Wednesday. “The only group of folks who need to be ‘backfilled’ are the taxpayers, not greedy politicians and government bureaucrats who only want to take more from your wallet. Government is too big and spends too much. If citizens have to tighten their belts in tough economic times, then the government should tighten its belt as well by spending less and being more efficient with taxpayer dollars.”
Williams encouraged the legislature to pass a plan offered by Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, a Highlands Ranch Republican and Williams ally. The details of that plan haven’t been released, and Lundeen said he hadn’t seen it.
Lundeen said that it’s reasonable to reimburse local governments in the short term, noting that the GOP plan is less proportionally generous than what Democrats were offering under Proposition HH.
Just so you know: Williams was one of the Republicans who voted for Senate Bill 238 in 2022. So was Van Winkle.
ADDENDUM : Advance Colorado, the conservative political nonprofit that battled against Proposition HH, is vowing to sue if the legislature tries to use the TABOR surplus to reimburse local governments and schools for property tax cuts as a refund mechanism.
Michael Fields, the dark-money group’s president, argues that using the TABOR surplus for the reimbursements isn’t a legally valid TABOR refund policy — even though that’s what Senate Bill 238 in 2022 did. (Again, it had unanimous Republican backing.)
“First, making us pay for our own ‘property tax relief’ is not a refund,” Fields said in a written statement. “Second, since the state government doesn’t collect property tax revenue to begin with, backfilling local governments with our TABOR refunds is not a legally permissible refund mechanism. While there is a long list of ways the state can refund TABOR money — including lowering the income tax or mailing sales tax refund checks — sending our money to another part of the government isn’t one of them.”
Here’s what Legislative Council Staff has to say about the legislature’s authority to determine how the TABOR surplus should be refunded: “The constitution does not require use of any particular refund mechanism, but allows the General Assembly to select ‘any reasonable method of refunds[…], including temporary tax credits or rate reductions.’ Further, the constitution does not require that excess revenue be refunded proportionately ‘when prior payments are impractical to identify or return.’”
The legislature has used more than 20 different methods to refund taxes since TABOR was adopted in 1992. The TABOR surplus has been used to reimburse schools and local governments for lost property tax revenue since the 2017-18 fiscal year, when the legislature allowed that to happen to make up for property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled veterans.
The lawsuit threat also may have played a part in Democrats’ decision not to use the TABOR surplus for reimbursements out the gate. Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, cited the legal threat in rolling out his party’s proposal Thursday.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
The difference between a well-planned special session and one that starts with an uncertain outcome
The last time Gov. Jared Polis summoned lawmakers to the Capitol for a special legislative session was December 2020, ahead of which the Polis administration worked with top legislators for weeks to put together a package of 12 coronavirus aid bills.
After three days, the minimum it takes to pass a bill in the legislature, the General Assembly sent 10 bills to Polis’ desk to be signed into law.
The special session before that came when a different governor — John Hickenlooper — ordered the legislature back to work in 2017 and asked lawmakers to pass just two bills to fix a bill-drafting error that was costing the Regional Transportation District and other government entities across the state millions in marijuana tax revenue.
Instead, lawmakers walked out of the building after two days having accomplished nothing.
In 2017, Republicans controlled the state Senate, while Democrats led the House. Hickenlooper insisted he had support from leaders in both chambers in calling the special session.
(Narrator: He did not.)
Republicans revolted, calling Hickenlooper’s solution to the tax mistake an affront to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Democrats were miffed that Republicans wouldn’t fix a simple bill-drafting error. And Hickenlooper threw up his hands and blamed partisan bickering for the session’s failure.
We’ll see which of the last two special sessions most resemble the one that begins today on property tax relief. Polis, at least, won’t have to rely on Republicans for support if his own party can agree on a bill, though there are plenty of Democratic fissures about which policy path to take.
But a 2018 quote from Chris Holbert, the Senate Majority Leader at the time, reflecting on the 2017 special session has echoes of the politics surrounding Proposition HH and the work at the Capitol that begins today.
After the finger-pointing subsided, bill advocates worked to secure support from a majority of lawmakers by the time the General Assembly reconvened in January 2018. Holbert called it “the kind of work that should have been done before” calling a special session.
“Not pointing fingers at (Hickenlooper),” Holbert told The Denver Post at the time. “Maybe he thought it had been done. But in reality, it had not.”
DO THE MATH
Turnout among the Colorado’s 3.93 million registered, active voters in the November 2023 election.
There were more than 1.7 million ballots cast in the November 2023 election, far more than were cast in the statewide elections in each 2021 and 2019.
In the 2021 election, there were 1.5 million ballots cast, representing 40% turnout among active voters. In the 2019 election, there were nearly 1.6 million ballots cast, representing nearly 45% turnout among active voters.
Unaffiliated voters cast the most ballots in this year’s statewide election, at 684,979, while Democrats cast 513,334 ballots and Republicans cast 495,605 ballots.
By comparison, turnout among active voters was 66% in the November 2022 election.
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THE POLITICAL TICKER
>> POLIS ADMINISTRATION : Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday appointed David Edinger to serve as the new executive director of the governor’s Office of Information Technology. Edinger comes to the state position after serving as chief information officer for the city of Denver. He will take over from Tony Neal-Graves, who joined the state government in 2017 after retiring from private sector work and announced his departure earlier this year.
>> SPACE COMMAND : A provision to protect funding for the Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs could be added to the National Defense Authorization Act by U.S. Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats. The provision is aimed at countering efforts by Alabama’s congressional delegation to prevent the Space Command from staying in Colorado. A congressional conference committee ironing out the measure’s details will determine whether the directive will be part of the bill.
>> CONGRESS : Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, introduced a bill this week that would provide up to $40 million in federal grants to states to cover up to half their costs to implement ranked-choice voting should they decide to implement the system. The measure is highly unlikely to pass Congress with Republicans controlling the House.
>> BENNET : U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was the sole Democratic “no” vote Wednesday on a measure to keep the government funded into the new year. He joined 10 Republicans in voting against the bill, telling a reporter he objected to the lack of aid for Ukraine. GOP U.S. Reps. Ken Buck, of Windsor, and Lauren Boebert, of Garfield County, were the only Colorado “no” votes on the bill when it passed the House on Tuesday.
THE DURANGO HERALD : Headed into her last session, Barbara McLachlan has lots to do
CHART OF THE WEEK
Colorado-based companies spent more than $43 million in the first nine months of the year to lobby the federal government, according to a Colorado Sun analysis of federal lobbying data.
The same 15 companies continue to make up the top spenders as in the first half of the year, accounting for 46% of the total spending. The companies operate primarily in the technology, aerospace, energy and agriculture sectors.
Government entities spent $1.7 million lobbying the federal government in the first three quarters of the year. Gov. Jared Polis’ office topped the list, paying Squire Patton Boggs $180,000 to lobby on international trade, natural resources and more. The Denver Regional Transportation District spent $150,000 to lobby for transit funding. The city of Colorado Springs spent $150,000 to lobby the federal government around the U.S. Space Command headquarters and on municipal issues.
Note: The federal lobbying figures reported aren’t necessarily exact. Lobbying firms may round their reported income to the nearest $10,000 and don’t have to report income less than $5,000.
A dispatch from a “Disagree Better” event in Colorado
WESTMINSTER — Three Republican governors joined Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in Colorado on Tuesday to decry toxic political polarization and encourage civil discourse as part of the National Governors Association “Disagree Better” initiative.
The initiative was started by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican and the chairman of the National Governors Association, alongside Polis, the NGA’s vice chairman. The pair were joined by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, both Republican.
“We’re more polarized than we’ve been at any time since the Civil War,” Cox said. “Both parties at the national level are not offering what the public wants. We know that there’s an exhausted majority out there.”
The four governors, their staffers and staff from other Western states heard at the event in Westminster from panels of experts who discussed how to encourage free expression on college campuses without hostility or violence.
Cox interviewed John Tomasi, president of the Heterodox Academy, a group that encourages a diversity of views and constructive disagreement in higher education.
“There’s a powerful view in universities that identity is everything,” Tomasi said. “There’s a simplistic idea that there are oppressors and oppressed in the world … and that’s all you need to know about the world.”
At one point, Polis brought up the current campus debates on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“How do you even bring people to have a discussion while trying to keep people physically apart to keep from beating each other up?” he asked.
“On some issues, like this one, you’re not going to be able to find the Kumbaya moment,” said Norm Ornstein, a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. “You have to separate out those people who are at the extremes.”
Ornstein added: “There are some evil people out there, and what we have to do is try to make sure that they are not made to be part of the common discourse — not by saying they can’t speak, but by condemning them. If we don’t start to condemn those who are at the extremes, they are going to gain more traction.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE
>> The Bush-Obama blueprint that gives Joe Biden hope for 2024 (The New York Times)
>> The left comes for Joe Biden on Israel (The New Yorker)
>> Mitch McConnell’s strength is tested in fight for Ukraine aid (The Wall Street Journal)
>> Kansas Democrats push property tax relief as alternative to GOP’s “political extortion” (Kansas Reflector)