Partisan fight over Colorado school taxes continues
Associated Press Writer
Denver, CO Colorado
DENVER, Colorado “- The Senate backed a proposal Tuesday to cut state funding to school districts that lower property taxes, sending it to the House for a vote.
The measure (Senate Bill 291) is a continuation of a partisan fight over a law passed two years ago by Democrats and Gov. Bill Ritter that resulted in more local property tax dollars and less state money going to local schools.
Democrats say the move will save the state an estimated $152 million in next year’s budget and the state shouldn’t be forced to backfill districts that choose to lower their property taxes now.
Republicans have long maintained that the tax change was unconstitutional because school districts were never asked to approve it. They say punishing districts that try to vote on the issue and lower property taxes now is a double cross.
The 2007 change ” upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court last month ” affected all but three of the state’s school districts, where taxpayers had earlier voted to relax Taxpayer Bill of Rights limits allowing schools to keep more revenue. The change froze property tax rates to prevent them from falling, which led to increased tax bills wherever properties appreciated.
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Now a school district in Mesa County is considering re-imposing those TABOR limits, allowing the school district to keep less revenue and lowering local tax bills.
Under the bill, the state would not make up for any revenue lost in districts that lower their property taxes. The state would continue to provide the same amount of aid it provides now.
Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, said voters who previously voted to relax TABOR limits did so to allow their schools to keep more revenue, not to lessen the state’s share of school funding. He said the measure was “vindictive, treacherous, duplicitous, weak, cowardly and arbitrary.”
“Members, this is a low moment in this body,” said Mitchell, who staged a one-man, three-hour filibuster against the bill late Monday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, said freezing property tax rates that would have otherwise continued to drop is not the same as a tax increase. He said freezing those rates, and freeing up more tax dollars, helps protect funding for higher education, one of the few big-ticket items vulnerable to cuts during downturns.
“I’m a citizen of Colorado, and I believe my local area is obligated to help with the burden of funding K-12 education,” he said.