Colorado voters soundly reject Proposition HH, allowing surge in property taxes to proceed

Gov. Jared Polis stopped at the Vail Daily office in September for a sitdown with newsroom staff on his way to Grand Junction. With voters across the state rejecting Proposition HH, Polis and the Democratic-controlled legislature will go back to the drawing board on property tax relief.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Colorado voters on Tuesday night rejected an effort by Democrats in the state legislature and Gov. Jared Polis to reduce property taxes by cutting into the money available for state taxpayer refunds. 

Results as of 9:20 p.m. showed 60% of voters opposing Proposition HH and 39% supporting with 985,925 ballots counted, according to results posted on the Secretary of State’s website.

Proposition HH would have blunted skyrocketing property taxes caused by the surge in property values during the pandemic. It would have used some of the money Coloradans get in annual tax state refunds to replace lost revenue for local services, primarily for schools.

State Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, said in a written statement Tuesday night that the legislature’s path forward on property taxes was unclear.

“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,” he said.

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House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, called the outcome disappointing in a written statement.

“The reality is that Coloradans are still staring down enormous property tax increases,” she said. “We have a responsibility to pursue a balanced approach that makes housing more affordable for all, supports renters and working families and protects funding for schools, fire districts and libraries. Those were challenging things to advance in a single policy at the ballot.”

Michael Fields, the president of Advance Colorado, one of the organizations that opposed Proposition HH, urged the governor to call a special session to address property taxes in a statement Tuesday.

“HH was a deceptive measure, crafted in secret to give Coloradans a huge tax increase wrapped in tiny tax relief,” he said.

County assessors across the state have warned that property values, one of the main factors in calculating property taxes, are expected to rise significantly for taxes owed next year. A statewide analysis by Colorado Public Radio found that Pitkin County will see about an 81% increase in value for the average home. Routt County will see a 68% increase while Summit, Eagle and Grand counties will see about 55% in increases, according to the analysis.

Eagle County was less dramatically opposed to the measure as much of the state, with 44.14% voting in favor and 55.86% voting against as of 9 p.m.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, opponents of the measure called on Polis to summon lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session to find a different way to address the rise in property taxes. Polis indicated he wouldn’t do so and declined to discuss his office’s plan if Proposition HH were to fail.

Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, D-Lakewood, is one of the sponsors of the bill that placed Proposition HH on the ballot. 

“If HH fails, I imagine we will have an emergency phone call in the morning of Nov. 8,” he said in October.

The measure was placed on the ballot by Senate Bill 303, which was passed in the final days of this year’s legislative session. Colorado House Republicans walked off the floor during the final debate over the measure in protest over how quickly it was passed.

Since then, Republicans and other political organizations mounted a hefty campaign opposing the measure. They have criticized the measure as an attempt by Democrats to undermine Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a 1992 constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for any tax increase and caps government spending. 

Many political observers have called the measure one of the most complicated in the state in recent memory. 

It was supported by prominent Democrats and political organizations like a national teachers union and education groups. Several conservative nonprofits, including Advance Colorado Action, were opposed to the measure. The Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc., which represent the state’s cities and counties, respectively, also opposed the measure along with the Colorado Association of Realtors. 

The changes would have been in place until at least 2032.

The measure also would have treated second homeowners in Colorado differently for the first time. That’s an idea that could return in future lawmaking sessions as rural resort communities deal with the impacts of short-term rentals and unaffordable living conditions. 

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