Romer: Building a better Colorado requires community input
Last month, the non-partisan “Building a Better Colorado” project hosted a two-hour meeting with civic leaders in EagleVail as part of a statewide effort to solicit input on how Colorado might improve state fiscal policy to support Colorado’s quality of life.
Specifically, the group raised for discussion the three fiscal amendments which Coloradans have adopted into the state constitution: the Gallagher Amendment (1982), the TABOR Amendment (1992) and Amendment 23 (2000).
Did you know that Coloradans only pay one-fourth as much as they used to pay in property taxes on their homes due to the Gallagher Amendment? The Gallagher Amendment’s forced continual decline in Colorado’s residential property tax base has reduced local funding for services like K-12 schools and fire districts.
Did you know that Colorado’s TABOR Amendment is the most restrictive government spending limitation of any state in the nation? While it has helped Coloradans sustain a lower tax burden than most other states, it has caused our state budget to shrink relative to the size of our growing economy and thus forced a relative reduction in funding for many programs, including cutting funding for college tuition support by half since 2000.
While Building a Better Colorado defined the scope of the discussion, the group gave control of both the input and the outcome of this conversation to the participants.
- The group worked with established community leaders to build the guest list for this meeting of individuals in the community who are respected, influential and constructive and who collectively represented the diversity of the community.
- After presenting a brief explanation of each policy issue, the first option which group leaders asked participants to consider in each policy area was the option of doing nothing. If a majority of participants supported this option of status quo, then no additional policy options would be considered for that policy.
- The group invited participants to propose their own additional policy options and presented those organic ideas to the full group for consideration.
So, what’s right with Colorado? The Eagle County group had consensus that the outdoors, the people and the environment were key to what is right in Colorado.
What’s wrong with Colorado? The group outlined the cost of health care, transportation infrastructure, longer commute times, mental health needs, the cost of housing, and K12 education and four-day weeks as things that are wrong in our state.
After engaging in small-group discussion before each vote, the group reached consensus on a number of policy ideas. In all, 79% thought it appropriate to repeal Gallagher’s frozen ratio between residential and non-residential property to stop the decline in the residential assessment rate.
Another 79% suggested we amend TABOR to allow taxing authorities to automatically increase/decrease their mill levies to sustain a constant revenue stream in response to decreases/increases in the residential assessment rate. In this group, 91% were in support of modifying the state revenue cap to correlate with growth in the economy rather than inflation, and 80% would eliminate the state revenue cap as most local governments have done, and allow the state to retain revenues during times of economic growth and invest in state services.
The bottom line is that unless and until the total value of residential property in Colorado ceases to grow faster than the total value of commercial property (which no one foresees as long as Colorado is a desirable place to live), the Gallagher Amendment will continue to force downward the residential property tax assessment rate, which will continue to erode local property tax bases and reduce local funding for local government services like schools, fire protection, county road maintenance, and recreational districts.