Lewis: Could someone please explain the problem?
I was heartened to see that Proposition HH was resoundingly defeated. Frankly, I was worried that it might pass because it was so deceptively worded. Voters saw through the deception and resoundingly voted it down. It’s especially good to see that Colorado, a state with a Democratic governor and a Democratic-controlled state legislature, still expects some moderation in government spending. It reminded me of Republican-controlled Ohio voting for abortion rights. It’s good to see people standing up for their beliefs even when it means going against their party’s position.
The funny thing is — no one has ever been able to explain to me why this problem is so difficult. Let’s get specific with Eagle County. The Vail Daily reported that the mean home valuation increase for 2023 was 63%! Wow.
This means if there are no changes in the tax structure, property taxes would go up 63%. That is way too much of a burden on taxpayers and far too much of a tax increase. What if the state imposed a cap of 5% on property tax revenue increases? That would still be a windfall for counties, with the increase being above inflation while also lowering the potential tax increase by 58%. Seems like a reasonable solution to me.
Here is the problem that I keep hearing about but just can’t understand. Whenever I see a property tax increase limit proposed, the response is that the state needs to make up for the “lost” revenue. But what revenue is being lost? None of the plans I’ve seen will reduce property taxes below 2022 levels; they all just lower the severity of the increase.
So, where’s the problem? I have spent a good deal of time researching this, and to date, nothing I have read outlines how limiting a tax increase creates a shortfall in revenue. Did the county actually have a plan to spend 63% more money next year and now faces a “shortfall?”
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There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but to date, I have not heard one. Given the rise in property values, if nothing is done, counties are going to be awash in new revenue, and taxpayers are going to get crushed. No one will be spared. Renters will face massive rent increases as these costs will undoubtedly be passed directly to them. Some homeowners might be initially pleased with the increase in their home’s value, but it is of little value if the taxes make it too expensive to live there.
Even if the state fails to act, there is no reason that counties can’t solve this problem independently and reduce property tax rates on their own. The argument I heard against this option was that once reduced, tax rates would permanently be stuck at the lower level and could not go back up if, for example, home values plummeted. This is simply not true as the legislature recently passed SB23-108 which allows counties to lower mill levies without facing permanent restrictions.
I just don’t understand why this is so hard. No one is expecting a tax cut. We just want the increase to be reasonable. In no circumstance do we need an increase in property taxes and then more new taxes as proposed in Prop HH. That was beyond ludicrous. The state legislature needs to take the simple and straightforward action of capping the allowed revenue increase that counties can receive from property taxes.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He’s now retired and writes thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.