Fields: On Gallagher repeal, stick with lower property taxes

In the midst of a recession, the legislature wants to raise your property taxes. Senators Jack Tate and Chris Hansen, along with Representatives Matt Soper and Dayena Esgar, led an effort to put a full repeal of the Gallagher Amendment on the ballot this November. Passing this repeal would harm families who can’t afford the added burden right now.
When the General Assembly restarted session after pausing for COVID-19, Democratic leadership announced that legislation would be “fast, friendly, and free.” Well, that certainly didn’t happen – and for the average Coloradan, repealing the Gallagher Amendment would be the costliest bill to come out of the session.
The Gallagher Amendment was passed by voters in 1982 to ensure that there was a balance between residential and commercial property taxes. While the residential property assessment rate has declined over the years, the number of local taxes and the value of your property have both gone up a lot in most parts of the state. That’s why you typically see higher and higher property taxes each year. But because of Gallagher, state legislators cannot arbitrarily raise property tax assessment rates to bring in revenue.
Some legislators are rightfully concerned about what Gallagher means for businesses in our state. The commercial assessment rate has remained the same through the years, which means businesses are bearing the brunt of property taxes. The problem with repealing Gallagher, however, is that it would do nothing to help businesses. The commercial rate remains the same for now – and it is extremely unlikely that legislators would ever lower it in the future. Can you imagine the government cutting its revenue to provide business tax cuts? I can’t.
We know that the cost of living for Coloradans continues to increase – and part of that is the government’s fault. On top of incomes taxes, sales taxes, and skyrocketing fees, politicians now want more property taxes too. Enough is enough.
Instead of asking for more property tax money, legislators should reform the education funding formula. Currently, some wealthy districts are getting unnecessary subsidies from the state, while other districts (especially in rural Colorado) are getting the short end of the stick. Reforming this would ease the pressure on the state budget to backfill the budgets of school districts, and instead put our resources where they’re needed most.
We also have to trust localities to know what’s best for them. A community knows better than the state what will do the most good in their neighborhoods, and voters can adjust their local taxes accordingly. They don’t need state officials dictating to them from the Capitol in Denver.
Our economy is obviously in a very fragile position right now. The upcoming year will have long-term consequences for our state. If we’re smart, we will do all we can to ease the burden on families across the state. Not only do higher property taxes impact home ownership, but they also drive up the cost of renting. When deciding on policies, these “unintended consequences” should certainty be factored in.
While Gallagher is far from perfect, repealing it would make things even worse. The last time a repeal of the Gallagher Amendment was on the ballot, in 2003, voters rejected it by a 78%-22% margin. If history is any guide, voters will reject this repeal, and all of the big tax increases on the ballot – including the $2 billion income tax increase on Colorado families. We need to get our economy rolling again, and that means the state government needs to largely get out of the way.
Michael fields is executive director of Colorado Rising State Action