One of the twin pillars of Colorado tax law — a measure that has withstood prior attempts to dismantle it — was repealed Tuesday with most of the vote counted.
Amendment B, which had almost 58% support with 82% of the vote counted, proposed getting rid of the state’s 1982 Gallagher Amendment. Proponents called it a “huge win” for the Coloradans, businesses, schools and fire districts.
Even as voters gave local governments more fiscal breathing room with that measure, though, they also appeared to be passing a state income tax that will mean less revenue for the state.
Proposition 116, the income tax cut, also passed late Tuesday with nearly 57% support.
Colorado voters, who seemed to be in a “yes” mood this year, were also supporting a third state fiscal measure, Proposition 117, with a narrower 52% support. If it passes, it will require voter approval before the state can create some new fees.
The Gallagher Amendment ties residential property tax rates to commercial property tax rates, requiring that homeowners pay no more than 45% of total property taxes, while commercial properties always pay 29% of their properties’ value. The residential tax rate fluctuates to maintain the 45/55 split.
As home values have gone up — particularly on the Front Range — the residential rate has been cut to keep homeowners’ share of taxes below the 45% threshold. Commercial properties, meanwhile, have picked up more of the tax burden.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers referred the measure to the ballot in the 2020 legislative session — the latest of several attempts to get rid of Gallagher.
Proponents have said Gallagher harms businesses as residential rates continue to go down as well as local governments and special districts that rely on property taxes for the money to operate. They can’t just raise taxes to make up the revenue loss without voter approval because of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and many rural areas don’t have the Front Range’s fast-rising home values or large commercial property bases to depend on.
Opponents, however, have argued that the repeal will hurt residential property owners, who have some of the lowest property rates in the nation.
Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, one of the backers of the measure, acknowledged that it was complicated, but said a broad coalition made sure to inform voters about its effects.
“People rallied around an idea of tax fairness and tax stability and not wanting … to have tax burdens to shift to the small businesses while they’re struggling during this recession caused by the pandemic,” he said.
Despite being a constitutional amendment, the measure repealing Gallagher just needs a majority of the vote to pass because it doesn’t add any new language. Figuring out changes to the formula will be the next step.
“I think our message got through and people saw the importance of getting these outdated parts of our constitution removed,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.
Voters also gave the OK for a statewide income tax cut, reducing the rate from 4.63% to 4.55% in a win for conservatives championing Proposition 116.
Proponents such as the Independence Institute and Colorado Rising State Action have advocated for the cut, saying it will help Coloradans struggling during an economic recession. But opponents argue that reduction will deliver less than $40 per year for the average Coloradan, providing a larger cut for the wealthy and reducing funding to programs that Coloradans depend on.
Proposition 117 also seemed to be heading toward approval. The measure would require Coloradans approve any new state enterprises if the projected or actual revenue from fees and surcharges is expected to exceed $100 million within the first five years.
Proponents argued that if voters have to approve all new taxes or increases through the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, they should similarly do so for fees. But opponents of the measure said requiring voter approval of fees would restrict funding of needed programs and operations, including for school districts.
The votes are in line with how Coloradans have previously voted on statewide tax measures, noted Michael Fields, executive director Colorado Rising State Action.
“As Democrats are doing better statewide for elected office, we’re still a fiscally conservative state,” he said.