No on Proposition HH. Yes on II

Over the last several weeks I’ve gathered a lot of information on Proposition HH that is on this year’s state election ballot. I’ve read unbiased explanation pieces and opinions written by people for and against the proposition. In pretty much every single piece the words “complicated,” “complex” and “unknown” come up. That is almost enough right there to vote no on the ballot issue — but the fact that it is not a very well thought out piece of legislation that just seems a lame attempt to throw everything against the wall in the hopes that something will stick, and allow the state to keep more TABOR (Taxpayer‘s Bill of Rights) dollars instead of having to return them to taxpayers as is now the case, is another reason to vote no on HH.

Both those for and against the measure are stretching their “truths” about HH. It won’t eliminate all TABOR refunds, nor will it reduce property taxes significantly. The property tax savings would come by adjusting the statewide residential assessment rate, which helps determine how much property tax a homeowner owes. The rate would be reduced to 6.7% from 6.765% in 2023 for taxes owed in 2024, and to 6.7% from 6.976% for taxes owed in 2025. The 6.7% rate would remain unchanged through the 2032 tax year for taxes owed in 2033. It will not result in gargantuan savings.

HH also allows more tax revenues to be retained by the state than is currently allowed so TABOR refunds don’t necessarily go away but aside from the lure of a honey bump promised next year, they probably won’t be the amount we’ve received lately. Ultimately, the financial impact on individuals depends on the economy and the valuation of homes. Homeowners in Colorado could possibly see a small savings over the next decade. If you don’t own a home, you will lose out with a smaller TABOR refund and no property tax savings. Renters get the shaft with this bill.

Local governments that collect property tax revenues as part of their budget stand to lose large sums if the measure passes — $240 million statewide next year, and more than $500 million in 2025. There would be some backfilling for some of the loss—particularly to schools—but the funding spigot to replace the losses to local governments and special districts is designed to slow to a trickle within a few years. Money would be prioritized for schools, but we’ve all heard that before haven’t we? 

Even while state education funds will be replenished and probably benefit the most with HH, I have more faith in local control. Voters in this county have consistently taken care of the special districts that are important. Approval of Fund 26 helped alleviate some of the ramifications of the state’s so-called negative factor with Amendment 23 that was originally meant to fund schools. Local citizens have voted for recreation support, school expansions and a new safety campus. Tax increases were recently okayed with MetRec, the school district, and the CB Fire District. Most of the special districts and governments in the valley have been “de-Bruced” by local voters allowing local governments to retain needed funds and sidestep TABOR restrictions.

I reached out to William Spicer who used to work in the Gunnison County assessor’s office. His take on HH is that “it will introduce significant additional complexity for very little taxpayer benefit. The financial upside for individual property owners (at least within Gunnison County) is likely to be minimal.” 

His view is that the TABOR refund piece seems like an unnecessary tax grab, especially given the school funding windfall to the state as a result of this year’s big valuation increases. He said HH includes provisions to support local governments that lose revenue due to reduced tax rates, but his analysis shows that most entities in Gunnison County will not see any of this money because the support goes away so long as a county’s total assessed value is at least 20% above the 2022 level, and we are way above that threshold. 

“So, in summary, it seems to me that the state looks to do well out of HH, but individual property owners will see, at best, only modest, short-term benefits,” he concluded. “I don’t see anything in HH that would prevent significant future tax hikes if our property values continue to climb.”

Based on most everything I’ve read, I agree with William.

I do like that HH allows seniors to qualify for their homestead property tax exemption even if they move, which is not currently the case. But that’s not reason enough to vote for a complex, complicated and unknown proposition that no one can say will help the bulk of citizens in our county over the long run. 

Vote no on HH.

Proposition II

As opposed to HH, this one is relatively simple. Proposition II asks voters to let the state keep $23.65 million in tax revenue already collected from the sale of tobacco and vaping products and spend it on preschool programs—instead of refunding it to tobacco wholesalers and distributors. 

According to Colorado Public Radio, in 2020 voters overwhelmingly approved Prop. EE, which raised the taxes on tobacco and created a new tax for vape products, with the money raised going to early childhood education. That allowed Colorado to launch its universal preschool program earlier this year. Some of the revenue also pays for treatment and tobacco education programs. Currently, more than 38,000 4-year-olds and thousands of 3-year-olds are enrolled in between 10 and 30 hours of free preschool a week. 

More money was collected with EE than anticipated so voters have to approve what is done with the excess. Voters can either give the money back to nicotine wholesalers or use it to go to Colorado families in need of daycare. The answer is obvious and easy—vote to help families and vote yes on II.

—Mark Reaman

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