New Colorado task force on property taxes to include more local voices

Members of the Colorado House of Representatives stand in the chamber on Monday, Nov. 20, the final day of a special legislative session addressing rising property taxes.
Elliott Wenzler/The Aspen Times

DENVER — A new state task force charged with creating a long-term plan for keeping property taxes from skyrocketing in Colorado will now include more local voices after additional commissioners were added to the group during negotiations.

House Bill 1003, which still must be given final approval by the governor, was created by the Colorado legislature during a special legislative session this past weekend that finished Monday.

The task force will have 19 members total who must be chosen by Dec. 4. They will be charged with meeting twice a month from December until March, when they’re required to provide recommendations on a permanent property tax structure for the state to the legislature.

“This bill is really not going to have any immediate impact on anyone’s life, on anyone’s property taxes,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, during debate on the bill. “It is about the long-term conversation … this is acknowledging that there’s a bigger, long-term issue that we still need to wrestle with.”

The special session was called by Gov. Jared Polis Nov. 9 to address the jump in property taxes across the state after Proposition HH, Democrats’ original plan to address the issue, was soundly defeated at the ballot box. 

While House Bill 1003 took many forms throughout the four-day special session, the final version of the bill included five county commissioners, each from a different region of the state. An earlier version had only two. 

The bill’s progress largely slowed after it was approved by the House and sent to the Senate, as several senators and stakeholders were dissatisfied with the lack of local representation.

Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Frisco, was one of the lawmakers pushing for changes. 

“When this bill came over from the House, I was incredibly skeptical and likely wouldn’t have supported it, the local voice wasn’t there,” he said during debate on the bill Sunday night. He ultimately supported the bill after more commissioners were added.

During debate on the bill, Roberts said was grateful for the changes and asked Republicans, who all opposed the bill, to support it. He pointed out that if the legislature didn’t create the task force, Gov. Jared Polis would likely create his own commission to address the problem – in that instance, he would be able to appoint every member. 

The other members of the task force will be:

  • Two members of the state house of representatives, one appointed by the House Speaker and one by the House Minority Leader
  • Two members of the state Senate, one appointed by the Senate President and one by Senate Minority leader 
  • The property tax administrator from the Department of Local Affairs
  • A mayor or city council person, appointed by the Colorado Municipal League, an organization that represents cities and towns across the state
  • A former or current assessor, appointed by the governor
  • The executive director of the Special District Association of Colorado
  • A CFO of a school district, appointed by the Colorado Association of School Executives
  • An individual representing a statewide organization that represents Colorado Educators, appointed by the Senate President 
  • An individual representing an organization that represents Colorado commercial commercial or residential property owners, appointed by the House Minority Leader
  • A fire chief, appointed by the Colorado State Fire Chiefs
  • Someone representing an organization with expertise in advocating for low-income people, seniors, fixed incomers, appointed by the Speaker of the House
  • The executive director statewide or regional business organization, appointed by the Senate Minority Leader

During a bill signing for several other bills from the special session, Polis said he believes the long-term solution for the state’s property tax structure needs to be bipartisan.

“I don’t think the Democrats or Republicans can sort of jam through their preferred solution,” he said. “I think both sides will need to work together to build a solution that passes muster with the people of Colorado.”

Seven total bills passed during the legislative session, including one that will provide temporary relief for homeowners’ 2023 tax bills, which are to be paid in 2024. The bill will reduce the state assessment rate to 6.7% from 6.765% and will allow homeowners to exempt $55,000 of their home’s value when paying property taxes. 

It also uses $200 million in general fund dollars to replace some of that funding, which would typically go to local services. The bill prioritizes fully replacing the revenue for school, fire, hospital, ambulance and EMS districts. 

Beyond those districts, only county governments with less than 15% increase in their assessed value over the past two years will receive some revenue backfill.

Other bills made all refunds issued under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights equal, doled out $30 million for emergency rental assistance and expanded the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. Another bill, unrelated to property taxes, was approved that allows the state to take advantage of a federal program that will provide food to low-income children over the summer.

Senate and House Republicans held a press conference on the final day of the 2023 special session.

None of the bills that passed during the special session — other than the one providing food for low-income children — were bipartisan. Once the session ended, Republicans expressed frustration about the bills that were approved.

“I hope when people open up their tax bill and see the work that was accomplished over these few days, they will understand why that is and who’s responsible for it,” said House Minortiy Leader Mike Lynch during a press conference. “The next time they have an opportunity at the ballot box, they’ll remember.”

The final day of the session was temporarily thrown off track as tensions flared in the House when Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat, introduced an amendment to prohibit the federal funding for student meals to be used on products from Palestinian territories. 

Epps, who has clashed with Democratic leadership in the past, then joined Palestinian protestors in the gallery and repeatedly shouted as Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Loveland Republican and the only Jewish member of his caucus, was granted an opportunity to respond to Epps’ comments. 

Lawmakers will return to the Capitol when the regular, 120-day lawmaking session begins Jan. 10.