Polis calls a special session on property taxes days after Proposition HH fails

Gov. Jared Polis speaks from his residence in Denver on Nov. 9, announcing a special session to address a surge in property taxes.
Elliott Wenzler/The Aspen Times

State lawmakers from across Colorado will return to Denver next Friday in an attempt to find a new way to relieve homeowners from the skyrocketing property taxes due in 2024 just days after the legislature’s first plan, Proposition HH, was soundly voted down

Gov. Jared Polis called the special legislative session during a press conference at his residence on Thursday. 

“I’m calling on the General Assembly to convene on Nov. 17 to cut property taxes and provide immediate relief for Coloradans who are at risk of major property tax increases,” he said.  

He also said he doesn’t have a specific policy proposal in mind and that he will leave it to the legislators to come up with a plan. He said he hopes to address the taxes due next year during the special session and then return to the long-term issue of high property taxes during the next full session, which begins in January. 

House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat, said the goal of the session will be to provide relief on property taxes while protecting schools, fire districts, and libraries.

“In this special session, we will work to boost support for renters and working people and deliver urgent property tax relief for Coloradans,” she said in a written statement.

Local governments are required to finalize their budgets, including their revenue from property taxes, in early December, abbreviating the timeline for the state legislature to address the issue.

If approved, Proposition HH would have decreased property taxes for Coloradans, but it would also have reduced the dollars available for annual refunds through the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) by using that money to backfill local services impacted by the cut — namely schools. The changes would have been in place for at least 10 years. 

Unofficial results from the secretary of state’s office show Proposition HH losing by about 20 points. 

County assessors across the state have warned that property values – one of the main factors in calculating property taxes – are expected to rise significantly for taxes owed next year. A statewide analysis by Colorado Public Radio found that Pitkin County will see about an 81% increase in value for the average home. Routt County will see a 68% increase while Summit, Eagle and Grand counties will see about 55% in increases, according to the analysis.

In the weeks leading up to Election Day, opponents of the measure called on Polis to summon lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session to find a different way to address the rise in property taxes. He originally indicated he wouldn’t do so and declined to discuss his office’s plan if Proposition HH were to fail.

House Republicans responded to Polis’ call for a special session on Thursday, saying the problem should have been addressed earlier.

“We proposed bills during the regular legislative session to address this and then presented solutions once again when we called for the special session a few weeks back,” said Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese from Colorado Springs. “Hopefully during this special session, the Democrats will come to the table in good faith to provide real and clean property tax relief.”

Polis, a Democrat, said he has spoken with leadership from both parties in the legislature. Democrats have a majority in both chambers.

Lawmakers from across the Western Slope responded to the call for a special session on Thursday.

Rep. Meghan Lukens, D-Steamboat Springs, said the legislature needed to provide relief while supporting renters, boosting incomes for working families, and protecting rural schools’ funding.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to deliver real results that make Colorado more affordable for all and reduce the cost of living in the High Country,” she said in a written statement.

Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, a Glenwood Springs Democrat, said she was also looking forward to returning to the Capitol.

“Our voters spoke loud and clear that HH was not the right solution,” she said.

Sen. Perry Will, a New Castle Republican, said he thinks, this time, the solution for property tax relief will be bipartisan with both sides agreeing on the urgency of the issue.

“I don’t think it will be a big partisan battle; I think we will go there and figure out a way to get people relief,” he said.

Proposition HH was supported by prominent Democrats and political organizations like a national teachers union and education groups. Several conservative non-profits, including Advance Colorado Action, were opposed to the measure. The Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc., which represent the state’s cities and counties, respectively, also opposed the measure along with the Colorado Association of Realtors. 

Republicans mounted a hefty campaign opposing the measure, criticizing it as an attempt by Democrats to undermine TABOR, a 1992 constitutional amendment that requires voter approval for any tax increase and caps government spending. 

The special session will also be a chance for the legislature to pass legislation taking advantage of $35 million in federal funding to provide food and nutrition for more than 300,000 Colorado children during the summer months beginning as soon as the summer of 2024.

This is the second time Polis has called a special session, the first being in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.