Help for homeowners and low-income residents closes out dramatic special legislative session
State lawmakers wrapped up their special legislative session on property taxes Monday, sending seven Democrat-sponsored bills to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk — but only after tensions over the conflict in Gaza spilled onto the House floor in the process.
Relief for Coloradans
Democrats’ flagship bill offers some of the same relief for next year that was proposed for the long term in the voter-rejected ballot measure Proposition HH. Unlike the ballot measure, though, this relief bill neither includes commercial properties nor use TABOR refund money to cover losses in revenue - something Republicans opposed in Proposition HH.
“We didn't use TABOR surplus,” bill sponsor House Speaker Julie McCluskie said at the bill’s signing Monday. “I talked with my Republican colleagues about their concerns with a property tax relief package, and yet, unfortunately, they did not support the effort. I am so pleased that today we are delivering a package that will make a real difference for Coloradans in this state.”
Essentially, the bill reduces property value assessment rates for residential properties from 6.765% to 6.7% and would allow owners to exempt up to $55,000 from their property’s value altogether. It would also backfill lost funding for schools and local governments using the $200 million set aside for tax relief in the general fund.
Another bill from Democrats does cut into TABOR refund money, but not for backfill. Instead, it would use the funds to expand how much the state can offer under the Earned Income Tax Credit by $185 million with the intention of keeping more money in Coloradans’ pockets, especially those of low-income families. Colorado will offer 50% of the federal income tax credit next year as opposed to the current 25 percent.
Other Democrat-sponsored bills would make TABOR refunds the same amount for all taxpayers, as opposed to using a tiered income-based system. That means most Coloradans will see an increase in their refund checks, while some higher-income people will get less money back.
Lawmakers also passed $30 million in new emergency rental assistance for families making less than 80% of an area’s median income.
"The funding from this program goes directly to the landlords so that we can prevent evictions from happening. We can keep landlords receiving the funds they need to pay their property taxes,” bill sponsor Rep. Leslie Herod said.
Another measure opts into the federal government’s new summer EBT program, which provides financial help for children at risk of food insecurity during the summer months. Bill sponsors estimate the program could serve about 300,000 Coloradans.
All Republican proposals were killed on Friday, day one of the special session.
The legislature also launched a 19-member task force to develop long-term property tax solutions. The task force is made up of lawmakers, local officials, and assessors, along with representatives of firefighters, schools, and businesses. The group will meet twice monthly until March.
Although the session was focused on property taxes, legislators couldn't escape talk of global current events: Tensions flared in the House of Representatives over the Israel-Hamas War.
Pro-Palestinian protestors gathered in the House gallery several times over the four-day session, briefly interrupting proceedings on Saturday. But the chamber’s tenor became especially strained Sunday night when Democratic Rep. Elisabeth Epps brought up the conflict while discussing a bill that expands the state’s food assistance program for low-income Coloradans. Epps introduced an amendment that would have blocked food benefits from being used to purchase products from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
“What we can do is be clear that when we’re feeding Colorado’s most vulnerable children, we’re not doing so in a way that further exacerbates the demonstrable, objective harm being done to children in the occupied territories,” Epps said. “(This amendment) requires us to consider that our call for decorum is just a wild thing to care about when we’re willing to look the other way. This amendment gives us the opportunity to stop doing that.”
Epps spoke for almost an hour Sunday night, calling for Palestinian support and condemning Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, but the amendment was ultimately rejected by both Republicans and Democrats.
On Monday, Epps joined protestors in the gallery as GOP Rep. Ron Weinberg, who is the descendant of Holocaust survivors and has family in Israel, was giving a speech about his experience as a Jewish person.
“We are of different backgrounds, different beliefs, different colors, different religions. Some of us don’t even believe in God, but I don’t care,” Weinberg said. “We are of the trans community; we are of the Christian pastor community; we are Jews, we are gentiles, we are men, we are women. Be the example this state needs. We are sick of the division. We are not enemies. We are allowed to have different principles and different thoughts.”
While Weinberg was speaking, Epps shouted at him from the gallery, which is against parliamentary rules, prompting leadership to call a recess. Several tense and heated exchanges ensued between Epps and Democratic leadership, but eventually, Weinberg was able to finish uninterrupted.
The House held its final votes shortly thereafter and adjourned until the general session in January.
Working across the aisle?
Gov. Polis urged bipartisanship, and both parties claimed to be working across the aisle ahead of the session. Still, Republicans accused Democrats of excluding their ideas from the policymaking process.
“Bipartisanship means as much Republicans putting their names on Democrat bills as Democrats putting their name on Republican bills,” House Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, a Republican leader on property tax policy, said after the session adjourned. “We have ideas.”
Democrats hold significant majorities in both the House and Senate and don’t need Republican support to pass legislation.
Gov. Jared Polis signed four of the bills into law Monday night, lauding what the legislature was able to achieve over the special session. He also acknowledged there is a lot more work to do to make living in Colorado more affordable.
“We need solutions that work for the long term. And, of course, we'll do that with the General Assembly next session to save people money on property taxes,” Polis said at the bill signing Monday night. “There's one more chapter in this saga, and that's all of our local taxing districts. I certainly know that based on local conditions, I'm very hopeful that there are some special districts that feel that they can do more for homeowners. And I'm sure that'll be a big part of the discussion across the state.”
Polis called on local governments to do their part to keep taxes down by adjusting their mill levies as much as possible since specific property taxes are set at the local level.
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