A judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit that objected to wording in the taxpayer-funded Blue Book voter guide describing a ballot measure that will change the way property taxes are calculated.
Denver District Court Judge Martin F. Egelhoff sided with the Colorado General Assembly and Legislative Council in a bench ruling that tossed the complaint and denied a motion for an emergency order to halt printing of the Blue Book, which presents arguments for and against statewide ballot measures and is mailed to every voter.
The dispute centers around Amendment B, a bipartisan measure sent to the November ballot by state lawmakers that would repeal the Gallagher Amendment, a measure approved by state voters in 1982 that limits residential property taxes.
Advocates of repealing Gallagher blame the amendment for starving school districts, fire departments and other local governments, but opponents — including the amendment's author, Dennis Gallagher, a former Democratic state senator and Denver auditor — argue that the constitutional provision protects Coloradans on fixed incomes from skyrocketing property taxes.
"This bogus lawsuit being tossed out was as easy to predict as sunshine after a storm," said state Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, in a statement. "The political insiders who authored the Gallagher Amendment in 1982 will undoubtedly continue trying to distract and deceive voters about the unintended consequences of the measure. We will keep our focus on sharing with Coloradans the broad, bipartisan support for voting yes on Amendment B to stop the damage Gallagher delivers to schools, first responders and local businesses across the state."
Former state House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said: “It’s not the voter’s fault the Blue Book language was altered with no time to review.” She added, “They shouldn’t be penalized with misleading language because of legislators’ involvement and push.”
The Gallagher Amendment froze the ratios for residential and commercial property taxes at 45% for homes and 55% for business properties. Since its passage, home values in Colorado have increased to the point that they make up 80% of the total assessed value of property statewide, forcing authorities to keep reducing the assessment rate for residential properties.
"Residential property owners will be paying more and more of the tax burden, and that will show up in the actual taxes they pay," said Hullinghorst, one of the plaintiffs, in a call about the lawsuit Wednesday. "What really worries me about passing this measure in the election is it will have a really bad impact on the average, hardworking homeowner that is already struggling to pay their mortgage. It's terrible timing."
The lawsuit dismissed Friday argued that lawmakers inserted misleading language in support of Amendment B into the Blue Book, turning it into what one of the opponents called a "propaganda document." Plaintiffs also maintained that the state lawmakers serving on Legislative Council hijacked the process of assembling the informational booklet, contrary to constitutional requirements.
In his ruling, Egelhoff cited a doctrine prohibiting the courts from interfering with a legislative function, but the strategist leading a group opposed to Amendment B blasted the basis of the decision.
“This decision was just an excuse to hide behind a legislative loophole,” said Clay Vigoda, Protect Our Homes Colorado's campaign manager, in a statement.
“By arguing the jurisdiction of the case, rather than its merits, the legislature is essentially telling Coloradans they’re not accountable to the citizens for delivering a fair and impartial Blue Book, thus above the law. A bipartisan vote does not mean it’s fair and impartial. What the legislature did was totally unprecedented and biased. If this is allowed to stand, it will continue to happen.”
Added Vigoda: “If the proponents are not telling you this is a property tax hike, they are being dishonest. It’s that simple.”
A spokeswoman for the plaintiffs said the group is exploring its options in the wake of Friday's ruling.