Opponents of a proposed Colorado ballot measure to repeal the Gallagher Amendment went to court Wednesday to seek an emergency restraining order to delay printing of the taxpayer-funded Blue Book.
They allege that legislators inserted misleading language at the last minute in the booklet that outlines arguments for and against state ballot questions.
"This brand-new version of the Blue Book description of the ballot measure makes it sound like this property tax hike is actually a property tax cut," former state House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, told reporters Wednesday. "That’s dishonest. Voters deserve to know exactly what it is that they are voting for or against."
Hullinghorst is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, along with former state Sen. Dennis Gallagher, D-Denver, who authored the 1982 measure.
The argument centers around Amendment B, a bipartisan measure sent to the ballot by lawmakers that would repeal the Gallagher Amendment, passed in 1982 by state voters. Gallagher establishes a firm ratio between property taxes collected on residential and non-residential properties.
The lawsuit alleges members of the Legislative Council — a bipartisan group of legislators from both chambers — doesn't have the authority to offer a wholesale rewrite of an argument in the Blue Book, as happened last Thursday when the council voted 15-3 to swap out language describing the Gallagher repeal.
Calling the lawsuit a "stunt," legislators backing Amendment B defended the language describing the measure and said its critics are holding up the process of informing voters about a crowded ballot.
The Blue Book is scheduled to go to printers Thursday.
"With less than five minutes of discussion, the proponents of the ballot measure threw out months of public input and staff work with changes to nearly everything, including the title, placement of sections, new graphs and charts, and wholesale changes in wording," said Gallagher, who joined Hullinghorst on a call with reporters Wednesday.
"What they did was turn the Blue Book in to a campaign propaganda book," he added. "We want to make sure that this doesn't happen again and the Blue Book has to be fair and impartial."
"We have this process for a reason," House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, told Colorado Politics. "We are there to look at the Blue Book language. I think the amendment we passed improved the language around Amendment B. The goal was to make it easier for folks to understand and make it more accurate."
Garnett co-sponsored the new language with state Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.
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.
As a result, in order to maintain that 45/55 ratio, the General Assembly has had to ratchet down the assessment rate for residential properties. In 1982, the assessment rate for residential properties was 21%; in 2020, it's 7.2% and if Gallagher is not repealed, it will drop even further.
In a statement, State Rep. Matt Soper, R-Delta, blasted the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit.
"It’s like 'Back to the Future.' Or should I say 'Jurassic Park'? The same Denver and Boulder politicians and lobbyists who wrote the horribly ill-conceived Gallagher Amendment four decades ago now apparently don’t want Colorado voters to know the truth about the Gallagher Amendment," he said. "They don’t want voters to know that the Gallagher Amendment has imposed sky-rocketing taxes on small businesses and farmers, or that if Gallagher isn’t repealed, homeowners and small businesses in many parts of Colorado will see automatic local property tax increases."