The Title Board will reconsider its decision to award ballot titles to three proposed initiatives seeking to reduce local property tax collections by more than $1 billion, after the leaders of two progressive advocacy organizations filed an objection to the tax cutting measures.
Initiatives #26-28 would lower rates for residential and non-residential property tax assessments, which the legislature's nonpartisan fiscal analysts have estimated would result in a $1.03 billion drop in revenue. Schools, police and other government services would take a hit as a result. Each of the three proposals would temporarily allow the state to divert $25 million per year, if available, to local governments for various purposes.
Carol Hedges and Scott Wasserman, the heads of the Colorado Fiscal Institute and the Bell Policy Center, respectively, filed a motion for rehearing for each of the initiatives, which the board will consider at a Friday afternoon meeting.
The Title Board, they argued, erroneously concluded the measures pertained to a single subject, and set a title for each that "mis-states a couple critical elements of the initiative and fails to disclose a very material direct and obfuscated consequence of the initiative."
The three-member board's task is largely to determine whether a proposed ballot initiative contains a single subject as the constitution requires. If so, the board formulates a title to appear before voters that is brief, yet also encompasses all central features of the measure.
Hedges and Wasserman are contending the three initiatives contain multiple subjects: first, the reduction of tax rates and, second, the authorization to spend $25 million in state revenue to assist local governments with either fire protection, reimbursements for the senior homestead tax exemption or general financial aid.
Further, the title should inform voters that the $25 million diversion of state revenues, which depends upon the availability of funds in excess of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights-authorized amount, is "miniscule" compared to the overall loss, and 10 times that amount would be diverted anyway from the state to assist school districts with their budgetary shortfalls.
"There is no way under this scenario that the Initiative’s reduction in local assessment rates will not directly cause a material reduction in one or more State programs and/or require an immediate increase in taxes and relief from spending limits at the State district level," the motion notes. "This is quite different from a measure whose direct impacts are limited to local taxing districts and their programs."
Therefore, the objectors concluded, the initiatives contain a surreptitious second subject that would surprise voters with its consequences.
The designated representatives for the initiatives, Michael Fields and Suzanne Taheri, also filed a separate request with the Title Board seeking to adjust the wording in the approved titles. Fields and Taheri argued the current ballot title should not refer to a $1.03 billion loss in "tax revenue," but should rather describe to voters a $1.03 billion "tax decrease."
This week's meeting of the Title Board is the final opportunity for proponents to receive a title in time for the 2021 statewide ballot. Representatives who have submitted multiple versions of the same proposal must choose only one variant to take to voters.