Title Board meeting Aug. 18, 2021

Title Board meeting of Aug. 18, 2021.

The Title Board advanced two ballot initiatives proposing a nearly $30 million reduction in sales tax revenue, over the strenuous objections of proponents about how the ballot titles characterize the effects on state spending.

Initiatives #46 and #47 would each temporarily reduce the sales and use tax rate from 2.9% to 2.89% between Jan. 1, 2023 and Dec. 31, 2024. Across all fiscal years, the reduction in tax revenue would amount to $29.7 million.

The designated representatives for both measures, Michael Fields and Suzanne Taheri, balked at the Title Board's decision to set a ballot title for voters indicating there would be a potential $14.6 million cut in the first full fiscal year to health and human services programs, K-12 education, and corrections and judicial operations. They maintained the reduction would solely affect refunds owed to Coloradans under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, and not state-funded programs.

The ballot title "makes it look like the major purpose of our initiative is to cut these programs, because there’s so much language in there about cutting programs and very little language about what the initiative actually does," Taheri said.

But the three-member board, which heard the proponents' concerns at its Oct. 20 meeting, reminded Fields and Taheri that the legislature had recently placed a new requirement on the Title Board's responsibility to set a clear ballot title. House Bill 1321, which the governor signed in July, requires ballot initiatives that reduce tax revenue to state in their titles the three largest areas of spending that a measure will affect.

Board Chair Theresa Conley, a representative of Secretary of State Jena Griswold, acknowledged that Fields and Taheri were the first people the change affected.

"I don’t know if the first years after TABOR were rough with that language, but people will become used to it," Conley said, referring to the specific wording the 1992 TABOR amendment requires for fiscal measures.

The Title Board sets ballot titles that are brief, yet encompass all central features of a given initiative. The proponents of the sales tax measures believed the board's attempt at following HB1321 caused the accuracy of the title to suffer.

"Unfortunately, the Legislature left the Title Board in an awkward position when it wrote instructions that did not contemplate a reduction in revenue in a year where there is a projected surplus large enough to trigger a TABOR refund," Fields and Taheri wrote in their motion asking the Title Board to reconsider its wording for Initiatives #46 and #47.

They argued that listing the categories of reduced spending amounted to a lie to voters, and asked the board to at least provide context for how small a potential spending cut would be relative to the $34 billion state budget.

The Title Board was unmoved on the overall request, but amended the titles slightly to note that the ballot initiatives would apply to taxpayer refunds under TABOR in years when they are required.

"If there were no TABOR refund it’s possible that yes, it would reduce the funding," explained Julie Pelegrin, representing the Office of Legislative Legal Services. "The Title Board is attempting to meet both the requirements of the statute and the requirements of the constitution."

Fields and Taheri were also the proponents behind two fiscal initiatives currently on the ballot in the 2021 general election. Amendment 78, if passed, would transfer some spending authority from the executive branch to the legislature, and Proposition 120 would cut certain property tax rates.

The two proponents pledged to only seek to take one of their similar sales tax reduction initiatives to the ballot.

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