Chris Hansen and Jack Tate

Sens. Chris Hansen of Denver and Jack Tate of Centennial talk about a referred measure to the November ballot to repeal Colorado's Gallagher Amendment on Monday, June 8, 2020.

The General Assembly has approved two measures tied to the 1982 Gallagher amendment, including asking voters to repeal it.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, the repeal measure, in an effort to stave off another large cut to K-12 schools. The resolution got the two-thirds vote in the House that it needed to make the ballot. 

That's 44 votes, and it needed only three from the Republican caucus to win final approval, assuming all of the 41 Democrats voted for it.

The resolution had two Republican co-sponsors — Reps. Janice Rich of Grand Junction and Matt Soper of Delta — so it only needed one more. 

Instead, it got three more than needed, with six Republicans voting in favor. That included Colorado Springs Republicans Lois Landgraf and Larry Liston, who is running for the Senate in the fall.

Republican Rep. Rod Bockenfeld, a former Adams County commissioner, argued Friday that a repeal of Gallagher will drive up property taxes for seniors. 

"Do not put a complicated measure on the ballot" that will confuse and manipulate the voters, he said, but acknowledged that the Democrats probably had the votes to pass it.

In the Senate, the resolution passed on a 28-to-7 vote, needing 24 to pass. 

Gallagher, adopted by voters in 1982, requires 45% of the state's property tax base be levied on homes, and 55% on commercial properties. But with rising home values over the years, the state has had to ratchet down the assessment rate to maintain that ratio. That's hurt rural communities that rely more on residential property taxes for schools, and forced the state into a situation where it now pays 65% of the cost of public education, with local property taxes covering the rest. When Gallagher was adopted, that ratio was exactly the opposite. 

State property tax administrator JoAnn Groff warned the Joint Budget Committee that the next reduction will result in hundreds of millions of dollars less in property taxes, at a time when the state is already struggling to pay for K-12 education. In the 2020-21 budget, K-12 was hit with a $612.1 million cut, which was added to the debt already owed to schools, known as the budget stabilization factor.

"Gallagher does not work the way it was intended," said Democratic Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo, who chairs the JBC. Even former Democratic Rep. and Denver City Auditor Dennis Gallagher, for whom the amendment was named, admitted that in an interim committee meeting, she said Friday.

A second measure, Senate Bill 223, would freeze the assessment rates if voters repeal Gallagher in November. Those rates are already frozen because they are adjusted only every other year, and the General Assembly last made that decision in 2019. However, if the repeal is approved, that biannual change would go away.

The Senate approved SB 223 on a 29 to 6 vote (with all six "no" votes coming from Republicans) on Thursday. The House passed the bill on a 46 to 19 vote. It was not amended in the House and heads to the governor for his signature.

The vote in November on repealing Gallagher will require a 50% plus one vote to pass. That's because that was the law in place at the time the amendment passed in 1982.

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