There is an important principle which lies at the root of the Gallagher Amendment, the fate of which voters will decide in this November's ballot. Former Gov. Ann Richards of Texas hit the nail on the head: "Life isn't fair, but government should be."
If you vote to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, Colorado's tax structure will be a lot less fair.
We realize the COVID-19 pandemic has put the state, county, local governments and especially special districts in a terrible shortfall. Devoted and sincere local boosters of fire, hospital, library and other types of special districts have often not been able to persuade their own voters to get behind increases in taxes as prescribed by the TABOR Amendment. TABOR has always been the problem, not Gallagher.
Even dangerous consequences — your happy homes burning down; prisoners being let out of jails and roaming wild through the neighborhoods; local hospitals closing and not admitting the sick — did not move the hearts of the voters to increase taxes for all of these worthy endeavors. Some parts of our state will never vote for a tax increase. We have to face it; there are some parts of Colorado which are adverse to voting for any property tax increases.
We realize business properties have seen considerable increases in property taxes. Awash in new tax money, some local governments even talked ever so briefly about a property tax rebate to business as had been done for senior citizens. The COVID-19 shutdown took those ideas off the table. They are all in a shortfall with no light at the end of the tunnel.
We realize schools statewide are facing a daunting $500 million shortfall, perhaps the unkindest cut of all.
We realize that over 500,000 Colorado residents applied for unemployment in recent months, 18,000 just last week. We realize and are horrified that almost 30,000 Colorado residents have caught COVID-19, and over 5,000 have been hospitalized. Sadly we mourn that almost 1,500 of our fellow citizens have died from this terrible pandemic.
Unable to convince Colorado voters to repeal TABOR in 2018, the legislature has put the Gallagher Amendment on the November ballot. You remember Gallagher — the amendment that keeps your home property taxes from massive increases.
There is lots of uncertainty in this campaign. How much more will legislators raise home taxes so business taxes can decline? Lack of clarity on issues usually pushes voters to a negative reaction on issues.
And if Colorado voters decide to repeal Gallagher, they will also be eliminating an important principle which was the backbone of the Gallagher Amendment and why it was enacted in 1982.
The voters will remove from our state constitution the only protection for middle-class home owners from massive property tax shifts. Is that principle worth fighting for? Are the problems facing Colorado so dire that middle-class and working-class homeowners should give up their only protection from redistribution by legislators of business taxes onto residential properties?
And the voters will give power back to the legislature similar to a pre-1982 Colorado, when the lobbyist-ridden assembly had the blank check to determine how much tax the property classes should pay. Will you vote for them to have the blank check?
Let's hope the well-funded, tear-jerking campaign to repeal Gallagher will be honest with the voters. Will repeal supporters give voters a figure of how much more they will have to pay in home taxes so business taxes will be less?
And that reminds us of another American principle: open and forthright elections.
Dennis Gallagher authored the Gallagher Amendment in the Colorado Constitution. He was a member of the state House and Senate for 24 years before serving on the Denver City Council and as Denver auditor.