For the upcoming legislative special session to address property taxes, I urge my colleagues to follow a basic military principle: KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Special sessions are truncated. They are neither the time nor the place for a grandiose reworking of tax law or addressing multiple issues that are not central to easing the shock of 40-100% property tax increases. If this is a legislative fire emergency warranting a special session, we need to focus on the fire. Particularly when this is an “emergency” of our own making. After being elected, I repeatedly inquired into what was being done about property taxes. It was the Titanic of issues for which no one seemed concerned. If no one was addressing the issue, as a newly elected member assigned to the Finance Committee, I was willing to make the effort to do so. But I was repeatedly told that the governor’s office was working on a plan and to leave the issue alone. By March, however, I still had heard nothing. So, in the spirit of “a good plan now is better than a perfect one later,” when a GOP colleague brought forward a bill to limit property tax rises to 5%/year for three years, I was willing to cosponsor that effort. That did not mean we had to leave the issue alone for three years or that 5% would have been the cap signed into law. A short-term band-aide, however, would have bought time to sort out a long-term solution. A solution that could have been socialized, publicized and, in the parlance of the state house, “stake-holded”. I was warned that the Governor’s office was working on a plan and that the legislature needed to wait. But when the GOP bill came to the Finance Committee, I broke ranks to vote for this “time out” bill, which was defeated 5-6. When the governor’s plan was finally presented in the last days of the session, I could not receive a straight answer to basic questions regarding how the law would impact local governments in my district. And when I finally insisted on simple declarative answers, the answers were wrong. With more concerns regarding process rather than substance, I was one of seven Democrats to vote against the referred referendum that became Prop. HH. And I have no doubt that the process and complexity behind Prop HH is what led to its decisive rejection by nuanced swing voters who are not swayed by political slogans or rigid ideology. So as we head into this special session, I urge colleagues to keep in mind past mistakes and not create a rushed Wile E. Coyote ACME contraption of a solution that will not restore the trust and confidence of Colorado’s voters. With only a few days in a special session, we should focus on a short-term stop-gap solution to buy time to create a long-term, transparent, and easily understood solution in open session. Given that we have had a national core inflation rate of 13% over the past two years, a stop-gap along the lines of a 15-20% cap for property tax rises due to reassessments (without improvements) or a property tax exemption of a baseline amount that would reflect a statewide rise of 15-20% (e.g., the first $100K of value), would likely be the ideal “emergency” solution for an “emergency” special session.
Robert Marshall is the House Rep. for District 43, which primarily covers Highlands Ranch in Douglas County.