Colorado legislators marched toward passing Democrats’ priority property tax relief bill on the special session’s penultimate day Sunday, alongside a slate of economic aid for lower-income Coloradans.
Two bills are already headed to Gov. Jared Polis to sign into law, while another five — including Democrats’ short-term property tax fix — are awaiting critical votes in the House and Senate in the next 24 hours. All are Democrat-led and represent an attempt to turn Proposition HH’s failure into a broader balm to housing and cost issues plaguing homeowners and renters alike.
“We don’t have to choose,” Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, said on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon. “We have a chance to do both. We can help homeowners who are struggling with a dramatic increase in property taxes, and we can help renters who are struggling with a dramatic increase in the rent they’re paying.”
Republicans, meanwhile, have roundly criticized their Democratic peers for not advancing enough property tax relief, for dismissing Republican-backed bills and for leveraging the looming property tax hikes to pull a broader array of economic levers.
“The voters have asked us to come and do simple and clean property tax relief, and instead we’re passing rental assistance bills and food bills and all these different bills,” Rep. Brandi Bradley, a Littleton Republican, said Sunday morning as the chamber debated a measure to set aside $30 million in rental aid.
Polis is expected to sign the two bills that have passed both chambers. One would expand staffing within the state’s Treasury Department for a property tax deferral program, and the other would double the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program. That would direct $182.5 million toward lower-income workers, particularly those with children, next year. A handful of other measures, including one to send equal refund checks distributed under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to all taxpayers, are expected to pass Monday.
Meanwhile, Democrats’ primary tax relief bill, which would decrease a home’s value for the purposes of taxation while cutting the assessment rate, cleared the Senate after a technical amendment and began its final advance through the House. The measure would blunt property tax increases, though taxes are still set to go up compared to what homeowners paid last year.
After passing a pair of initial House committees, the bill hit the House floor Sunday night. Republicans lined up to criticize it for not providing enough relief, while Democrats countered that the measure was a compromise and a starting point. Lawmakers are also working on a bill to form a task force focused on a long-term property tax solution.
Minority Leader Mike Lynch, the top Republican in the House, said he was encouraged that the House was finally discussing property tax relief. But he said he was “disappointed” that the bill didn’t do more, particularly for commercial property owners.
“I think we can do better,” added Assistant Minority Leader Rose Pugliese, a Colorado Springs Republican. “I think we can give more property tax relief.”
House Speaker Julie McCluskie said there wasn’t enough funding available to extend relief to commercial properties, too, and House Democrats — called by Republicans to expand the relief — repeatedly pressed Republicans to explain how they proposed to pay for it.
“We’re going to keep debating wholly unserious proposals for the rest of the evening,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat. “And I just want to ask the question: How much does it cost? Where is the money coming from?”
Paying for the property tax cuts has been a delicate balance. Democrats have refused to touch their rainy day fund, citing the need to stay prepared for any future economic downturns. Republicans, meanwhile, have said the relief shouldn’t come from the state’s TABOR surplus (as Proposition HH largely proposed to do) because of voters’ rejection of the ballot measure.
The result, Democratic legislators say, is the current plan: just shy of $200 million in general fund money. Still, Republicans have repeatedly sought to suggest the money will come from the state’s TABOR surplus.
It’s true that $240 million in property tax relief, passed in a different bill with broad bipartisan support in 2022, is pulled from the surplus. But the relief contemplated now does not come from TABOR, according to a nonpartisan analysis by legislative staff.
“We are here to deliver significant tax relief and our colleagues across the aisle are about to vote no,” said Sen. Chris Hansen, a Denver Democrat, before a Senate floor vote. “We are significantly expanding the tax relief to the lowest-income households in the state with this bill within the means that we have.”
The House had not fully voted on the property tax bill by press time Sunday night, though the measure is almost certain to clear the chamber. The session is expected to conclude Monday, four days after it began. The House was set to work late Sunday night to tee up final votes on the handful of lingering measures.
Those remaining bills — all of which are expected to make it to Polis’ desk — include a proposal to direct $30 million in rental aid in the first six months of 2024. That funding would go to nonprofit organizations and, in turn, to landlords to prevent at-risk tenants from being evicted. Rental aid has been a priority for progressive lawmakers, who have routinely noted that renters have faced regular cost increases in recent years.
“I just have to add my frustration with this again as a renting Coloradan, how quickly we will jump for property owners,” Rep. Stephanie Vigil, a Colorado Springs Democrat who voted in support of the property tax bill, said.
While Republicans have opposed the rental assistance bill, Democrats argued that, with at least 34% of Coloradans being renters and evictions surging, the money is needed.
“And since we’re already here, working for the people, listening to what their needs are, we should pass the piece of legislation while we are here,” Democratic Sen. Janet Buckner of Aurora said. “A couple of months from now may not be soon enough for some people.”
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