Lawsuit filed challenging proposed Colorado property tax ballot measure set for Nov. 2023 election

Advance Colorado and Englewood City Council member Steven Ward filed a lawsuit on May 15, 2023, in Denver County District Court, challenging the property tax measure recently placed on Colorado’s Nov. 2023 ballot. The lawsuit alleges that the measure violates the state’s single-subject rule, which requires ballot measures to concern a single subject, and alleges that the ballot language is misleading.

Senate Bill 303, referred to the 2023 ballot by the Legislature, would make several changes to state property taxes and revenue limits. Among its provisions are the reduction of property tax rates, the retention and spending of state revenues that would otherwise be refunded to residents under the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), the allocation of funds to local governments to compensate for decreased tax revenues, the implementation of a limit on local government property tax revenue, and the establishment of a new cap on state revenue.

Michael Fields, president of Advance Colorado, argues that the measure contains multiple subjects. Fields stated, “This ballot measure clearly violates the single-subject provision in our Colorado Constitution. We’re talking about TABOR refunds going to education, we’re talking about money going to renters, we’re talking about long-term changes to TABOR formula, and we’re talking about limited property tax relief in the same measure.” Fields also said “On top of that, the ballot language is unclear and misleading. Voters deserve to know that they would be giving up their TABOR tax refunds in exchange for very little property tax relief.”

State Senate President Stephen Fenberg (D) defended the measure. In a statement, Fenberg said, “It’s unfortunate that Republican special interest groups are trying to prevent Coloradans from lowering their property taxes, but we are confident SB23-303 was crafted within the confines of the law, and we look forward to proving its constitutionality so that every Colorado family can enjoy immediate relief while protecting critical funding for services like schools, libraries, and fire departments our communities rely on.”

Three years ago, Colorado voters approved a measure that also made multiple changes to property tax laws. Amendment B repealed the Gallagher Amendment of 1982, which limited the residential and non-residential property tax assessment rates so that residential property taxes equaled 45% of the total share of state property taxes and non-residential property taxes equaled 55% of the total share of state property taxes. The Legislature passed a companion bill, Senate Bill 20-223, which allowed legislators to reduce the assessment rate in state law. 

Michael Fields was also an opponent of Amendment B in 2020. In a statement to Ballotpedia, Fields said, “The repeal of the Gallagher Amendment was supposed to make things better, but I opposed it because it would inevitably lead to huge increases in property taxes for Colorado families. That is exactly what we are seeing across the state. The legislature created this problem. They said they would come up with a solution and they didn’t. Now, the governor and legislature want us to give up our TABOR tax refunds for a tiny bit of property tax relief. It’s another bad idea.”

The 2023 measure requires voter approval under TABOR since it would increase state revenue. Since 1992, when TABOR was adopted, through 2022, Colorado voters have decided on 27 statewide ballot measures that would have increased revenue for the state, which required voter approval under TABOR.

  • Eight measures asked voters if the state could retain revenue as a voter-approved revenue change that would have otherwise been refunded to taxpayers under TABOR;
  • Five measures asked voters to adopt a new tax;
  • Two measures asked voters to eliminate a tax exemption (thereby raising state revenue);
  • One measure asked voters to reduce income tax deduction amounts;
  • Nine measures asked voters to adopt a tax increase;
  • One measure asked voters to adopt a tax increase and new tax; and
  • One measure asked voters to adopt a tax increase and eliminate a tax exemption.

Eight (29.6%) of the 27 measures were approved while 19 (70.3%) were defeated.

Additional reading:

Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)