On the same day Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 303, Douglas County Commissioners announced they will be joining a lawsuit to challenge the measure that looks to put Proposition HH on the November ballot, asking voters to approve a plan Democrats say will slow the increase in property taxes.
As property owners statewide are facing up to 50% tax increases, Democrats introduced Senate Bill 303 three days before the 2023 legislative session ended. With no public discussion and little debate, the bill passed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate and was signed by Polis.
Passing SB23-303 allows the state to place what is known as Proposition HH on the November ballot. The measure asks voters to approve taking a portion of the TABOR surplus, or the state tax refunds citizens receive, and divert it for at least 10 years to homeowners and commercial property owners to keep property taxes lower.
Before Polis could even put ink to paper to sign the bill, legal challenges were filed. The lawsuit challenging the proposition was filed by Advance Colorado and by Steven Ward, who also serves as a member of the Englewood City Council.
The county announced Wednesday that it would be joining the original lawsuit. The primary focus of the legal challenge is the subject of the ballot measure, which plaintiffs claim violates the state’s single subject and “clear title” statutes.
According to the Douglas County announcement, commissioners believe the bill should be declared void and unconstitutional, precluding its implementation and enforcement; or, as an alternative, that the ballot title should be corrected “to provide a clear, detailed, and politically neutral explanation of its contents.”
“Any way you slice it, SB23-303 and Proposition HH do not prevent residential property owners in Douglas County from experiencing what will be the largest property tax increase in state history,” said Board of Commissioners Chair Abe Laydon.
The commissioners believe the title of the bill is misleading and does not clearly express the subject of the ballot measure.
At question is what exactly residents are voting on in November. While Democrats say the 10-year pause on TABOR will provide property tax relief, opponents say it will decrease the mandated state tax refund residents receive from revenue surpluses.
Commissioner George Teal said selling this ballot item as "property tax relief" while sending TABOR refunds to fund state government and making long-term changes to the TABOR formula while failing to specify that the state surplus is being used to “unnecessarily” backfill local taxing authorities is "misleading."
Commissioner Lora Thomas said pushing Proposition HH in the “11th hour” of the legislative session without the contribution or approval from the local governments it directly affects does not fix the property tax issues.
Thomas said it simply takes away TABOR refunds, which are the “last remaining bit of tax relief” citizens have.
“Specifically, the bill and ballot titles both fail to include any numbers concerning the property tax assessment rates and do not clearly inform voters that the property tax assessment reduction is minimal,” commissioners said in the provided statement.
Douglas County commissioners agree that Colorado law and precedent require that voters be informed of significant changes to law and of relevant numbers when they are asked to vote on a ballot measure.
To keep citizens informed, the county is planning to hold a series of town hall meetings. With the dates to be determined, residents can learn more about upcoming events by visiting the website at douglas.co.us and search live town halls; or call the board at 303-660-7401.