By Jerry Kopel
Fighting. Biting. Tsk! Tsk!
House Minority Leader Joe Stengel (R) called it "the worst case of lying" in one newspaper and "an out-and-out lie" in another newspaper, referring to a sales pitch for Referendum C. Katy Atkinson, spokesperson for the "Vote Yes" campaign guarantees that without passing Referendum C, "it won't come back".
The subject matter of "IT" is the Senior Property Tax Exemption, presently lying frozen in the statutory morgue.
Unless you just dropped in from Neptune, you have been overexposed to how Referendum C will suspend surplus revenue under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), and use the money for certain specified projects (not including the senior property tax exemption).
Atkinson and former State Rep. Fran Mace claim a Tabor refund suspension is the only way the property tax exemption can eventually thaw out.
The Senior Property Tax Exemption only applies to an owner-occupant of a home who has filed the proper application, who is 65 years or older, and who has owned and occupied the home for 10 years, or the surviving spouse of such person.
The legislature can provide a tax exemption of 50 percent of the assessed value. The amount of the assessed value subject to the exemption is to be set by statute enacted by the legislature, except that the constitution set the exemption for the year 2002 at the first $200,000 of assessed value of the home.
For the years, Jan. 1, 2003 through December 31, 2005, the legislature set the tax exemption at ZERO dollars of actual value as of the assessment date. If Referendum C fails, the legislature will have no choice except to continue the "zero dollars" exemption for future years.
Let us suppose Referendum C passes, and the legislature changes "zero" to $200,000 and that the property tax is $3,000 on a home valued at $600,000.
If the legislature sets the exemption at $200,000, the homeowner gets to keep 50 percent of the first $1,000 of property tax, saving $500. Local government doesn't suffer the loss, since the state reimburses local government the $500.
Which approach would Colorado voters prefer? Well, look at the votes on both constitutional amendments, both put on the ballot by petition signers.
The Senior Property Tax Exemption, passed in 2000, received 31,312 more "yes" votes than TABOR did in 1992, and 3,508 fewer "no " votes than TABOR. (Senior: 843,620 vs. 697,398. Tabor: 812,308 vs. 700,906.)
Obviously there were more voters in 2000 than in 1992, but Senior Property Tax Exemption received 54.7 percent of the vote even with an overwhelming majority of the voters not 65 or older, who will not receive tax savings until many years later.
TABOR in 1992 received 53.7 percent of the vote, even though it would have been an equal sharing of money for all taxpayers.
The legislature did abuse its authority under TABOR to give the overwhelming majority of surplus refund to business and a minority of wealthy tax payers who had capital gains. The breakdown of which group got what can be obtained from the Colorado Legislative Council.
Assuming Referendum C fails, the just average taxpayer not entitled to any of the special breaks will receive a refund equal to about $2 a week for the next five years.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel