Editorial: Fact checking the dubious Proposition HH claims

Sneaky mailers that imitate an official notice from the government opposing Proposition HH arrived in mailboxes last week, claiming that the ballot question, if voters say yes, would take away TABOR refunds, forever.

The truth is tax refunds from the state — required under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — are likely to continue indefinitely as long as the state’s economy keeps pace with inflation and population growth plus the 1% increase in authorized state spending under Proposition HH. State economists are predicting growth in the state’s revenue with a stable economy and hefty TABOR refunds getting paid out for a decade to come, even with Proposition HH.

Americans for Prosperity sent out a duplicitous letter intended to replicate the TABOR refund checks that come in the mail, but it was just a campaign ad intended to drive home the point that Proposition HH will reduce TABOR refunds. The check was for $0. The big problem, however, is that even if Proposition HH passes, Coloradans are going to continue to get healthy refund checks, including one of more than $800 next year.

Meanwhile, the group supporting Proposition HH disingenuously told voters in a TV advertisement that Proposition HH was and is the only way to reduce the back-breaking increase in Colorado property taxes.

The truth is there were and continue to be many ways to provide Coloradans with relief from the unsustainable two-year increase in property valuations that resulted in a huge spike in property tax bills. Democratic lawmakers negotiating behind closed doors chose to reduce property taxes through a combination of reducing the state-wide assessment ratio and offering a one-time reduction in assessed value while annually keeping an additional 1% more of state revenue that otherwise would have gone to TABOR refunds.

Calling a special session and getting something hammered out in time before property taxes are assessed would be difficult, but that is the timeline lawmakers decided on when they tied property tax reductions to raising the TABOR cap in a November election.

And just so we are clear Proposition HH does not preserve TABOR refunds. If the measure fails the refunds will continue under the state’s six-tier refund mechanism.

Why can’t both sides just tell the truth and let voters decide?

The answer is, of course, that honesty doesn’t pay in politics. But honesty does pay in journalism, which is why Colorado’s news outlets, especially The Denver Post, The Colorado Sun, 9News and CBS Colorado have done such an excellent job of trying to distill for voters the pros and cons of Proposition HH so they can make an informed decision on Nov. 7.

As we’ve said repeatedly, who will benefit and how much from the complicated ballot measure varies broadly and depends on things like local property tax mill rates, home values, personal income amount, marital status, whether you are a senior living in your own home and whether we are talking about the first year or subsequent years of implementation.

Colorado voters should read the Bluebook closely, use calculators put together by journalists across the state, and try to determine if Proposition HH would be good or bad for their bottom line.

The Denver Post editorial board analyzed the proposition considering the “collective good” and found the reduced property tax increase, plus the promise to hold schools harmless for the state-required reduction in revenue, made Proposition HH an “eloquent solution” to Colorado’s crushing housing inflation and underfunded public schools.

We are not, however, so committed to the passage of HH as to twist the truth.

As we made clear in the endorsement, high-income renters are likely to see a substantial reduction in their TABOR refunds (especially in the first year when the refunds are paid out equally per taxpayer) and see no benefit from the reduction in property taxes.

The choice is simple — if voters want to see relief from housing inflation while allowing schools to still realize the gains from assessed values, then they can increase the TABOR cap by 1% every year with a “yes” vote under Proposition HH.

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