Gallagher Amendment repeal opponents sue state over ballot guide changes

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Published Friday, September 11, 2020
by Derek Draplin | The Center Square

(The Center Square) - A group opposing a measure to repeal Colorado's Gallagher Amendment is suing the state to stop changes made to the taxpayer-funded ballot guide that will be printed leading up to the November election. 

Colorado prints a ballot guide, commonly called the Blue Book, "to provide voters with the text, title, and a fair and impartial analysis of each initiated or referred constitutional amendment, law, or question on the ballot."

Protect Our Homes Colorado, the issue committee opposing the measure, seeks an emergency restraining order to halt the Blue Book's printing. The group said it filed the lawsuit against state officials "for failing to provide a fair and impartial analysis of Amendment B."

The state of Colorado, the Colorado Legislative Council, the Colorado Legislative Council Staff and the Colorado General Assembly are listed as defendants in the complaint.

The Blue Book is prepared by Legislative Council staff, the General Assembly's nonpartisan research arm, which is overseen by the Joint Legislative Council Committee that's made up of lawmakers. 

The lawsuit alleges that amendments approved recently by the bipartisan committee to the Blue Book's analysis of the measure falsely claim that a "yes" vote for the measure won't raise property taxes for residents.  

The lawsuit says that the amendments to the analysis "substantially, and improperly changed both the analysis and the arguments to be printed in the Blue Book."

Lawmakers referred the measure to the ballot last session with bipartisan support.

"The Colorado Property Tax Administrator estimates that residential property owners will pay an additional $203.7 million in property tax increases in the first year, and over $1.02 billion over the next five years, that homeowners would not pay if the Amendment fails," Protect Our Homes Colorado said in a statement. 

Former Colorado House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Democrat, and former Democratic Denver City Auditor Dennis Gallagher, who authored the Gallagher Amendment, are both listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

"This brand-new version of the blue book description of the ballot measure makes it sound like this property tax hike is actually a property tax cut. That's dishonest," Hullinghorst said in a statement. "Voters deserve to know exactly what it is that they are voting for or against."

Gallagher said the Blue Book amendment process "was not an open, honest, and fair process that takes any public input or concern into account."

The Gallagher Amendment requires a property tax ratio that's made up of 45 percent from residential properties and 55 percent from non-residential properties, with the General assembly responsible for adjusting the assessment rate for residential properties. 

The residential property tax assessment rate has gone from 21 percent when the amendment was approved by voters in 1982 to 7.15 percent today in order to maintain the property tax ratio. 

Amendment B would repeal the amendment's ratio requirement and let the General Assembly freeze the state's property tax assessment rates at 7.15 percent for residential properties and 29 percent for non-residential properties, where they currently stand. The measure would also allow the General Assembly to tweak the property tax assessment rate.

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