Colorado lawmakers approve property tax relief, rental assistance, flat TABOR refunds as end of session nears

Updated at 12:47 p.m.: The Senate accepted the House’s amendments on the property tax relief bill and voted 23-12 to repass it, which means the bill will now head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. (Details on the bill and its impact are in the 11:10 a.m. update below.)

Updated at 12:42 p.m.: Colorado senators voted 20 to 15 to pass a bill creating a Colorado Commission on Property Taxes to explore long-term solutions that protect property owners and tenants from rising taxes and make recommendations to lawmakers.

The vote followed debate among lawmakers over who should be represented on the commission. Republicans objected to the inclusion of a teacher representative or an official from the Colorado Education Association. The commission, to made up of 19 members, will begin meetings in March and will include five county commissioners, four lawmakers and property owners from around Colorado.

Updated at 12:28 p.m.: A bill to refund taxpayers an equal amount of money on their 2023 tax returns has just been approved on a final vote in the Colorado House. SB23B-003 would provide each taxpayer about $800 for their Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights-mandated refund, instead of amounts that change based on how much the person makes annually.

That bill was the latest to pass on a party-line vote of 42-18, and it now heads to the governor’s desk.

During the final minutes of debate, while Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver was speaking, about a dozen people arrived in the House gallery, silently holding up Palestinian flags. Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy called for a brief recess and asked them to put the flags away, per House rules, but said they were welcome to remain in the gallery. The individuals remained and silently held up their fists in the air until Epps finished speaking.

Updated at 11:35 a.m.: The Colorado Senate gave final approval to a bill that will nearly double funds in the state’s rental assistance program by adding $30 million. The Senate voted 23-12, along party lines, and HB23B-001 now will head to the governor’s desk. The bill, once signed, will direct $30 million to the Emergency Rental Assistance Grant Program, raising the total in the state’s fund to $65 million, with all required to be spent by June.

The funding would flow to nonprofit organizations and, then, to landlords for the purpose of preventing eviction of at-risk tenants. Progressive lawmakers have prioritized aid for renters hard hit by rising housing costs in recent years, while Republicans have opposed the bill, with some citing it as straying from the session’s focus on property taxes.

It was approved without further debate Monday.

“People across the state live on the brink and are one job loss away, or one emergency away, from losing the roof over their head,” Rep. Mandy Lindsay, an Aurora Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said on Saturday. “We can do something about it, right here, right now.”

Updated at 11:10 a.m.: The Colorado House passed Democrats’ main property tax relief bill on a third and likely final vote about an hour after convening. SB23B-001 passed on a party-line vote of 42-18.

The bill will now return to the Senate for final reconciliation, a necessary step because a House committee amended the legislation Sunday.

Democrats planned to draw from $200 million that was previously set aside by the legislature for the property tax reductions. The bill would raise the deduction for residential properties for tax purposes to $55,000, up from $15,000. It also would reduce the assessment rate that is used to determine how much of that value will be taxed under mill levies set by local taxing authorities.

Though the changes won’t entirely offset the increases that are coming to tax bills early next year, they are expected to scale them back considerably. The owner of a house valued at $500,000 in an area with an average mill levy would save about $255 — shaving off roughly half of the coming increase. The percentage reduction would be higher for homes with lower values.

The House plans to consider two more bills this morning. The Senate, after approving a $30 million rental assistance bill, has one more on its agenda.

Special session cheat sheet

Here are the major relief proposals in bills under consideration by Colorado lawmakers in the special session:

Direct property tax cuts: Increase in the residential property deduction and reduction in the assessment rate. Taxes still will rise in areas with fast-growing property values, but not by nearly as much (with varying impact depending on location and home value).

Flat TABOR refunds: Estimated at more than $800 per taxpayer, rather than amounts varying by income, with the final figure depending on other legislation. Most taxpayers would receive a higher amount than under the income-tiered system.

Doubling EITC match: A state match of 50% for workers who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, to be claimed on their Colorado tax returns.

Rental assistance: Adding $30 million to the state’s eviction-prevention program, on top of $35 million already budgeted during the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Source: Denver Post reporting, proposed bills.

Original story: Colorado lawmakers have returned to the State Capitol on Monday morning for the fourth — and possibly final — day of a special session aimed at providing relief from skyrocketing property taxes, rents and other cost-of-living expenses for Coloradans.

The House and Senate both reconvened shortly after 10 a.m. Together, they have five bills scheduled for final floor votes, and, if needed, discussions to reconcile details between the versions passed by each chamber. The outstanding bills include the majority Democrats’ main property tax relief measure.

Lawmakers successfully passed two of the Democrats’ other priority bills on Sunday, with those headed to Gov. Jared Polis for his signature. The rest proceeded through preliminary votes to ensure they could be scheduled for final votes Monday.

Those that passed were HB23B-1002, which doubles the state’s match to 50% for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit for 2023 returns filed early next year; and HB23B-1008, which appropriates money to the state Department of Treasury to staff a property tax deferral program.

The governor called the special session after the state’s voters rejected Proposition HH in the Nov. 7 election. The ballot measure had targeted a reduction in homeowners’ upcoming property taxes, which rising due to surging property values across the state that average about 40% at the median. The measure also would have sent money to school districts, local governments and special districts that rely on property tax revenue for their annual budgets.

The major property tax relief bill, heavily opposed by Republicans, passed the Senate on Sunday and is set to be heard in the House on Monday. If the House passes it with amendments, it will need to return to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

Another bill still on the table is one that, at Polis’ request, would create a property tax task force to convene by June 2024. The panel would be charged with recommending tax reforms and other proposals to reduce property taxes to the General Assembly by October. The text of the bill was significantly changed on Sunday ahead of final votes on the rewritten version.

Other remaining bills include one that would increase the state’s allocation for a rental assistance program — which is aimed at preventing evictions — by $30 million, increasing the current fiscal year’s budget to $65 million. The money would go to nonprofit organizations and, in turn, to landlords to keep at-risk tenants in their apartments and homes. It must be spent by June 30.

The House had a late Sunday night, adjourning for the day just before midnight — with only minutes to spare before the deadline to take preliminary floor votes on its remaining bills and make them eligible for final votes Monday. Otherwise, the session would continue through Tuesday because of timing rules.

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Democratic Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver proposed an amendment to a bill that would enable Colorado to participate next year in a federal summer meal program for children in low-income families. Epps’ amendment proposed a restriction related to Israel’s latest military campaign in the occupied Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.

Her fellow Democrats passed a motion to limit debate to one hour before she began presenting the amendment, and several tense moments ensued as the clock ticked down. Ultimately, the bill passed its preliminary vote before midnight — without Epps’ amendment.

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