Building a Better Colorado’s Craig meeting details state fiscal issues for area nonprofits
Colorado’s Gallagher amendment has no relation to the curly-headed American comedian best known for smashing watermelons onstage.
It’s much more complicated and less funny, as dozens of community leaders learned at a Tuesday meeting hosted by the nonpartisan nonprofit Building a Better Colorado at Colorado Northwestern Community College.
BBCO is visiting 37 communities across Colorado to educate local leaders about fiscal state policy. Craig was the organization’s 24th stop.
“We’re not advocating for any particular outcome today,” BBCO project manager Reeves Brown prefaced before the policy conversation. “We are only advocating for an honest conversation.”
The 1982 Gallagher amendment to the state constitution has had far-reaching effects on local funding for county community services and public schools, he said.
The Gallagher amendment requires Colorado’s residential property taxes to account for no more than 45% of the state’s total property tax pool. Between 1982 to today, the amendment effectively decreased the taxable value of homes by about 75% — from 30% to 7.15%.
Without a robust residential property tax base, Brown said some communities struggle to come up with local funding for community services such as fire protection and public schools.
With handheld voting machines in hand, community members discussed and voted on what changes they believed would improve the Gallagher amendment.
The Gallagher amendment was one of three fiscal policies reviewed at the BBCO meeting. The second was TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, adopted in 1992 which requires voter approval to raise state or local taxes and places a limit on how much tax revenue may be collected by state and local governments.
According to TABOR, excess revenue must be refunded to taxpayers. The criticism of TABOR, Brown said, is that it has led to a shrinking state budget and a decrease in discretionary funding for programs like higher education and transportation infrastructure in spite of the state’s economic growth.
Colorado’s Amendment 23 was the third fiscal policy discussed during the two-hour long discussion. Adopted in 2000, the amendment requires the state to fund K-12 education at a minimum amount every year, regardless of economic conditions.
“However you define your quality of life these three constitutional amendments affects your quality of life,” Brown said. “If you don’t like where we’re going, it’s up to you to do something about it.”
The amendments were all “well-intended,” he said, but created a series of “unintended consequences.”
State support for in-state college tuition has decreased 50% since 2000, leading to more students graduating with higher debt loads and therefore less likely to purchase a home post-college, one of many unintended consequences of TABOR.
“If we want to sustain our quality of life, we cannot continue on the current fiscal path which our constitution now mandates,” Brown said.
Moffat County United Way Executive Director Kristen Vigil was among those in attendance, stating she learned a lot about fiscal state policy she didn’t know before she attended the workshop.
Although BBCO doesn’t advocate for any particular change, past BBCO discussions have led to real state and legislative change. The 2016 Raise the Bar campaign, which advocated for better state-wide representation in order to pass a state constitutional amendment, was passed by 56% of the voters in 2016 and is now Amendment 71 of the state constitution.
The Let Colorado Vote campaign, or Proposition 108, passed with 53% of the vote in 2016 and allows unaffiliated voters to vote easier in their primary of choice without first having to officially affiliate with a certain party. Both topics originated during past BBCO discussions.
“We have been led to believe when we talk about public policy, what we see in the media and what we observe from our elected officials is that because we have different political affiliations, or different skin colors, or different zip codes, that we don’t agree or we can’t agree,” he said. “BBCO doesn’t believe that. As Coloradans, we have a whole lot more in common than we are different and it starts with a shared love for our state.”