SJR21-006 (Zenzinger & Fenberg/Esgar & Garnett) Interrogatory Regarding School District Mill Levies
In previous Capitol Updates we provided updates on HB21-1164, a bill that forms the basis of a constitutional question to be sent to the Colorado Supreme Court as an interrogatory meant to correct a long-standing error in our property tax system that funds school finance. Senate Joint Resolution 21-006 is the vehicle for the interrogatory that asks the Court to affirm whether the remedies included in HB21-1164 are constitutional. It lays out the legislature’s case for why school district total program mill levy reductions that occurred throughout the 1990s and early 2000s violated state statute, and the underlying assumption that the General Assembly may correct this error by requiring districts to reset their mill levies to the levels at which they would have been but for the unauthorized reductions – without requiring a school district to obtain additional voter approval. Joint resolutions are an expression of the will of both chambers on a matter and require approval by a simple majority in both chambers.
The Children’s Campaign strongly supports the remedies included in HB21-1164 and the accompanying SJR21-006 because of the potential to correct a long-standing error in our property tax system that funds school finance. Historically, local property tax rates to support education were consistent across districts, but today they vary widely across the state, forming the foundation of our inequitable school finance system. This structural problem in our K-12 revenue system is not a result of intentional policy choices, but rather is the result of an error made in TABOR’s application by the Colorado Department of Education. This error means some property owners pay tax rates that are 16 times higher than that of taxpayers in neighboring school districts on properties of the same value. Tax rates to support K-12 education range from 1.68 mills (in one school district) to 27 mills (in 39 school districts). In every case, the state backfills the difference between revenue raised locally and what is needed to educate students. The error forces the state to backfill disproportionately more to our wealthiest districts, subtracting from what would otherwise be distributed to all districts.
SJR21-006 passed the Senate last Friday and the House this Monday, sending the interrogatory to the Colorado Supreme Court. This week, the Supreme Court decided they would take on the case.