Legislators move toward addressing Colorado’s unequal and unfair property tax system

Written by: Children's Campaign
Date Posted: March 15, 2019

Last summer, we brought you a series of KidsFlash articles demystifying the ways Colorado’s Constitution puts school finance on auto-pilot: by creating a wildly inequitable property tax system that no one asked for, and then in the absence of a statewide solution to inadequacy and inequity, requiring school districts to go after local revenue, exacerbating funding disparities between districts. Legislators are clued into these issues and are debating serious proposals to address them. We’re excited about a legislative proposal that would make our property tax system more fair and bolster the local share of education funding that has been in decline for decades by equalizing the property tax rate across the state.

With our partners at the Colorado Fiscal Institute, we’ve developed a short video explaining our property tax problem – which has also been highlighted recently by the Denver Post and the Colorado Sun. We’ve also plumbed the issue in our podcast, The West Steps.

screenshot of short video explaining our property tax problem

In short, Colorado’s base layer of revenue for preK-12 education requires some communities to pay a disproportionate share into the system that every child benefits from equally through base per pupil revenue. In many cases, communities that are the most property- and income-poor are paying a property tax rate that is 16 times higher than that of neighboring school districts to fund the central pool. On the same $350,000 home, for example, a homeowner in Pueblo contributes $678 per year to provide education across the state, while a homeowner in Aspen contributes $110 and a taxpayer in Ignacio contributes $57. There is no policy rationale for why community contributions vary, and no voter ever exercised control over whether this should happen–it’s just the most glaring unintended consequence of TABOR.

Legislators are beginning to take notice. In recent weeks, Joint Budget Committee members have discussed a draft bill that would return Colorado to a system requiring consistent local investment for school finance. This would require communities with artificially low mill levies (a mill levy is a property tax rate) to increase those mill levies with local voter approval. Legislative Council projections show that, once fully realized, a uniform mill levy would generate an estimated $450 million in local property tax revenues, which could then be reinvested in education.

This proposal is just one piece of the puzzle that will solve our school funding challenges. But it is an absolutely necessary fix that legislators have the ability to make that would create a more fair and equitable system.

The Colorado Association of School Boards recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution supporting the creation of a uniform mill levy. CASB has also created helpful FAQs about the proposal, in addition to school district-specific fact sheets.

Take action to support a more fair and adequate revenue system for education:

  • Help get the word out by sharing the video with your networks! Click here to see it on YouTube.
  • Educate yourself on the property tax rate that home and business owners pay in your own school district and how that compares to neighboring school districts in your county or region. The spreadsheet compares current Total Program Mill Levy (far left column) in each district and shows how much revenue each district could receive if a uniform mill levy of 27 were adopted statewide (far right column).
  • Reach out to your legislator to demand a fair system of taxation that will help ensure every district has an adequate amount of resources to serve their kids.

Have any questions or concerns about this proposal? Reach out to Leslie Colwell at leslie@coloradokids.org or 303-620-4534.

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About Children's Campaign

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization committed since 1985 to realizing every chance for every child in Colorado. We advocate for the development and implementation of data-driven public policies that improve child wellbeing in health, education and early childhood. We do this by providing Coloradans with trusted data and research on child wellbeing and organizing an extensive state-wide network of dedicated child advocates. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.