SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado lawmakers voted 6-3 Wednesday to advance a bill that proponents hope will make the state’s K-12 school finance system equal across districts.
HB21-1164 would restore budget cuts from last year, and generate millions for education in the state. It would also gradually increase taxes over two decades for some school districts.
“Building back stronger Colorado truly means that every student in Colorado has access to the education they need to thrive. All Colorado taxpayers and students deserve fair and sufficient funding of the public K-12 system. We are simply correcting an error in our property tax system to help get us there,” said House Majority Leader Daneya Esgar, (D) Pueblo, and co-sponsor of the bill.
For the 2020 property tax year, the existing statute corrects the total program mill levies for school districts that are not subject to constitutional property tax revenue restrictions but whose mill levies were erroneously reduced. Each school district that levies a higher number of mills as a result of the correction must grant a tax credit for the number of mills by which the levy is increased.
“It will ask the Colorado Supreme Court to make a determination if the Colorado Department of Education made a mistake in the 1990s when it started forcing property taxes down in school districts around the state based on their property assessment wealth,” said Superintendent George Welsh, Cañon City School District.
Right now, taxpayers in different school districts pay different rates with a large chunk of the state’s budget taking care of the rest.
“It’s created a situation in the state where some school districts pay twice or four times as much into their base mill levy to support their local education institutions,” said Welsh. “You can be on one side of the street and pay 27 mills into your local education system and you can be on the other side of the street in a different school district and pay 15 mills into your local education system.”
Welsh says the bill would create a more even playing field for districts. In his district, taxpayers pay the maximum mill levy rate of 27.
“There are several districts in the state that have never passed a mill override. In our situation in Canon City, we had two failed mill override attempts in the 1980s and 2017. The most recent failure was in 2013. In 2017, we put a very small question on the ballot for our community. It was a four mill increase so it drove local contribution up from 27 to 31, and it raised a little over $1 million a year. We committed to that money to teacher salaries and putting a device into every child’s hand. We had to put a sunset on it ten years out. This thing passed by fewer than 300 votes out of 18,000 cast so it was close,” said Welsh.
Under the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), all tax increases need a vote to pass, but HB21-1164 would…