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The Aspen Public Radio Newsroom has chosen to focus on four specific issues for our election coverage: the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice/representation, climate change and land use/management.These issues were among the most important to voters, according to a Pew Research poll in August 2020. We also chose them because they are important to people who live in the Roaring Fork Valley. That’s especially true as many have seen the economy, and their livelihoods, take a hit because of the pandemic, the growing Latino population in the region hasn’t had someone from their community holding a countywide governmental office, wildfires have been ferocious this season in the state, and the oil and gas industry employs many people.Our central question while reporting this series was “What Can I Expect From My Government?” We set out to find a diverse group of people who could tell us their answers to that question.Our election series is scheduled for Oct. 20-23. You'll be able to hear the stories during Morning Edition and All Things Considered. All our content will also be available here. Many of the other stories you’ll find here are from our reporting partners. We wanted to provide information about Colorado's key ballot initiatives and races, and also share details about how you can take part in this historic election year.

Fight Over Gallagher Amendment Could Impact Your Checkbook, And Your Fire Department's Budget

Jim Hill

Of the 11 ballot questions Colorado voters will decide in November, Amendment B is by far the most complicated. It seeks to repeal a 38-year-old state law affecting how much residents must pay in property taxes.

If you own a home or commercial property, your bank account has been affected by the Gallagher Amendment in some way. Voters approved the amendment in 1982 to put more of the property tax burden on businesses, which must pay 55% of the state’s property taxes. Meanwhile, homeowners pay 45%.

But state Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, is one of several lawmakers who think Gallagher has led to some major problems by keeping residential property tax rates lower despite increasing home values.

“Denver Public schools could stand to lose thirty million dollars next year,” Hansen said at a virtual Zoom rally in favor of Amendment B.

Hansen said that’s because property values continue to go up while the Gallagher Amendment limits what homeowners pay, creating an imbalance. And with the coronavirus pandemic currently gutting the state’s budget by $3 billion this year alone, lawmakers like Hansen think its time to get rid of that part of Gallagher.

“We’re in a situation where it’s very difficult for the state to backfill budgets,” he said. “This is not the time on the back of a terrible fire season and a horrible pandemic, to cut fire departments, to cut school budgets.”

And several of his Republican colleagues, like Rep. Matt Soeper of Delta, agree.

“It affects rural Colorado extra hard. It affects our business community extra hard,” he said of Gallagher.

Soper also blames the amendment for keeping funds away from public services — like the Plateau Valley Hospital in his district, which includes Grand Junction.

“Seventy percent of their budget comes from the local mill (property tax), and certainly what it means is it they are not going to fail next year or the following year, but there comes a time where they will have to go back to voters and ask for a mill levy increase,” he said.

Even opponents of Amendment B say they aren’t fans of Gallagher. Michael Fields, a conservative who has started a political committee against Amendment B, says it does cause problems.

“It is a problem for rural Colorado and the Western Slope area where they are actually losing money for local services because their home values don’t go up as much, and they don’t have as much commercial property,” he said.

But Fields wants to keep it on the books, at least for now.

“Repealing something without a replacement I don’t think works well with people,” he said.

Fields thinks Amendment B could hurt commercial property owners, and homeowners.

“We know that residential will pay more in a recession for people with fixed incomes, or teachers who aren’t making enough are paying more in residential property taxes, so that’s the real risk,” he said.

Fields said lawmakers should fix the Gallagher problem with a regional approach, instead of changing the formula for the entire state. Meanwhile, other opponents recently waged a legal battle against the lawmakers trying to repeal it.

They sued state lawmakers, alleging they altered the language in the state-issued voter guide in favor of repealing Gallagher.

A Denver judge tossed out the lawsuit, which tried to stop the printing of the Blue Book. At the center of the lawsuit was an argument over whether Gallagher will lead to higher property taxes.

Phyllis Resnick, the lead economist of the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, says that answer is complicated.

“In year one, nothing will happen. You would have the same tax bill that you would have had if Amendment B weren't to pass,” she said. “However, into the future it becomes a little bit of an open question because the history in Colorado has been that the value of our homes has almost always year-over-year increased.”

But even with the likelihood of higher residential property taxes, Kent Thiry says Gallagher needs to go.

“We’re killing small business with the cumulative effect of Gallagher,” he said.

Thiry is the former CEO of Davita, a major Denver-based health care company. He says the Gallagher Amendment is hurting the business community by making them pay higher taxes.

“Gallagher kills jobs. Gallagher kills hiring. And Gallagher forces layoffs particularly in a time of COVID,” he said.

Two-thirds of state lawmakers had to agree to ask voters to repeal Gallagher, making it one of the few ballot measures with strong bipartisan support. But opponents say if local school districts need more funding, they should ask their own voters to increase taxes.

Copyright 2021 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

A chart shows Gallagher's impact on property tax assessments since 1983.
Courtesy State of Colorado /
A chart shows Gallagher's impact on property tax assessments since 1983.

Scott Franz is a government watchdog reporter and photographer from Steamboat Springs. He spent the last seven years covering politics and government for the Steamboat Pilot & Today, a daily newspaper in northwest Colorado. His reporting in Steamboat stopped a police station from being built in a city park, saved a historic barn from being destroyed and helped a small town pastor quickly find a kidney donor. His favorite workday in Steamboat was Tuesday, when he could spend many of his mornings skiing untracked powder and his evenings covering city council meetings. Scott received his journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an outdoorsman who spends at least 20 nights a year in a tent. He spoke his first word, 'outside', as a toddler in Edmonds, Washington. Scott visits the Great Sand Dunes, his favorite Colorado backpacking destination, twice a year. Scott's reporting is part of Capitol Coverage, a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.