he May election has passed, and Pueblo West Metropolitan District wants to reengage our residents on the recent referendum to “De-Bruce” our property tax revenues under Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Approval of the referendum would have lifted the revenue spending limitation on the voter approved mill levy under TABOR. Currently, this revenue limitation caps the District’s ability to collect the full voter approved mill levy of 20.193, which is calculated based on a combination of local growth and the consumer price index (localized inflation). In times of community and economic growth, this revenue cap limits property tax revenue collection below the tax payer approved mill levy of 20.193.
Although the community is growing and the economy is improving, the TABOR revenue limitation actually prevented the District from collecting the full 20.193 mill levy in 2016. This revenue limitation makes it increasingly difficult to maintain or improve services and infrastructure as our community grows.
By falling short by 344 votes, the referendum lacked fewer votes for passage than it takes to get an initiative placed on the ballot (C.R.S., Title 32-13-105). This means, in Pueblo West, it takes approximately 390 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot or 45 more votes than May’s referendum voting margin.
Since May, we have actively engaged local residents to better understand their perceptions of the referendum, and noted some misconceptions still exist. Knowledge is power, and the Pueblo West Metro District wants to ensure residents have full information about what the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is, as well as the differences and similarities of De-Brucing and a TABOR Time Out.
Colorado’s TABOR amendment passed by Colorado voters in 1992. TABOR restricts revenues for state and local governments, including municipalities, special districts, and school districts. Under TABOR, state and local governments cannot raise tax rates without voter approval, and cannot spend revenues collected under existing tax rates if revenues grow faster than the rate of inflation and population growth, without voter approval. Under TABOR, the state has returned more than $2 billion to taxpayers rather than using these funds to pay for K-12 education, higher education, transportation, public health services, public safety services, and other services.
While engaging a number of residents following the election we found that a misconception still exists that De-Brucing gets rid of TABOR altogether. The truth is, De-Brucing does not eliminate TABOR. Only the tax revenue limitation formula is removed when a government is De-Bruced. De-Brucing measures do not eliminate TABOR’s voter right to approve or disapprove any and all future tax rate increases, and De-Brucing will not affect the property tax mill levy rate. As always, voters must still approve a mill levy increase under De-Brucing.
Additionally, there is a misconception that De-Brucing is permanent. The truth is, at any time, citizens can collect signatures equivalent to 5% of the Pueblo West voting population in the last general election (or approximately 390 signatures) and place an initiative on the ballot to restore the revenue limitation of TABOR for our government.
Second, we received feedback from many voters that the ballot language was too difficult to understand. For future initiatives, we will research and get more public insight into ballot language, to help ensure you understand exactly what you are voting for. To this extent, we invite residents to take an unscientific poll regarding ballot language. Your insight will help ensure the most clear and understandable ballot language in the future.
Third, we received feedback that if the revenue freed by De-Brucing would have been earmarked for a specific project, they would have voted for the initiative. We are working with residents to identify a critical infrastructure project that would be a good fit for funding under a future initiative. Rather than go for De-Brucing, Pueblo West is exploring a TABOR Time Out which is a temporary lift the TABOR revenue limitation for a predetermined period of time—usually 5 to 10 years. The approximate annual revenue Pueblo West could receive from a TABOR Time Out is $80,000 per year. Annually, this amount is not much to make a significant impact on our service plan. But with prudent planning and vision, a 10 year TABOR Time Out combined with grant funding, perhaps a GOCO grant, could have a significant impact on a single project. One great example of a successful TABOR timeout for Pueblo West occurred approximately 10 years ago and helped significantly to fund the rebuilding and paving of McCulloch Blvd.
Please take the opportunity to participate in our unscientific poll so we can receive feedback on how we to improve ballot initiatives in the future.