Denver Judge Tosses Lawsuit Over Property Tax Ballot Measure

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Denver seen from above Five Points.

A Denver District Court judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit demanding a rewrite of how a high-stakes ballot measure is described in the state's official Blue Book voter guide.

Amendment B, which is on the fall ballot, would repeal the 1982 Gallagher Amendment that limited residential property taxes. Advocates for the repeal, which was referred to the ballot by the state legislature, say it's led to funding cuts for schools, fire departments, and other government services.

The Blue Book language describing the measure, and arguments for and against, was initially written by nonpartisan legislative staff.

But some legislators replaced the language "for" arguments with their own, leading to the lawsuit by repeal opponents who said it resembled propaganda. Legislators said they wanted the language to match the coming political debate and to more clearly communicate "the full picture of Gallagher."

Judge Martin F. Egelhoff's ruling means the Blue Book, which is mailed to every voter in the state, will almost certainly go to press with the legislators' language intact. It was celebrated Friday by some of the lawmakers behind the repeal effort.

"This bogus lawsuit being tossed out was as easy to predict as sunshine after a storm," state Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial said in a statement. "The political insiders who authored the Gallagher Amendment in 1982 will undoubtedly continue trying to distract and deceive voters about the unintended consequences of the measure. We will keep our focus on sharing with Coloradans the broad, bipartisan support for voting yes on Amendment B to stop the damage Gallagher delivers to schools, first responders and local businesses across the state."

State Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, said the ruling allows the pro-repeal campaign to move on and start making its case to voters.

"We are exceptionally low when it comes to residential property taxes. And we need to stabilize that system otherwise we do not have the ability to maintain high quality schools," he said.

The group that brought the lawsuit, Protect Our Homes Colorado, said the judge cited a separation of powers doctrine prohibiting a court from interfering in legislative functions. The group said the judge's ruling amounts to an abdication of his duty.

“This decision was just an excuse to hide behind a legislative loophole,” Clay Vigoda, campaign manager of Protect Our Homes Colorado, said in a statement. “By arguing the jurisdiction of the case, rather than its merits, the legislature is essentially telling Coloradans they’re not accountable to the citizens for delivering a fair and impartial Blue Book, thus above the law."