Some exemptions for property taxes may fall victim to poor economy

The state Legislature has been considering a proposal to temporarily eliminate property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled veterans to help bridge the state’s funding gap.

The proposal was one of “dozens” of cost-cutting measures Gov. Bill Ritter’s office submitted in January to the Legislature, said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor.

“This isn’t anything that anyone feels good about. We proposed reinstating that moratorium again for three years in an effort to help close a billion dollar (state) budget shortfall caused by this recession,” Dreyer said.

He made it a point to say the Democratic governor’s proposal is not a partisan one. A similar proposal, to temporarily eliminate property tax exemptions for seniors, was first proposed by former Republican Gov. Bill Owens in 2001. The veteran’s exemption was not instituted until 2006.

It is not partisan politics, Dreyer said. “It is a budget issue.”

The proposal has local opponents.

“Quite frankly seniors have paid their taxes over a long period of time, and veterans have served our country and deserve the respect this exemption gives them,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction. “This is exactly why that exemption is there. It is for seniors and veterans who are under the pressure of an economy that is in recession.”

Others, such as Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran, say that if the exemptions are eliminated, they should be for a year at the most. The proposal should return to the Legislature each year and let it decide if the exemptions should be reinstated, she said.

“I hope they look somewhere else. We are running out of places to look (for funds),” Bradford said.

“I really feel for people on fixed incomes right now. It is just tough all the way around.”

Pressure may be mounting on the Joint Budget Committee to look for cash from groups other than seniors and disabled veterans.

But the committee’s ultimate decision may hinge on what the state’s next budget forecast shows. It is due to be published March 20.

“We have been working very closely with the JBC for the last few months, and if there is a way to avoid this particular action, we will try and make that happen,” Dreyer said.

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, is one of the six members who sit on the Joint Budget Committee.

If the March 20 economic forecast shows the economy only improving marginally, or sliding even further into recession, there may be no other choice than to temporarily eliminate the exemptions for “two to three years” in all or part, he said.

“We would really like to not have to use it or do it, but economic realities are really dire,” White said.


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