Court backs freeze

In the midst of a severe economic crisis, the state of Colorado dodged a serious budgetary obstacle Monday with the state Supreme Court ruling that a mill levy freeze for school districts is constitutional.

That means the state won’t have to carve another $117 million out of a budget that is already being slashed by more than $600 million this year.

The mill levy freeze was proposed by Gov. Bill Ritter two years ago and passed by Democrats in the Legislature. It said that in 174 of the state’s 178 school districts where voters had approved overrides of the TABOR Amendment spending limits, the mill levy did not have to decrease when the assessed value of property rose, as TABOR would otherwise require.

The net effect was to raise property taxes in those school districts. The revenue from the freeze went to the school districts, but it meant the state did not have to contribute as much money for public school finance.

As we said at the time, the state was in a difficult spot. Because of other constitutional requirements, state spending for schools is required to steadily increase and it would have soon taken money away from other state needs if nothing was done.

But we also wondered whether the mill levy freeze would be deemed constitutional. So did the Golden-based Independence Institute, the Mesa County commissioners and several individuals, who sued the state over the freeze.

They won in Denver District Court last year, but Monday’s ruling by the Supreme Court overturned that decision.

The high court said that because voters in 174 school districts had approved the elimination of TABOR limits, and because the freeze did not increase state revenue, it did not violate TABOR and did not require a statewide election.

It is a controversial ruling that Republican lawmakers immediately blasted in public. But privately, we suspect many of them are as relieved as Democrats that they don’t have to cut another $117 million from an already lean budget.


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