Re-Bruce, Part II

The Mesa County commissioners apparently spooked Democrats in the Legislature when they talked of school districts “re-Brucing” to make up for the mill-levy freeze.

The School Finance Act, introduced in the Legislature this week, includes a provision to penalize school districts that re-Bruce in an attempt to reduce their property taxes. The legislation also includes new student-monitoring requirements for school districts that approve changes related to the mill-levy freeze.

It was Colorado Attorney General John Suthers who noticed the measures, buried within the lengthy school finance bill, and alerted the public and GOP lawmakers to them.

Now, Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry is hoping he can strike a compromise with Democrats about the provision.

We hope he’s successful. Voters in school districts around the state should have the option — without penalizing their school districts — of making it clear they never intended to raise property taxes when they approved overrides to TABOR revenue limits.

That was the case for years, until the Legislature passed the mill-levy freeze in 2007. It prevented school districts’ mill levies from dropping as their assessed valuations increased.

That effectively raised taxes in 174 school districts statewide. The Supreme Court ruled last month that the mill-levy freeze didn’t violate TABOR.

In response, the Mesa County commissioners suggested School District 51 should “re-Bruce” — reinstate the provisions that allow the mill levy to drop as the district’s assessed valuation increases.

We argued last week that putting such a question to voters should be a decision of the District 51 School Board, not the county commissioners. And, even though members of the School Board don’t seem inclined to push such an approach, we believe they ought to have the option.

But with language included in the School Finance Act, they would be penalized for doing so.
School funding comes from both local property taxes and the state general fund. The school-finace language says if school districts vote to re-Bruce, they won’t get any additional state funding. Whatever money they cut in local property taxes will be deducted from the school district’s budget.

Additionally, any school district that votes to re-Bruce would face new requirements for reporting to the state and for boosting student achievement, mandates that other school districts wouldn’t have to meet.

We’re all for doing things to improve student achievement, but these requirements are clearly punitive, designed to treat school districts differently if they try to overcome the mill-levy freeze.

We don’t think many school districts will try to do that in the current economic crisis. But, with the School Finance Act, the Legislature is telling voters in 174 school districts, “We raised your property taxes without your permission, and we’re going to do everything we can to prevent you from reducing them.”

That’s not exactly the way to promote trust in government.


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