The debate over Proposition HH, which would lower property tax assessment rates while also securing public education funding via a 1% increase in the state tax retention cap, has largely been framed as a partisan split between Democratic supporters and Republican opponents. However, there are many prominent Republicans who endorse the ballot measure, starting with the state’s most prominent center-right business group, Colorado Concern.
Founded by Republican Larry Mizel, Colorado’s largest Trump donor, Colorado Concern is comprised of nearly 140 CEOs who share “a very pro-growth perspective,” according to the group’s president, Mike Kopp, who previously led the Colorado Senate Republican Caucus as its minority leader from 2009-2011.
Concern hasn’t just lent its organization’s name and credibility to the campaign; at least two of its board members, Pat Hamill and John Ikard, have each cut $10,000 checks to Property Tax Relief Now, the HH campaign committee.
Other prominent Republicans serving with Kopp as Colorado Concern officers include developer Greg Stevinson and Norm Franke, president of Alpine Bank. Notable GOP candidates include beer magnate Pete Coors who lost the 2004 U.S. Senate race to Ken Salazar, and 2022 state senate hopeful Tom Kim.
In a September interview with the Rocky Mountain Mechanical Contractors Association podcast, Kopp emphasized both Colorado Concern’s business expertise and pro-growth position, but also its ability to influence public policy, specifically via its support of ballot initiatives.
“Colorado Concern is a consortium of chief executives in the state of Colorado, across every major industry in the state,” said Kopp. “The distinction for us is you’ve got to be the senior executive in the state, and you just really have to have a very pro-growth perspective. What our members do as a membership organization is they focus on a strong pro-growth economy for the state of Colorado, particularly as it relates to the public policy environment. The environment that we all do business in is crafted, deliberate and sometimes concocted, if you will — it’s governed by public policy. And so our perspective is that we like to promote big issues that we think will help everybody in the state, not just business, but really everybody in the state. And so we look for issues that are large and that cross multiple industries. If we can succeed at those issues, then they’ll create a material benefit for everybody in the state.
“I always thought that if we could get our members aligned on any major objective, we could be successful because it represents such a great organization of focused leaders. People who care about the state, people that can bring wisdom and specific types of knowledge to the public policy sphere, certainly influence through the many relationships that they have, as well as resources. If you’re going to go to the ballot, it takes a fair amount of resources to do those things.
“So in that sense, I’ve been very lucky to be at Colorado Concern. In a state where you have such a diversity of views, even within a given party — we’re talking about politics here — When you go after these really big projects, as we’ve tried to do, these public policy projects, you don’t wind up getting exactly the legislation that you would want, but you can get something very, very good.”
Earlier this year Colorado Concern Public Affairs director Annaliese Steel testified in favor of SB23-303, the legislation that referred HH to the ballot. To Kopp’s point about not always getting exactly the legislation one wants but still something very good, Steel noted that while Colorado Concern would have preferred a solution that caps a property’s assessed value growth, it supports HH because of the tax savings it provides.
“We favor a policy that caps assessed value growth, not local revenue, at an appropriate level,” said Steel. “Doing this will protect property tax payers and critical services at the local level. The bill before you takes a different approach. Rather than addressing assessed value, it addresses rates. This bill seeks to blunt the worst of this crisis by asking voters to cut property tax rates at the state level. While this bill will undoubtedly benefit homeowners and business owners alike, I’d like to focus my testimony on the protections afforded to business and how this bill will keep Colorado competitive. The governor’s team has modeled the property tax savings between 2023 and 2032 at over $10 billion, $3.5 billion of which will benefit commercial property tax owners. The backfill measure being asked of voters will offset 63% of these savings, ensuring that 37% is a true cut.
“Colorado Concern supported the repeal of the Gallagher amendment. This check on residential property tax placed an escalating burden on commercial property tax owners and led to the current distortions where commercial property taxes are four times greater than residential property taxes. We appreciate the 10% property tax reduction that will be seen over the next eight years if voters approve this measure in November. If approved, this bill will bring commercial property taxes to the lowest rate in 40 years.
“Business property taxes have been quite high for far too long. Not only do high tax rates cut into the ability of employers to pay their workers more, it becomes a drag on our economic competitiveness. We support this measure because it offers breathing room for family and business budgets by lowering tax rates and introducing a new local levy limit at a time where they are so desperately inflated.”
Following Steel’s testimony, state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer (R-Weld), who, along with her legislative colleague Rep. Rose Pugliese (R-Colorado Springs), is the “No on HH” campaign’s most prominent spokesperson, grilled the Colorado Concern staffer over her group’s support of repealing the Gallagher Amendment in 2020. Kirkmeyer appeared not to understand that Gallagher’s residential-commercial ratio had kept businesses’ property tax rates artificially high for decades.
Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer: So did Colorado Concern support the repeal of Gallagher? And was the reason for that because you believed that it was going to increase or decrease property taxes?
Annalise Steel, Colorado Concern: Colorado Concern did support the repeal of Gallagher because we were expecting it to increase commercial property taxes if it were not repealed. And we were always going with the assumption that there would be a next addition in which the issue between commercial property taxes and residential property taxes that became so distorted under Gallagher would be fixed. And this is a step in that direction.
Kirkmeyer: Thank you. So I guess I’m trying to understand how you believed repealing Gallagher would ensure that commercial property taxes would not be increased. Because it’s not like the assessment ratio in Gallagher was changing. Still, I mean, says properties go up, values go up. But that happens for everybody.
Steel: Absolutely. But with the Gallagher Amendment saying 55% of property taxes have to be paid for by commercial and the growth of residential properties by more properties coming on the market, it sort of shrunk that margin. And so commercial property taxes ended up paying a bigger share. Their rates stayed high. And so we did see this as a way to pause the distortion, hoping that we could move forward with a permanent fix.
Kirkmeyer: I’m not exactly sure that that’s the way that Gallagher worked. I understand the 55-45%, but the assessment ratio for commercial stayed the same regardless if Gallagher was repealed or not. Your property taxes, business property taxes, commercial taxes went up based on assessed values going up. In all, the Gallagher Amendment 55-45 did was ratchet down residential property taxes because it read it ratcheted down the assessment ratio based on the 45-55. So I guess I’m not understanding the answer, but thank you.
Steel: No, I can continue. So yes, they kept it at 29%, but it meant that the rate would have gone from 7.15% for residential lower distorting, meaning that it would go from 4% higher commercial property tax rates to potentially 5% higher commercial property tax rates, creating a large unfairness within the system. That unfairness we were seeking to pause. Stop. Avert.”
Steel declined to offer any new comments on HH but did point the Colorado Times Recorder to her testimony in support of SB303. Kopp did not return a call requesting comment.