Local Elections a Mixed Bag for Economic Mobility Issues

While most of the 2023 Colorado election headlines focused on Proposition HH, many important local issues were also on the ballot. Earlier, the Bell wrote about a few of the local measures that were symbolic of the issues that were on the minds of local policy makers.

The results showed a mixed bag for local questions that would raise new revenue from increased taxes to fund local programs important for economic mobility. However, local initiatives that asked voters to maintain existing revenue – by extending previous tax increases or retaining revenue already collected – fared much better and ensured that these communities can continue providing the services that were already in place.

It’s not surprising that some local districts rejected tax increases. With rising costs of living, especially when it comes to housing, it is not an ideal time to ask voters to raise their own property and sales taxes.

However, Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) restrictions leave local governments few options.

With that in mind, it says a lot about the needs of people across Colorado that so many individual tax questions passed. Coloradans know that their communities are in need of programs and systems that help everyone achieve economic mobility, and proper public funding is absolutely crucial to that end.

Here are some of the specific measures and how local communities voted on them: 

School Districts Seek Revenue for Teachers, Staff, and Curriculum

Eight school districts across the state sought to increase revenue to increase teacher and staff pay, as well as modernize the buildings, and the technology used in classrooms. Burlington School District, in Kit Carson County near the Kansas border, Englewood School District in Arapahoe County, and Douglas County School District, south of Denver, all voted to increase their mill levies. Mill levies are the rate at which property is taxed.  Given that Colorado is 49th in the country in starting teacher salaries, these revenue increases will no doubt help recruit and retain teachers in those school districts. 

Other school districts were not as willing to increase their own taxes. Voters in several school districts in El Paso County, home of Colorado Springs, and Eagle County, in the mountains, declined mill levy increases for their schools. While specific circumstances in those places may have contributed to defeat, it is important to remember that while funding K-12 education is important and generally popular, it is not a guaranteed ask, especially in a time of rising property taxes for many people across the state.

Housing Ideas On the Ballot 

Some interesting housing ideas were presented to voters, and with there being a consensus that we are in a housing crisis, it likely seemed a good time to bring that debate to the ballot. Here are results on specific housing questions: 

  • Fort Collins voters rejected a proposal to increase the city’s mill levy to fund more affordable housing. 
  • Park County voters approved a tax on short-term rentals – like Airbnb and VRBO – to fund general county maintenance. Many local officials have said that visitors who rent houses or condos are more of a strain on roads and emergency services as compared to full-time residents. Furthermore, there is widespread consensus that short-term rentals contribute to the housing crisis, especially in the mountains.  
  • Salida voters rejected a license tax on short-term rentals owned by people who do not live in Chaffee County and an occupational tax on all short-term rentals. That money would have gone to affordable housing in the city.

Cities and Counties Go Their Own Way on Child Care 

Child care was another hot topic on the 2023 ballot. Even as the state has stepped up with Universal Pre-K – a big step forward for Colorado – gaps remain. Ballot measures in a half dozen communities were intended to offer support to families seeking more care. Several of those communities took advantage of a 2022 law passed by the Colorado General Assembly that allowed counties to use portions of their lodging tax revenue – taxes on stays in hotels and motels – for child care and affordable housing.

Here is how those efforts played out:

  • Denver voters opted by wide margins to extend the current sales tax used to fund the Denver Preschool Program, this time permanently. This was the third vote in favor of the program, following the initial authorization in 2006 and an increase in funding in 2014. 
  • Voters in Winter Park and Ridgway increased lodging taxes to fund more child care in their communities. 
  • Pueblo voters declined to increase lodging taxes to support child care. 
  • Voters in Eagle County and Telluride had previously opted to increase their lodging tax for child care, but the revenues had come in above what had been projected. Both districts voted to keep those collected revenues to continue funding child care. 


It might seem logical that economic uncertainty and inflationary pressures would dampen voters’ desire to raise taxes, even for causes and issues they fervently support. Yet, in many cases voters stepped up to meet the needs of people in their communities. And that’s a positive. But such patchwork efforts create inequities across communities, another side effect of TABOR. That is why it is still crucial for the state to continue working to fund programs across the board and raise adequate revenue through a fairer tax code to do it.