$3 billion Budget Hit from Conservative Ballot Initiatives

DENVER – The Colorado General Assembly’s nonpartisan staff on Tuesday released fiscal impact statements for three conservative property tax ballot measures and they show the state’s general fund budget would take a $3 billion hit if any of the measures were to succeed at the November ballot. That would be “about 15 percent” of the 2024-25 budget, according to the analyses.

Impact statements for ballot initiatives 198, 199, and 200 show that each would force state budget cuts in order to backfill massive local property tax reductions, according to the impact statements from Colorado’s nonpartisan Legislative Council Staff. Each proposal creates a $3 billion hole in local budgets across the state. They all require, to differing degrees, the state to backfill local cuts without using revenue above the TABOR cap. 

For context, a 15 percent reduction is equivalent to the budget cuts made necessary by the Great Recession. The financial crisis that spawned the recession of 2007-09 was also the impetus for Colorado’s “negative factor,” a budget-balancing measure that lawmakers used to reduce K-12 expenditures at a time when revenues were declining precipitously. 

The measures filed by conservative groups Advance Colorado and Colorado Concern would exempt K-12 education from such reductions and force cuts to come from elsewhere in the state budget. The question then becomes where those cuts would come from.

The table below, which comes from the FY23-24 Colorado Joint Budget Committee Appropriations Report, shows the revenues from the general fund for various departments. It’s obvious that a $3 billion reduction in state revenues would require enormous general fund cuts. Even a $750 million cut would lead to major service interruptions.

For reference, $3 billion covers the general fund appropriations to the Departments of Agriculture, Early Childhood, Governor, Judicial, Labor and Employment, Law, Legislative, Local Affairs, Military and Veteran Affairs, Natural Resources, Personnel, Public Health and Environment, Public Safety, Regulatory Agencies, Revenue, State, Transportation, and Treasury. In addition, it could wipe out half the general fund dollars for Higher Education.

“These measures are a serious threat to the entire state and seem intended to create a totally unnecessary budget crisis,” said Scott Wasserman, President of the Bell Policy Center. “There is nothing fair and balanced about robbing Peter to pay Paul and hoping voters don’t notice the gigantic impact this will have on all levels of service in Colorado.”