DENVER – Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty declared that the state will reinstate a tax break for senior citizen homeowners worth about $100 million.
But he didn’t check with Gov. John Hickenlooper.
McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, on Thursday told the Colorado Commission on the Aging that his party in 2012 will not support a budget that suspends the exemption for a fourth consecutive year.
“The days of balancing Colorado’s budget on the backs of seniors are over,” McNulty said. “Tough budget times led to the suspension of the senior homestead exemption. That meant less money for seniors to spend on medicine and food during this economic crisis. This is money we can now get back to them.”
Not necessarily, Hickenlooper said Friday.
More cuts will be needed next year even without restoring the senior tax break, he said.
“Obviously, if you’re going to restore certain cuts, it’s going to take away from other places.” Hickenlooper said, citing public schools and colleges as places at risk of higher cuts if the tax break is restored. “It doesn’t grow on trees. It’s got to come from somewhere.”
Colorado gives seniors a 50 percent tax exemption on the first $200,000 of their house’s value, as long as they have lived there at least 10 years. But because the state has to make up for the tax dollars counties lose, legislators have suspended the exemption the last three years during the recession.
McNulty also promised Wednesday that House Republicans will not use about $33 million from tobacco taxes to help balance the budget, which the Legislature has done since 2009.
His House Republicans control the chamber by one vote, so if they stick together, Democrats can’t pass a budget without GOP support.
Legislators will not vote on the 2012 budget until next spring, but Hickenlooper’s staff is busy preparing it right now.
In a Friday interview, Hickenlooper said he was open to talking about the senior tax break, but he wished McNulty had acted in a more collaborative manner.
“Having one branch of the House or the Senate or the governor’s office arbitrarily deciding that this is what’s going to be, often doesn’t lead to the smoothest process, but I’m sure Speaker McNulty has his objectives,” Hickenlooper said.
This year, the homestead exemption and tobacco tax money were worth a combined $129 million, or roughly a quarter of state spending on colleges.