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‘We need to build more, not tax more’

Michael Fields

With bipartisan support for the $750 Taxpayer Bill of Rights refund checks that are hitting mailboxes this month, you would think that liberal special interests would back off their push to go after that refund money in the future. But that’s not the case.

Last week, supporters of Initiative 108 submitted more than 200,000 signatures for an “affordable housing” ballot measure for this November’s ballot. The initiative would take $300 million of our TABOR tax refunds and put it toward a land-banking fund, concessionary debt fund, down-payment assistance program and grants to homelessness programs.

It sounds complex because it is complex. Instead of pursuing simpler solutions, supporters of this measure want voters to approve a plan that is expensive, uncertain and confusing.

With inflation over 8% and gas prices over $4 per gallon, families need their TABOR refund money this year and in upcoming years. Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis, have been celebrating these TABOR refund checks since the beginning of the legislative session. The money also comes at a time when the state government is bigger than ever. Our state budget is now $38.1 billion - growing by more than $1.5 billion per year. Fees continue to skyrocket, including a new fee on deliveries and rideshares that started last month.

Cost of living is too high in Colorado – including housing costs. According to the Common Sense Institute, the cost of purchasing a home has doubled in just the past seven years.

Instead of a government-run, top-down approach, there are three things we could do now to help make housing more affordable.

First, we need to increase supply. Colorado estimates a statewide housing deficit of 225,000 units.

Despite this, 35 counties didn’t issue enough annual permits in 2021 to meet future needs. These localities should focus on fast-tracking approval for zoning. Basic economics tells us that if we increase supply, costs go down. We simply need to unleash the free market.

Second, we should cut unnecessary costs and regulations. For example, after the Marshall Fire, new construction codes increased the cost of rebuilding the same exact house by $20,000 to $30,000. Colorado also has some of the highest tap fees in the country. In Pueblo West, it costs more than $20,000 just to connect a new build to the water supply. In Aurora, it’s more than $25,000. Revisiting these types of policies should be a top priority.

Third, we need to cap property taxes. As the values of homes continue to rise, so do property taxes. This hurts seniors and people on fixed incomes the most. Just this year, property taxes are set to increase by $1,000 for the average family. Capping the amount that property taxes are allowed to go up each year would ease some of the burden for Coloradans across the state.

It’s also important to point out that Initiative 108 is statute, which means the Legislature could take the $300 million that voters approve and spend it on anything they want. There are no guarantees in this measure, and voters should be very skeptical that a bait-and-switch could occur in the upcoming legislative sessions.

To put it simply: There is nothing affordable about taking $300 million of our TABOR tax refunds for a flawed housing measure. To fix our state’s housing crisis, we need to build more, not tax more. Coloradans are struggling – and they want their full TABOR refund in future years.

Michael Fields is a senior adviser to Advance Colorado Institute.