Taxes & Bipartisanship

Taxes & Bipartisanship

Another legislative session has come to a close.

This was my eighth and final session, and the end of a long journey that started in spring of 2009 when I parted ways with my engineering career and started a new career in public service.

It’s been an unforgettable experience that has been rewarding and joyful, but also frustrating and stressful. I imagine I’ll find time to write more about it when I’ve had a chance to rest a bit more, but for now, I want to just share some of the work that consumed the bulk of my time this session.

The Family Affordability Tax Credit (HB24-1311)
I think this may be the most impactful legislation of my career.

The policy itself is simple. It’s a refundable tax credit for low-to-middle income families to help with the high costs of raising children. It’s structured like the child tax credit, but layers on top of the existing state and federal credits in a way that will cut child poverty in half in Colorado. Click here for some more details.

What was less simple was negotiating the deal with Governor Polis. While he supported what we were trying to do with the FATC, he also saw an opportunity to achieve one of his goals — a reduction in the income tax rate.

I have strenuously objected to a reduction of the income tax rate in the past because it does so little for lower income families and so much for the wealthiest Coloradans. Plus, after voters passed Proposition 116 in 2020 and Proposition 121 in 2022, Colorado’s income tax rate is at it’s lowest rate since the graduated income tax was replaced with a flat tax in 1986. I truly believe we should return to a graduated income tax so that the wealthiest Coloradans pay their fair share to support our schools and other public priorities. 

But this year, after consulting with many of my fellow legislators and key partner organizations, we cut a deal. We agreed to re-incorporate a temporary income tax rate reduction into the formula for TABOR refunds in exchange for the Governor’s commitment to supporting the tax credit for child poverty. The refunds bill, SB24-228, sets a formula for the distribution of TABOR refunds after we’ve meaningfully funded the FATC and EITC. The formula scales up the size of the income tax rate reduction alongside the growth of the existing sales tax refund mechanism (which is more equitable). The Senate Bill earned bipartisan sponsorship and support in both House and Senate.

I’ll admit that I would have done things differently if I had a magic wand, but this was what it took to achieve my top priority of the session. And I’m incredibly proud that we got it done.

Property Taxes (SB24-233)
For a second year in a row, the property tax conversation monopolized my time and energy. But this year, the result was very different.

Allow me to set the table a bit. All property taxes are local. While the local share of property taxes for schools complements the state’s K-12 education funding, the rest are purely for counties, cities, fire districts, and other special districts. 

Colorado has some of the lowest residential property taxes in the country, but when home values spiked in 2023, property taxes rose between 20-40% in different parts of the state. Business property taxes didn’t rise as quickly, but they were already somewhat high comparatively because of 40 years of the Gallagher amendment.

So regardless of how Colorado compares to other states, the cost pressures on Colorado families and businesses are real. Balancing these cost pressures against the long-standing underfunding of K-12 and other priorities was no easy task.

We bent over backwards for bipartisanship on this effort because we knew that only a bipartisan bill would be enough to prevent the passage of the incredibly reckless ballot measure being proposed by right-wing groups for this November’s ballot. And I’m proud to say we got the job done. There were many tough choices and compromises, but I believe we found a meaningful and responsible long-term alternative to the ballot measures.

I’ll let you read more about it in this Denver Post editorial.

These were difficult challenges, but I feel that I put everything I had into them this year. And I’m ending my final year in the legislature with a sense of accomplishment and relief.

And now I need a few more full nights of sleep 🙂


Yours,
Chris deGruy Kennedy

Air Quality Updates

Friends and neighbors, 

As we move past the midway point of this legislative session, I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about air quality – an issue that affects every Coloradan. While we’ve made some progress, we need to do more to improve Colorado’s air quality, especially now. Too many members of our community are familiar with the consequences of prolonged exposure to ozone pollution, which can contribute to a variety of health issues. We also know that industrial pollution affects communities of color and low-income communities the most, making it all the more important to include environmental justice in our conversations about air quality and climate change. That’s why I want to highlight several bills that aim to tackle these issues. These are thoughtful bills that can make a real difference in improving our air quality and our response to climate change. We all have the right to breathe clean air, no matter where we live or how much money we make.


SB24-166: Air Quality Enforcement

Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) does not adequately enforce its air quality regulations, particularly against those who repeatedly violate them. APCD often issues informal warnings or low fines that do not deter polluters from reoffending and fail to support the communities affected by these violations. As a result, polluters continue to negatively impact the air quality in the surrounding communities, contributing to serious health problems for residents and poor air quality in the region. SB24-166 reforms our enforcement approach by creating a “repeat violator” category for polluters with 5+ violations in 3 years, imposing mandatory fines for subsequent violations, creating a pathway for citizens to sue when the APCD fails to act, and increasing maximum fines for violations of local air quality regulations. By cracking down on chronic violators, leveraging public enforcement, and removing barriers to stricter fines, this bill provides stronger tools to deter pollution and protect vulnerable communities from poor air quality caused by inadequate enforcement of existing regulations.


SB24-165: Air Quality Improvements

Colorado’s Denver Metro/North Front Range region has violated federal ozone standards for over a decade, worsening air quality and putting Coloradans health at risk. Past State Implementation Plans (SIPs) developed by the state have fallen short, making bolder action necessary. SB24-165 seeks to reduce emissions of ozone precursors like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by implementing several measures including a seasonal pause on oil and gas pre-production activities during the summer ozone season (exempting all electrical equipment), adopting California’s strict standards for heavy-duty off-road diesel vehicle fleets, creating a public oil and gas emissions database, requiring an AQCC rulemaking for Indirect Source Rules (ISR) by 2026, and phasing in sales requirements for zero-emission water heaters and furnaces. By cracking down on oil/gas pollution, cleaning up diesel fleets, enabling smarter transportation solutions, electrifying homes/buildings, and securing stronger clean car rules, this bill provides a range of aggressive but achievable measures to advance Colorado’s progress on reducing ozone pollution.


HB24-1330: Air Quality Permitting

For many years, areas of Colorado have failed to meet federal ozone standards. Yet, the state’s permitting processes continued allowing new sources of air pollution that release the harmful pollutants that form ozone, particularly new “minor” sources of pollution which are expected to emit less than 25 tons per year of certain pollutants. Colorado has tens of thousands of minor sources – including many oil and gas wells. But, because they are deemed “minor,” permitting is less strict than for “major” sources. HB24-1330 reforms the permitting process, especially for new “minor” sources in ozone non-attainment areas like Denver Metro/North Front Range, by treating oil and gas operations as one source, ensuring any new “minor” source does not cause or contribute to an exceedance of any applicable ambient air quality standards, and requiring an Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) permit before a final determination is made by the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC) to drill or frack. These changes provide important tools to rein in harmful ozone pollution and move Colorado toward clean air compliance.


HB24-1338: Cumulative Impacts & Environmental Justice

Communities of color and low-income communities in Colorado have long been disproportionately affected by pollution. The cumulative impact of air, water, and soil pollution harms the health of our most vulnerable residents. HB24-1338 would establish an Office of Environmental Justice, create a rapid response inspection team, require an assessment of refinery regulations, and authorize local governments to impose limits on certain sources of air pollution in their jurisdictions, all aimed at providing equitable protection to Colorado’s vulnerable populations from environmental health hazards and address long-standing environmental inequities.


HB24-1339: Disproportionately Impact Community Air Pollution

In 2021, the Colorado legislature passed HB21-1266 directing the Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) to implement rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from industry by at least 20% below 2015 levels by 2030, with a priority on disproportionately impacted communities. However, many environmental and environmental justice groups are concerned that the AQCC’s rules do not meet the emission reduction goals originally intended by HB21-1266. HB24-1339 reaffirms the requirement for AQCC rules to cut industrial greenhouse gas pollution by 20% from 2015 levels by 2030, prioritizing disproportionately impacted communities. It also adds a climate scientist and a representative from a disproportionately impacted community to the AQCC. By reasserting clear emission reduction targets, prioritizing environmental justice, and adding new expert voices to the AQCC, this bill will strengthen greenhouse gas rules for industry and ensure Colorado makes meaningful progress on its climate commitments while protecting vulnerable populations from disproportionate impacts.

That’s all for now and I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon!

Chris

Let’s cut child poverty in half

Let’s cut child poverty in half

Colorado’s budget is more stable than it’s been in a long time. We’re finally paying off the “budget stabilization factor” for K-12 school funding, which means we’re meeting the requirements of Amendment 23 for the first time in 14 years. 

That’s wonderful, and we should celebrate it. But the reality is that this is a far cry from “fully funding” our education system. The progress we’re making this year–made entirely possible by local property tax revenue growth, by the way–gets us back to 1989 funding levels, and leaves Colorado among the very worst states for education funding in the US.

We can and must do better. And there are so many other underfunded state priorities, including our higher education system and our health care safety net.

There are limits to what we can do about these problems right now. Because of TABOR, the state is prohibited from investing revenues raised above an arbitrary cap to provide a better education system in Colorado. Our record-low income tax rate* of 4.4% generated $3.6B more than the cap last year, and is expected to generate $1.9B more than the cap this year.

While we cannot spend these dollars to fund our education or health care systems, there are still many things we can do through targeted income tax credits and changing the distribution of TABOR refunds–all things that are perfectly allowable under TABOR. 

  • We can cut child poverty in half in Colorado through expanding the earned income tax credit and child tax credit.
  • We can address the housing affordability crisis through the senior housing tax credit, senior homestead exemption portability, and other targeted income tax credits.. 
  • We can pay our child care and home care workers better, and in doing so help make child care more affordable and help seniors stay in their homes longer, with the caring economy tax credit.

These are policy choices. Well-funded, right-wing groups are advocating for ballot measures that will slash local property taxes in ways that will disproportionately benefit the wealthiest homeowners and largest corporations at the expense of our school districts, fire districts, and child welfare offices. 

But many of my colleagues and I are offering a better alternative. While the cost of living is indeed a challenge for a great many Colorado families, it’s an awful lot harder for some than others. That’s why targeting tax benefits makes so much more sense than across-the-board cuts. Our goal is to do everything we can to help regular folks, from low-income to middle-class, afford to live here.

One of the very best tools we have is the child tax credit. Like the expanded, one-year federal credit that cut child poverty in half in 2021 (and was sadly not renewed), Colorado has an opportunity to use funds above the arbitrary TABOR limit to do the same in Colorado for at least the next three years.

My colleagues and I introduced House Bill 1311 to start this important conversation. The bill layers a new Family Affordability Tax Credit on top of Colorado’s existing, modest child tax credit and our existing earned income tax credit. 


This policy help families keep a roof over their heads and keep food on the table, as well as afford child care, health care, transportation, and school supplies. While benefits are greatest for families living below the poverty line, our proposal will also provide tax credits to families earning up to $95K per year.

Expanding the child tax credit will also reduce toxic stress that impairs the brain development of young children. I recently learned that early childhood poverty has been shown to reduce gray matter volume by 8-9%, and that robust investments in reducing childhood poverty have been shown to increase later adult learning by 17% (ZeroToThree.org). Did you know that?

TABOR may be hamstringing the state’s ability to fund many things that desperately need funding, but we can still design tax credits to achieve meaningful goals that will be transformative for a very significant number of people in Colorado. 

I think we should do that. What do you think?

Yours,
Chris deGruy Kennedy

* It’s worth emphasizing that voters have passed two measures to reduce the income tax over the last few years – Prop 116 in 2020 and Prop 121 in 2022. Together, these measures have reduced state revenue by $370M per year and brought our income tax rate to 4.4%, the lowest level since Colorado moved away from its eleven-tier graduated income tax in 1986 and adopted a flat tax, which was 5.0% in 1987.

It’s also worth emphasizing that these income tax cuts were wildly tilted towards the rich. Coloradans making less than $50K per year only saved an average of $21 and those making between $50-200K saved between $76-236, whereas those making between $500K-1M saved an average of $1370, and those making over $1M per year saved an average of $6194.

These numbers underscore the basic unfairness of a flat income tax. If we’re ever going to adequately fund our schools and other vital public services, we need the wealthiest to pay their fair share.

Mental Health Updates

Mental Health Updates

Friends and neighbors, 

The legislative session is in full swing and we are tackling a long list of pressing issues for the people of Colorado. Currently, I am focusing on many projects, one of which includes the legislation that was developed by the Substance Use Disorders interim committee. Our four bills, concerning prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery, will all require considerable work to get across the finish line. But there are many meaningful ideas contained in these four bills that I believe will continue Colorado’s progress and help us finally turn the corner on the overdose crisis.

As I work on these issues, I can’t help but think about the intersection between substance abuse and mental health. We all have friends or family members who have struggled with mental health, and many of us have seen how much it can mean to have access to resources, compassionate communities, and professional help when needed. 

Destigmatizing and expanding access to mental health treatment is more urgent now than ever before. During my time at the legislature, I have been involved in dedicating significant funds, mostly from marijuana tax revenues and federal aid through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, to expand infrastructure to support people in various ways to address mental health and substance use issues. 

We need to do more, and I am committed to working tirelessly to establish a mental health system in Colorado that provides resources to every individual who needs them. 

As this work continues, I wanted to provide an update on several pieces of mental health legislation making their way through the State Capitol.


SB24-001: Continue Youth Mental Health Services Program

This bill makes the I Matter program a permanent program that provides free therapy sessions to youth in response to the ongoing mental health crisis. The I Matter program has already made a positive impact by offering up to six free therapy sessions per year to over 7,900 young people. The bill also adds new procurement and data collection requirements for the Behavioral Health Administration to ensure better oversight.


HB24-1081: Regulate Sale Transfer Sodium Nitrite

This bill regulates the sale of sodium nitrite products, which have been used in some suicide attempts often through so-called “suicide kits” promoted online. These kits with sodium nitrite emerged as an alternative means of attempting suicide after initial recreational use. Regulating access to these kits by requiring verification of commercial need before a sale, clear labeling warning against ingestion, and sales record retention can help address this dangerous method of attempting suicide as part of the broader mental health crisis response.


HB24-1136: Healthier Social Media Use by Youth

Data shows that youth who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes, including anxiety and depression symptoms. This bill creates resources and programs to address the negative mental health impacts of problematic social media use and requires platforms to display warnings about the potential harms of excessive or late-night use.


SB24-007: Behavioral Health First Aid Training Program 

The bill establishes the Behavioral Health First Aid Training Program within the Office of Suicide Prevention in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The program aims to educate members of the community on how to respond effectively during a mental health or substance use crisis until professional help arrives. Modeled after medical first aid, the program provides valuable skills such as recognizing signs of distress, active listening, offering support, assessing risk, and connecting people to the necessary care. The program uses a train-the-trainer approach to spread mental health skills to schools, non-profits, first responders, and other community members. By increasing mental health first aid capacity, the program aims to encourage early intervention and save lives.


HB24-1015: Workplace Suicide Prevention Education

Suicide has claimed 3,951 lives in Colorado between 2020-2022, demonstrating the need for broader prevention. This bill instructs the Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) to develop suicide prevention education materials for employers to display that will include information on prevention training programs, information on reducing access to means of self-harm, including firearms, and information on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. It also requires the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to create a website with additional suicide prevention resources. The workplace can provide one of many points of intervention and having resources visibly posted can promote help-seeking and crisis-response skills among working Coloradans.


SB24-057: Agricultural Workforce & Suicide Prevention

This bill will create a suicide prevention and mental health program tailored specifically to agricultural workers, who have been disproportionately impacted by isolation, economic uncertainty, lack of access to care, and other stressors. It provides customized supports including a crisis hotline, coordinated suicide prevention and crisis management services, and a public awareness campaign to promote suicide prevention. 


SB24-068: Medical Aid-in-Dying

I know this issue is controversial to some, but I’ll tell you why I support this measure. This bill responsibly expands end-of-life options for terminally ill patients who may be experiencing unbearable mental or physical distress related to their illness. By allowing advanced practice registered nurses to evaluate requests and prescribe medication, removing the state residency requirement, reducing the waiting period between requests to 48 hours, and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage, we will increase options for terminally ill adults to end suffering on their own terms while preserving strict eligibility criteria.

That’s all for now and I look forward to sharing more updates with you soon!

Chris

My Last Opening Day

My Last Opening Day

Today is opening day for my 8th and final legislative session as a State Representative. 

As I look back on the blur of the last seven years, I can hardly believe how many projects I have been a part of. It’s been the honor of a lifetime And yet there is just an unbelievable amount of work that remains.

This year, many pressing priorities rapidly rise to the top of the list. The high cost of living in Colorado is putting incredible pressure on many families. Gun violence and black market fentanyl are plaguing our neighborhoods. Our air quality, especially in Denver metro, is bad–we are still in severe not-attainment for federal ground-level ozone requirements, and programs on air toxics and environmental justice established by legislation in recent years are just starting to get up and running. And TABOR’s stranglehold on the state budget continues to impair our ability to adequately fund K-12, higher education, behavioral health, and numerous other priorities.

But aren’t we finally paying off the BS factor* for K-12 funding this year, you might ask?

It’s complicated. The short answer is yes, we’re finally digging ourselves out of the K-12 funding hole that started with the Great Recession in 2009.

But that doesn’t mean we’re “fully funding” education, and it’s not because of the state budget–it’s entirely because of increased local property tax revenues, which have also been the subject of many conversations because of the financial pressure they put on low-to-middle income families and small businesses.

Public education advocates, while celebrating the progress, are also quick to point out that paying off the BS factor just gets us back to 1989 funding levels. That’s a pretty far cry from “fully funding.” And it’s not even close to enough to reduce class sizes to maximize the benefit for students or to pay teachers like the professionals they are and give them the means to live in the communities where they teach.

So yes, I’ll join celebrations of finally paying off the BS factor. But I’ll also keep talking about how much more work we have to do.

It’s important to remember that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. It is fiction to believe we can both slash taxes and increase education funding at the same time. The fundament problem is that we must grapple with which taxpayers need tax breaks, and which can afford to pay more of their fair share. 

That is something that is incredibly difficult to do with property tax law, since high property values are not necessarily correlated with high incomes. Continuing my work on property taxes last year, I’m serving this year on a Property Tax Commission that includes four legislators and numerous local government leaders to try to work through this conundrum together. We’re grappling with the balance between the need to fund schools, fire districts, libraries, and child welfare offices with the economic pressures caused by high property taxes and rents, and we’re grappling with questions of state versus local control. I’m hopeful, but it’s a long road ahead.

I’ll also be spending a lot of time this session working on the legislation we built on the Substance Use Disorders interim committee. Our four bills, concerning prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery, will all require considerable work to get across the finish line. But there are many meaningful ideas contained in these four bills that I believe will continue Colorado’s progress and help us finally turn the corner on the overdose crisis.

Last but not least, I’m very excited about a bill that will be introduced today to expand access to high-quality primary care. I have worked on numerous health care reforms during my seven years, and over that time, I’ve increasingly gravitated towards two main themes. First, we need to keep moving away from fee-for-service payment models and toward value-based payment models. I truly believe these kinds of policies are the most transformative things a state can do without the federal government taking action.

Second, we need to invest in building integrated and coordinated care models that begin with a restoration of the role of primary care. It has long been understood that increasing investments in primary and preventive care not only deliver better health outcomes and health equity, but that they also drive down long-term costs by treating conditions early. And yet changes in the market–narrow insurance networks, hospital system consolidation, and others–have moved us in the wrong direction.

My bill will require every Colorado-regulated insurance company to include every primary care provider in every one of their insurance networks, provided that the PCP meets high quality standards and accepts advanced value based payments.

When people changes jobs and insurance plans, they often lose their primary care team, along with a critical doctor-patient relationship that improves health outcomes. Let’s change that.


*The Budget Stabilization Factor is an element of the K-12 school funding formula that accounts for how far short we’re falling of the requirements of Amendment 23, a voter-approved Constitutional amendment from 2000.

During the Great Recession, the 2009 Joint Budget Committee was faced with an impossible collision of two competing Constitutional amendments: the aforementioned Amdt 23, and TABOR. To balance the budget, they were forced to determine which provision to violate. One was slightly less unconstitutional than the other, due to a highly technical interpretation of the law.

The result has been 14 years of failing to meet A23’s K-12 funding targets.

Learn more here.

Dreams of Peace

In 2006, Neil Young released an album called “Living With War.” On the title track, his lyrics include, “I’m living with war in my heart everyday” and “when the night falls, I pray for peace, try to remember peace.”

Those lyrics struck a chord for me. I had not joined protests against the war in Iraq that had started three years earlier. It was too easy to just think of the war as an event that was far away and beyond my ability to influence.

But the idea of “living with war in my heart every day” was a reminder of how easily we all accept this brutal reality. 

I did a little research before Christmas to get a sense of how many ongoing violent conflicts were taking place in our world. The answer was devastating. There are seven conflicts that caused at least 10,000 deaths last year, another 14 that caused between 1,000 and 9,999 deaths, and another 21 that caused 100-999 deaths.

As a State Legislator, I have rarely commented on foreign policy. But the brutal attack by Hamas on the people of Israel on October 7th thrust the issue of war into the forefront. I have received many emails from constituents and have had many conversations with my Jewish and Palestinian colleagues and friends. 

While I can’t pretend to fully understand the dynamics of the conflict in Gaza, I can see quite clearly how much pain and fear are being experienced by our friends and neighbors right now. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are both surging in the US, and there are stories every day about acts of violence being committed against people in our communities. People I know have lost friends and family in Israel and Gaza.

The issue is incredibly fraught. I have been asked to sign onto statements calling for a ceasefire, and I have so far declined to do so because I know these statements have increased fear and pain among my Jewish friends and constituents. And yet my decision not to sign on has caused fear and pain among my Palestinian and Arab friends and constituents. Kyra and I have had many conversations about it, and while she shares my concerns, she also feels so strongly about the horrifying number of Palestinian women and children whose lives have been lost that she opted to sign onto a letter calling for a bilateral ceasefire. 

What Hamas did on October 7th was unconscionable. It was a terrorist act that took the lives of 1200 innocent Israelis and took 250 hostages.

While it is true that the people of Gaza have been suffering for a long time, this is no justification for the taking of innocent lives. Violence only begets more violence, as we have seen in this world time and time again. 

It is understandable to me that Israel feels it must eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to its people. The Israeli people cannot feel safe if Hamas is left to pursue another brutal attack next year.

While I have stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, I can’t help believing there must be a better way for the Netanyahu government to be pursuing this goal. In under three months, over 21,000 Palestinians have been killed, largely due to airstrikes. It is hard to get data about how many of these were civilians versus militants, but the Israeli government released a statistic that suggests that 2/3 of the deaths were civilians. And separate accounts indicate that 8,000 of the deaths were children.

I very much hope that the Israeli government puts an end to these airstrikes and focuses their efforts on more targeted strategies to go after the leadership of Hamas. And I hope to see the Biden Administration and our Congressional Delegation maintain pressure on the Netanyahu government to take this more humane approach.

Not that war can every really be humane. There are not enough tears in all the world for the loss of innocent life in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, North Africa, Mexico, Ethiopia, Sudan, and so many other places.

There are no easy answers, either. It’s too simple to just call for an end to all war. But if there is to be war, every effort must be taken to preserve every innocent life.

And we must invest so much more in creating conditions for peace across the world. No human being should go without food, water, and shelter. No community should be left exposed to the spread of disease without adequate health care resources. There is more than enough wealth in the world to support these basic dignities. But when it comes to political will, we too often come up short.

Even in our own country, we don’t invest nearly enough in creating conditions for peace. Poverty, homelessness, overdose, gun violence… sometimes it’s too much to bear.

As we enter another new year, may we not let it leave our hearts that we are indeed living with war every day, may we dream of peace, and may we all find ways, whether in our work or in our own daily lives, of creating a better world.

Chris

Economic Security

Economic Security

Friends and neighbors,

When I logged on this morning to start writing this email, I was disturbed to find out I had failed to hit “send” on the previous email I had written on November 12th announcing the special session and the cancellation of the November 18th town hall. So I apologize that this is the first email I’m sending you about the special session that concluded on Monday.

Here’s the short version.

The Governor called us into a special session to do everything we could to put dollars in pockets this coming spring when people would start facing higher property tax bills due to home value growth. We succeeded, passing a very meaningful package of legislation.

Here’s the long version.

In the election that concluded on November 7th, voters soundly rejected Proposition HH which would have cut next year’s property tax increases in half for the average homeowner while ensuring school districts, fire departments, and child welfare offices received “backfill” funding from the state to help make up for their lost property tax revenues. The state would have been able to afford this by changing the way we calculate the annual TABOR cap, allowing the state to retain an additional 1% of tax revenue every year that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers.

While I supported HH, I also understand why voters did not. It was incredibly complicated and controversial, pairing multiple ideas that had varying support across the political spectrum. Some voted no because they were worried that property tax reductions would inevitably harm our schools, Some voted no because they didn’t want to see a reduction in future TABOR refunds. Some voted no because local governments were not getting enough backfill funding.

Among the many lessons I learned is this one: keep it simple.

Another is that we need to grapple with the tough question of who needs a property tax cut, and who does not. For my part, I believe there are many in our state who are not struggling to pay their taxes, but I also believe there are many low and middle income Coloradans and small businesses who do need help keeping up with these costs.

Yet another is that it doesn’t make sense for the state to be making these decisions on behalf of the local governments who already have the authority to lower their property taxes, either temporarily or permanently, if their judgment is that they can afford to take in less revenue.

These were the thoughts going through my head when I joined a small group of legislative leaders in meeting with Governor Polis on the morning of November 8th to discuss the possibility of a special session.

As you know, the legislature’s annual regular session runs from January to May. But the Governor also has the authority to call us into a special session to tackle urgent issues that arise from time to time.

The urgent issue this time was that any changes to the income tax system would need to be made by December 1st, and any changes to the property tax system would need to give our county assessors and treasurers enough time to complete their work before sending out property tax bills in early January. 

To hit those targets, the legislature would need to complete its work before Thanksgiving. After discussing the possibility with members of the Democratic caucuses and Republican leaders, we set a start date of November 17th. That gave us all of eight days to get ready. 

The Governor gets to outline the scope of what kind of legislation is be permitted in a special session, and I’m grateful that he gave us broad flexibility to address numerous aspects of economic security from high property taxes to high rents to food insecurity. He also asked us to build a structure for a longer-term conversation about longer-term solutions.

After numerous meetings with local governments, education groups, fiscal policy organizations, and caucus members, as well as attempted negotiations with Republican leadership, we came up with a package of legislation. And it was quite a balancing act.

On the main property tax reduction bill, the Republicans wanted huge cuts to be paid for by cutting into the state’s reserve. Democratic leaders thought that was irresponsible, because it’s taken some time to build up that reserve and we’re going to need it next time there’s a recession. But their biggest request was that we not use any of the TABOR surplus to pay for property tax cuts.

We decided to move to the middle, and agreed to this request. As such, we were left with only $200M with which to backfill revenue losses for our public schools, fire departments, and other local governments. That meant that the property tax cuts had to be smaller than those in Prop HH. 

The good news is that all of our local governments have the ability to pick up where we left off. In some cases, they may keep their mill levies high because they’ve been saving up for a new firetruck or pay raises for their employees. But in other cases, I have heard from many local governments who say they intend to reduce their mill levies, which will deliver additional property tax cuts to both homeowners and businesses.

In order to make sure the state was doing its part, we complemented the property tax reduction legislation with several policies to focus supports on low-to-middle-income Colorado families, including:

  • Doubling the state earned income tax credit (EITC), which targets dollars to working families. The table below shows the federal tax credits, and the state credits will now be 50% of these amounts next year (compared to 25% last year):

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  • Flattening the distribution of TABOR refunds. Under current law, the highest-income taxpayers would get refunds three times as large as the lowest-income taxpayers. Because of our legislation, everyone gets $800. Simple.
  • Investing $30M in rental assistance programs.
  • Investing $3M of state dollars to draw $3M of federal dollars to pay for summer meals for low-income kids.
  • Funding a new staff member in the Treasurer’s office to process applications for the property tax deferral program. This is a critical backstop that helps those most in need defer a chunk of unpaid property tax bills to become a lien on their property that will be paid off at the time of sale.
  • And for the longer-term, we established a commission with numerous local government voices to meet in January and build toward a consensus for a more sustainable solution.

You may not be able to tell from just reading this outline, but this is a big, huge deal. This means hundreds of dollars (and in many cases, thousands) in the pockets of the folks who are struggling most right now to keep up with the high cost of living.

And I couldn’t be more proud of the work we all did together to make it happen.

There is more work ahead. Local governments need to take the lead on property taxes moving forward, and the state must continue to work on the fairness of our income and sales tax systems. Did you know that, despite the “flat” income tax, lower-income Coloradans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than higher-income Coloradans? That’s not fair, and it contributes to our broken system in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, no matter how hard they work. 

And at the very same time, we’re still underfunding our K-12 and higher education systems, our behavioral health system, and many other state services that Colorado families depend on. 

But we’re making progress. While I have less than a year remaining as your State Representative, I intend to spend every minute of it working as hard as I can to make life better for the people of House District 30 and for all of Colorado.

Yours,
Chris deGruy Kennedy

Property Tax Special Session

Property Tax Special Session

Happy Sunday Morning!

I’m writing with three updates today:

  1. Don’t forget to sign up to testify in support of the state placing an air toxics monitoring station in Lakewood where there have been concerns about unsafe levels of ethylene oxide. More details here.
  2. We are cancelling our Central Jeffco Town Hall meeting on Nov. 18th, because…
  3. Governor Polis is calling the General Assembly into a Special Session starting November 17th.

If you haven’t already read the news, I’ll take a moment to explain what’s going on with the special session.

As you know, the legislature’s annual regular session runs from January to May. But the Governor also has the authority to call us into a special session to tackle urgent issues that arise from time to time.

In this case, it’s all about property taxes.

In the election that concluded last Tuesday, voters soundly rejected Proposition HH which would have cut next year’s property tax increases in half for the average homeowner while ensuring school districts, fire departments, and child welfare offices received “backfill” funding from the state to help make up for their lost property tax revenues. The state would have been able to afford this by changing the way we calculate the annual TABOR cap, allowing the state to retain an additional 1% of tax revenue every year that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers.

While I supported HH, I also understand why voters did not. It was incredibly complicated and controversial, pairing multiple ideas that had varying support across the political spectrum. Some voted no because they were worried that property tax reductions would inevitably harm our schools, Some voted no because they didn’t want to see a reduction in future TABOR refunds. Some voted no because local governments were not getting enough backfill funding.

Among the many lessons I learned is this one: keep it simple.

Another is that we need to grapple with the tough question of who needs a property tax cut, and who does not. For my part, I believe there are many in our state who are not struggling to pay their taxes, but I also believe there are many low and middle income Coloradans and small businesses who do need help keeping up with these costs.

But because HH failed, property taxes are set to go up next year. In Jeffco, we’re estimating they’ll go up by an average of 40%. And that’s why Governor Polis is convening a special session. We have just a few weeks before county assessors have to finalize property tax bills for next year. Just because Plan A didn’t work out doesn’t mean that the state doesn’t have a responsibility to tackle this issue while there’s still time.

I am playing a fairly significant role, along with several other legislators, in developing Plan B. I spent much of last week in meetings with local government leaders from our school districts, counties, cities, fire departments, and other special districts to start building toward an alternative.

Without adjusting the TABOR cap (which we can’t do without voter approval), there’s no way the property tax reductions can be as large as they were in HH, or as broadly distributed. So the goal is to target the cuts that we can afford to the taxpayers who need help the most, as well as to utilize other economic security policies like the earned income tax credit, renter assistance programs, and a fairer distribution of TABOR refunds.

What are your priorities for this challenging moment? Reply to this email to let me know. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts as I continue to engage with stakeholders to develop a responsible solution for the people of Colorado.

Your representative (for just one more year),
Chris deGruy Kennedy

Air Toxics Update

Air Toxics Update

Today I wanted to share some important updates on regulating toxic air contaminants in our state. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is currently working to implement a new program to monitor, identify, and regulate these hazardous pollutants based on legislation I sponsored in 2022. 

Read on for more details about the program timeline, upcoming community engagement opportunities, and the latest from the EPA.


Exposure to toxic air contaminants continues to be a significant concern in Colorado. Toxic air contaminants (TACs) — including chemicals like benzene, hydrogen cyanide, chromium, and ethylene oxide — are emitted from industrial facilities across the state. These pollutants can cause cancer or serious health impacts such as breathing difficulty, nausea, birth defects, or even death. While there are regulations related to greenhouse gases and ground-level ozone, many hazardous air pollutants remain largely unregulated.

That’s why I ran HB22-1244, also referred to as the 2022 Air Toxics Act, to create a program that regulates TACs, reduces emissions, improves air quality, and protects the health of our communities.

As part of this program, TACs will be: 

Reported: The Air Toxic Emissions Reporting Program requires some sources of pollutants to submit annual reports to CDPHE. These reports will be available to the public.

Monitored: The Toxic Air Contaminant Monitoring Program will set up 6 long-term monitoring sites across the state. These sites will measure ambient levels of benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, and dozens of other air toxics.

Identified: Up to five priority air contaminants will be identified. This will include feedback from the scientific community.

Regulated: The division will establish health-based standards and emission controls for identified priority toxic air contaminants. This will require the biggest polluters to install new technologies to reduce their negative impacts on nearby communities.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) is currently working to implement the program, so I wanted to provide some information on this process and an opportunity to provide feedback. 


Opportunity for Public Engagement

The Division is currently seeking input to help inform the location of the six monitoring sites. Priority will be given to sites within disproportionately impacted (DI) communities, and include both urban and rural areas. 

Two virtual community outreach sessions are coming up in the next few months. Use these as an opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback, and let them know why a monitoring site is needed in your community. 

Here are the dates and links to register: 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023, 6:00-8:00 pm

Saturday, December 9, 2023, 10:00 am-12 p.m.


Air Toxics Program Timeline

The table below outlines the implementation timeline for the Toxic Air Contaminant Monitoring Program. 

October 1, 2022Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) posted an initial list of covered TACs. This list was revised in June 2023 and you can view it here
January 1, 2024 Monitoring program of TACs begins; first 3 monitoring sites established.
June 30, 2024Owners and operators of major and synthetic minor sources begin submitting annual toxic emissions reports to CDPHE.
April 30, 2025 Commission adopts rules identifying 5 priority TACs.
July 1, 2025 Final 3 monitoring sites established.
October 1, 2025 Division prepares a report summarizing the findings of the monitoring program.
December 31, 2025Needs Assessment for Air Permitting Program.
April 30, 2026 Establishment of Health Based Standards and Controls for Priority TACs.
September 30, 2029AQCC reviews priority TAC list and determines whether to add additional TACs and associated health-based standards.

For more information on Air Toxics, check out CDPHE’s webpage.  

You can also subscribe for updates here


Latest Updates from the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a proposal that would revise the Air Emissions Reporting Requirements rule, which requires states to report emissions of common air pollutants, to include air toxics. While most states voluntarily report some air toxics emissions data to EPA now, that reporting is not consistent nationwide.

The proposed rule would require about 130,000 facilities to report their air toxics emissions directly to the EPA. States would also have the option to collect air toxics data from industries and submit it to the EPA, subject to the Agency’s approval. To make things easier for small businesses, certain small businesses would only need to report the total emissions of each air toxic, instead of providing more detailed information.

You can read the full proposal here and provide public comment here. Submissions will be accepted until November 17th, 2023.

Vote Local!

October is here! As the season of mowing the lawn turns to the season of raking leaves, I thought it was time for me to send out my annual newsletter about this November’s election.

The odd-year ballots are when most school boards and municipalities across Colorado hold their elections. In addition, statewide ballot measures that interact with TABOR are allowed to be placed on an odd-year ballot, and there are two of those this year.

More on that below, but first, the key election details:

  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th
  • Ballots will be mailed out to every registered active voter starting October 16th. Ballots can be mailed back or taken to a drop box or vote center, but must be returned by 7:00pm on 11/7.
  • In-person vote centers open on October 30th. If you haven’t registered online, you can register at any of these locations in your home county and cast your ballot on the same day. You can also get a replacement ballot or vote on accessible equipment in these locations.

You can get more info about voting in Jeffco here (or if you live elsewhere in Colorado, click here).


Alright, so what’s on the ballot? Let me start with the local candidates.

Two of the five Jeffco School Board seats are up, and I’m excited to be supporting Michelle Applegate and Erin Kenworthy. These two individuals have shown their deep commitment to Jeffco kids, and they know that the best way to support our kids is by supporting our amazing Jeffco teachers. While these candidates must live in one of the five districts, both races will be voted on by the voters of the entire county.

In the City of Lakewood, I’m supporting candidates who will advocate for more affordable housing using smart growth strategies that consider the impact on our environment and climate. When run well, cities can be engines of opportunity for their residents as well as comfortable, safe, healthy, and fun places to live. That’s why I’m supporting Wendi Strom for Mayor, Glenda Sinks for Ward 1, Isabel Cruz for Ward 2, Roger Low for Ward 3, Dave Rein for Ward 4, and Jacob LaBure for Ward 5.

In the City of Edgewater, there are mayoral and city council races on the ballot. Current Mayor John Beltrone has done an excellent job, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and some of the members of council I’ve gotten to know. That said, Mayor Beltrone isn’t running for reelection and Edgewater has only been in my district for a year, so I don’t feel equipped to weigh in on the election. But if you live in Edgewater, do some googling and answer your door when candidates come knocking to introduce themselves!

That’s it for school boards and cities that overlap with the district I represent, but if you live elsewhere, make sure to do your research and vote! These are some of the least glamorous elected positions but can be incredibly impactful on our communities.

Now what about those statewide ballot measures? Well, first, make sure to read your Blue Book. That’s where you’ll get the detailed nonpartisan analysis that will help you understand the dimensions of some very complex policies.

I’ll be voting yes on both Proposition HH and Proposition II, and I’ll tell you why.

Prop HH – Governing is a balancing act. While I’ve been a vocal advocate for TABOR reform and making the wealthy pay their fair share, there’s no denying the challenges that come with the massive increases in property values that are driving the average 40% property tax increases next year. Lower income Coloradans, seniors, and small businesses will all struggle to pay these property tax bills.

At the same time, our school districts, fire districts, and child welfare offices are struggling to hire and retain enough staff to do their jobs. That’s why fake solutions like Initiative 50 (which may appear on the 2024 ballot) don’t actually solve the problem. Capping growth at 4% may seem reasonable at first blush, but if you’ve heard what I’ve heard from our local fire chief, you’d know that this kind of cap would be a crushing blow to the local services we all depend on.

Prop HH cuts the residential property tax increase in half, saving the average Coloradan $600 per year. And it will save businesses money too. The state will backfill a large share of the local government revenue losses from the TABOR surplus, which is money already paid by taxpayers at the recently-lowered income tax rate of 4.4% that exceeds the artificial cap established by TABOR. By raising this cap 1%, we can restore lost revenues to local districts and even side aside $20M a year for rental assistance programs.

There’s a lot more to it, but the key point is that Prop HH is a thoughtful, responsible approach to reducing the increase in property tax bills that won’t undermine our schools, fire districts, or child welfare offices like Initiative 50 would. I hope you join me in voting yes.

Prop II – Remember that time Colorado voters approved new taxes on cigarettes, vapes, and other tobacco/nicotine products to fund early childhood education programs? Me too. It was called Proposition EE, and it passed with 68% support in 2020.

Since the passage of EE, this new tax ended up generating more revenue than was estimated. Great news, right? Well… kind of. 

Because of a quirk of TABOR, the state can’t keep all the revenue without asking the voters if they’re sure they meant it when they voted yes on EE. If II doesn’t pass, the state will have to refund dollars to tobacco companies rather than investing them in early childhood education.

So join me in saying, “Yes, I’m sure!” and vote yes on II.

If this feels familiar, it’s because we had to do the exact same thing for marijuana taxes a few years ago when the actual tax revenue exceeded the estimates.

—–

As you can see, this November’s election is a big deal. Email me your questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

And thanks for being a voter!

Chris

P.S. If you want to take your understanding to the next level, I always find that the Bell Policy Center has the best analysis of fiscal ballot measures. Read their analyses on Prop HH and Prop II.