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Colorado board that scrutinizes ballot measures raises questions about whether Proposition HH does what it says it does

Why is ballot measure Prop HH under so much scutiny?
Why is ballot measure Prop HH under so much scrutiny? 03:58

As ballots arrive in the mail, a state board is raising questions that may give you pause when it comes to Proposition HH.

The ballot measure deals with property taxes and future tax returns among many other things.

The legislature referred it to the ballot, calling it a property tax reduction. But, after scrutinizing a ballot measure copied from Prop HH, the state title board found it's a tax change, but not a tax reduction.

There are two ways measures get on the ballot - citizens bring them or the legislature does. When the legislature brings an initiative, state lawmakers decide what it says. When it's a citizens' initiative, the title board writes the ballot question, closely examining every word, to make sure voters know exactly what they're voting on.

That is what they did this week with Initiative 88 by the Independence Institute. Jon Caldara is president of the libertarian-leaning think tank.

"This measure is basically a carbon copy of Senate Bill 23-303. As you know, Senate Bill 303 is Prop HH for 2023," Caldara told the board.

He was so convinced the title board would never approve Prop HH as written, he put it to the test, bringing what is essentially a duplicate measure at its core - Initiative 88.

Like Prop HH, Initiative 88 says it's "concerning a reduction in property taxes." But the board says that's not accurate. 

"Some of these provisions actually increase the tax," said board member Jeremy Barry.

Board chair, Theresa Conley, agreed that "concerning a reduction in property taxes" wasn't how the question should be worded, "would it be concerning changes of property taxes?" 

Caldara says substituting "changes in property taxes" for a "property tax reduction" sends a very different message to voters, "it was very telling to me that the very first thing they did was take out this reduces property taxes to this changes property taxes."

The board didn't stop there. As it tried to draft a ballot question, it noted how complex the measure was. The ballot question its staff came up with ended-up being 140 words compared to Prop HH's 55 words. 

The new question went into more detail about what the measure would and would not do. It removed "expanding property tax relief for seniors," for example, and added "creating new subclasses of property."

"That is closer to what the title board would have given Prop HH if it went through proper channels."   

But, in the end, the board refused to set a title for Initiative 88, saying it referred to a law that doesn't yet exist, but they wouldn't tell CBS News Colorado which law it was.

"You can't create a title for something that doesn't make sense," said Conley.

Caldara says he's also not sure what law the board is referring to but he says Initiative 88 was copied from Prop HH, "so, if this proposal can't be on the ballot, well then Prop HH can't be on the ballot."  

Independence Institute attorney Shane Madsen says the only issues she could find in Initiative 88 were typos - one incorrect date and lower case instead of upper case in one place.

Caldara has brought countless ballot measures over the last 25 years and he say, while the board is typically nonpartisan, it is appointed by democrats, and democrats wrote Prop HH. 

He thinks the board realized the changes it was making would hurt Prop HH, so it just got rid of the initiative.

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