Denver Post uncritically quoted McElhany on GOP support of 2004 property tax freeze

A Denver Post report on the state Senate's passage of an education funding plan uncritically reported Republican Sen. Andy McElhany's comments in which he downplayed GOP support of a similar 2004 bill by claiming that at the time, four Republican lawmakers “voted for a bill they didn't understand.” But the article did not include any comments from those legislators.

A May 2 Denver Post article about the Colorado Senate passing an education funding plan uncritically reported the comments of Republican Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany (Colorado Springs), who downplayed GOP support for a similar proposal in 2004 by claiming that back then, four Republican legislators “voted for a bill they didn't understand.” The article, however, failed to provide comments from any of the Republicans to whom McElhany referred or explain if the four in fact did not “understand” the 2004 school funding bill, which also proposed freezing property tax rates.

As the article by Mark P. Couch reported, “Gov. Bill Ritter's proposal to freeze property-tax rates to benefit public schools squeaked through the Senate on Tuesday -- setting the stage for a legal challenge by Republicans who consider the measure a tax increase.” The article about Senate Bill 199 later noted:

Lawyers for Ritter and for the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services concluded that the change is not a tax increase, according to the terms of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, an amendment added to the state constitution in 1992. TABOR requires voters to approve tax increases.

“The prudent course would be to refer this to the voters,” said Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

“I think it is extremely clear that this bill is a violation of TABOR,” said Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Larimer County, who called the move “unconscionable.”

Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, pointed out that Republicans spawned the property-tax idea in 2004 and said that four previous supporters were still in the chamber.

In 2004, Sens. Johnson, Ken Kester of Las Animas, Ron May of Colorado Springs and Jack Taylor of Steamboat Springs voted for a school finance act that included a similar provision. All were no votes Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, dismissed those concerns.

“The worst they can be accused of is that they voted for a bill they didn't understand,” he said.

The article included no comments regarding McElhany's assessment from Johnson, Kester, May, or Taylor.

Furthermore, a May 1 Post editorial noted, “In recent days, Republican strategists, led by Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colorado Springs, have tried to paint the property tax freeze as a tax increase. But it is nothing of the kind -- as Republicans themselves recognized in 2004 when they passed the very same plan in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate. Even then-Senate President John Andrews, whose aversion to tax increases is legendary, voted for the freeze.”