News 8 reporter called mill levy plan "Bill Ritter's property tax increase," provided no response

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

In an August 21 report on the Mesa County Commissioners' decision to refund the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) surplus for 2006, KJCT News 8 of Grand Junction characterized the 2007 plan passed by the Colorado legislature to freeze property tax, or mill levy, rates to fund public education as Democratic Gov. "Bill Ritter's property tax increase." Moreover, the report quoted a Republican county commissioner but included no comment from Ritter's office or other Democrats.

An August 21 KJCT News 8 report about the Mesa County Commissioners' decision to refund the county's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) surplus for 2006 to "help cover the cost of [Democratic Gov.] Bill Ritter's property tax increase" provided comments from a Republican county commissioner but none from Ritter's office or Democratic lawmakers who passed Senate Bill 199, which would freeze property tax, or mill levy, rates as a means of redistributing sources of public education funding in the state.

As News 8 anchor Jason Radcliffe reported, "The Mesa County commissioners announced yesterday that they plan to refund the county's 2006 TABOR surplus of $3 million to the taxpayers." After reporter Crystal Jenkins asked who the refund would "benefit," News 8 aired footage of Republican Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis saying, "Certainly anybody that owns property" and "those that are on fixed incomes that ... don't have additional income resources are gonna be ... in my opinion, the greatest beneficiaries." Jenkins then stated, "Commissioners say the surplus of TABOR dollars will help cover the cost of Bill Ritter's property tax increase."

However, while Jenkins characterized Ritter's plan to freeze mill levy rates as a "tax increase" and aired Meis' contention that "these mill levy ... dollars that are collected don't necessarily come back to Mesa County on a per-student basis," News 8 failed to include comment from Ritter's office or supporters of his education funding plan about Meis' assertion or the report's characterization of the plan as a "tax increase."

The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction similarly reported on August 21 that "Mesa County Commissioners decided Monday to refund the county's nearly $3 million in 2006 TABOR surplus through a temporary mill levy reduction." The article noted that "the commissioners also took a swipe at Gov. Bill Ritter's recently passed education-funding mechanism: Senate Bill 199," and -- in contrast to News 8's report -- included the comments of Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer:

The county's method of refunding its revenues in excess of limits set by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights through a temporary mill levy reduction is nothing new. Mesa County has done it four times in the past eight years.

"So it is not a surprise. In fact, it is good news for the county," said Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor. "It means that assessed property values are continuing to rise, and that is positive."

What he did have suspicions about was how the commissioners interlaced the TABOR refund with a shot across the bow of SB 199.

"It raises questions about why they positioned it the way they did," Dreyer said.

From the August 21 broadcast of KJCT's News 8 This Morning:

RADCLIFFE: The Mesa County Commissioners announced yesterday that they plan to refund the county's 2006 TABOR surplus of $3 million to the taxpayers. KJCT News 8's Crystal Jenkins tells us how this will affect residents.

[begin video clip]

JENKINS: $3 million of TABOR surplus is going back to the taxpayers in 2008. So who will it benefit?

MEIS: Certainly anybody that owns property. [laughs]

JENKINS: But some will benefit more than others.

MEIS: Certainly those that are on fixed incomes that, that don't have additional income resources are gonna be probably, in my opinion, the greatest beneficiaries.

JENKINS: Commissioners say the surplus of TABOR dollars will help cover the cost of Bill Ritter's property tax increase. Much of the money will also benefit District 51, but the impact may not be felt in the classroom.

MEIS: It, it just depends, because these mill levy -- these, these dollars that are collected don't necessarily come back to Mesa County on a per-student basis.

JENKINS: Taxes are also expected to increase by 2011 because of a mill levy freeze on taxpayers.

MEIS: As residential, or commercial, or, or real estate prices continue to go up, if your mill levy is frozen, of course your tax -- your, your tax bill at the end of the day is gonna go up at that same rate.

[end video clip]

RADCLIFFE: The Legislative Council expects taxpayers to pay $4.2 million in 2008. The tax will then increase dramatically to $9.6 million by 2011.

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