Another Judge Finds `Tax Lightning' Law Unconstitutional - Albuquerque Journal

Another Judge Finds `Tax Lightning’ Law Unconstitutional

Ruling by state district judge in Dona Ana County supports similar rulings from Bernalillo County

Another state judge has ruled that New Mexico’s “tax lightning” law is unconstitutional.

State District Judge Manuel Arrieta’s ruling in Dona Ana County supports similar rulings from state District Court judges in Bernalillo County.

His decision came Thursday in a lawsuit filed by a Las Cruces couple who challenged a state law that took effect in 2001. That law caps property taxes at 3 percent for existing home owners, but has no such protection for new owners after a house is sold.

“This is not the equal and uniform treatment that the framers contemplated under our Constitution,” Arrieta wrote. “Moreover, the effect of ‘tax lightning’ is to have no limit on the annual increases on similar properties — a result directly in conflict with the Constitution.”

The ruling also said lawmakers went beyond the limitations of the Constitution in adopting the legislation.

The suit was filed in December by William and Martha Beerman of Las Cruces. They would have paid nearly $600 above what their neighbors pay in property taxes if the suit failed, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Beerman represented himself in court and told the newspaper that he was pleased with Arrieta’s decision.

County Assessor Andy Segovia said he has no plans to challenge the ruling in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, where several other tax lightning cases are being considered.

“I’m excited about it,” said Segovia. “We need to give taxpayers an answer. Frankly, I’m relieved a second (state) court has ruled it unconstitutional. … For me, it tells me and this county that we shouldn’t be increasing the taxes for those property sales.”

The Beermans were assessed nearly $600 more for their property than what neighbors were being charged. But Segovia said the property assessment will be changed, as ordered by Arrieta.

“We will make the corrections,” Segovia said. “It’s all about being fair to the taxpayer and creating some equity.”

Efforts in recent legislative sessions to fix the problem have failed, and another effort is under way.

The current limit on residential property valuation increases was enacted in 2000 to help longtime property owners, such as in Santa Fe.

Expensive homes were being built in older neighborhoods, pushing up surrounding property values and causing taxes to increase on homes and land that had been owned by the same family for generations.

 

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