Appeals Court Upholds Constitutionality of Tax Lightning Law

County Assessor JoAnn Johnson with Chief Deputy Assessor Joaquin Valdez. Photo by Carol A. Clark/

By Carol A. Clark

The New Mexico Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of a state law that can result in sharply increased tax assessments for homes that change ownership – a practice known as “tax lightning.”

“This doesn’t affect us at all in Los Alamos because we have followed State Statute 73621.2 for the past 10 years,” said Los Alamos County Chief Deputy Assessor Joaquin Valdez. “This surfaced in Bernalillo County on two properties because they applied tax differently.”

Based on earlier court decisions against tax lightning, the Bernalillo County Assessor had rolled back home values for people who had been affected with tax lightning.

The state law limits how much a home’s value can increase annually on the tax rolls. The statute calls for a 3 percent cap unless the home has changed ownership, in which case the property is to be assessed at its market value.

The property owners in the case before the Court of Appeals argued that the exception illegally created disparities in how homes are valued for property-tax purposes, causing some homeowners to pay increases of more than 300 percent on their bills in a single year.

Assessors across the state have applied the law differently.

Judge Roderick Kennedy authored the appeals court opinion, which stated that to the extent homeowners seem to assert that the value limitation carries over from the previous owner, such a contention is unsupported by the property tax code.

“We have not had that problem in Los Alamos because we’ve followed the statute,” Valdez said. “So this court ruling simply means ‘business as usual’ for us.”

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