Apr 07

The Glitch in Colorado’s Weed Experiment

The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL

The Glitch in Colorado’s Weed Experiment


boulder marijuana shop

A marijuana dispensary in Boulder, Colo. Credit Matthew Staver for The New York Times

After Colorado voters legalized marijuana, they also approved heavily taxing it and using the money for school construction, law enforcement, drug education and other useful things. The arrangement made perfect sense.

But now the 15-month-old experiment has entered a phase that makes no sense at all. It’s the prospect that all this new marijuana revenue — an estimated $58 million in the current fiscal year — may have to be returned to the voters, because of a provision in the state’s Constitution that rigidly constrains taxes and spending. The provision is the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or Tabor, a complex set of rules that requires, among other things, voter approval of all new taxes and automatic refunds if tax revenues or spending exceed estimates given when tax questions are put to the voters.

As an April 1 report in The Times explained, Colorado’s tax revenues have recently surged, thanks in part to the booming construction, oil and gas industries, in addition to some $58 million from the marijuana taxes. But not only revenues but overall state spending this year are expected to end up higher than the state estimated back when the marijuana tax was on the ballot. Under Tabor — which some in Colorado have likened to a fiscal straitjacket or a statutory version of the crazed space computer HAL 9000 — the state is therefore required to refund the marijuana money. Continue reading

Apr 07

West Slope lawmakers talk TABOR, water at Club 20

West Slope lawmakers talk TABOR, water at Club 20

Thurlow chimes in on effort to recall him: ‘That’s their right’


By Ron Bain


GRAND JUNCTION — A panel of seven Western Slope legislators — six Republicans and one Democrat — discussed diverse issues they’re working on in the state legislature at the Club 20 annual meeting on March 28, focusing on water, energy, the economy, TABOR and federal lands.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, had introduced a bill, SB 15-232, that would create a Federal Land Management Commission to study the transfer of federally managed public lands to Colorado. But that doesn’t mean the lands would be sold to the highest bidder, he added.

“I know there’s a lot of people running around with their hair on fire, afraid that we’re going to sell the lands, but that’s not what the bill is all about,” Baumgardner said.

Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, who also attended the panel discussion, is the House sponsor for the land transfer study bill.

During a discussion of conflicting constitutional amendments, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, confessed that the state legislature has been making end runs around the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

“We did not follow the Constitution,” Roberts said. “We made up something called the ‘negative factor’. There are budgetary tricks.”

Amendment 23, which mandates yearly increases in K-12 education funding, is in conflict with TABOR, which restricts the growth of government revenues, a dilemma that several of the legislators complained about. Club 20 member Chris Treese asked the panel to discuss that conflict.

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Aspen, said she was extremely frustrated by TABOR. Continue reading

Apr 01

Colorado Lawmakers Scramble to Keep Millions in Marijuana Taxes

Robert Grandt worked in the grow room at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver last month. Hefty taxes on recreational marijuana have generated millions in state revenue. Credit RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

A year after Colorado became the first state to allow recreational marijuana sales, millions of tax dollars are rolling in, dedicated to funding school construction, marijuana education campaigns and armies of marijuana inspectors and regulators. But a legal snarl may force the state to hand that money back to marijuana consumers, growers and the public — and lawmakers do not want to.

The problem is a strict anti-spending provision in the state Constitution that touches every corner of public life, like school funding, state health care, local libraries and road repairs. Technical tripwires in that voter-approved provision, known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, may require Colorado to refund nearly $60 million in marijuana taxes.

Continue reading

Mar 31

District’s reasonable request (to avoid TABOR)

Chieftain editorial

Published: March 30, 2015;

THE FOUNTAIN Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District has a request.

The district last week asked Pueblo County commissioners and Colorado Springs Utilities to amend the 1041 permit that both entities signed giving the utilities permission to build the Southern Delivery System. The district wants the commissioners and utilities to change the wording of the permit so that some $50 million in funds would be paid into an enterprise fund rather than directly to the Fountain Creek district.

When Colorado Springs Utilities and Pueblo County reached the terms of the permit for SDS, they agreed that Colorado Springs Utilities and its El Paso County-based partners would spend $50 million for flood mitigation work on Fountain Creek. The permit also requires the money to be used to significantly benefit Pueblo County, which to us means protecting it from raging floodwaters and damage from upstream.

The funds will be paid to the Fountain Creek district, but the district was at risk of losing some dollars if they were to be paid into the general fund. That is because it would have run awry of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

TABOR is the voter-approved constitutional amendment that sets caps on how much a government’s spending may grow, year over year. And Larry Small, the executive director of the Fountain Creek district, projected that the $50 million would exceed the limit.

So the district is sagely endeavoring to circumnavigate the caps by setting up an enterprise fund. This is a common and thoughtful solution to the district’s financial dilemma, and it is into this fund that the district is asking Pueblo County and the utilities to agree to direct the $50 million in funding. Continue reading

Mar 28

TABOR refund likely to go to voters

By Marianne Goodland

The Colorado Statesman

Budget writers this week finished their work on the annual state budget and turned their attention to what to do about a $58 million projected TABOR refund.

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, took the lead on coming up with a proposal for the Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday.

The $58 million refund was triggered by tax revenue received by the state through excise and sales taxes on marijuana, and which pushed the state over its allowable TABOR revenue cap.

The $58 million is made up of two different funds: $27.7 million from marijuana taxes, and $30.3 million the JBC had to take from general funds to cover expenditures already made on certain marijuana programs like prevention and education. Steadman explained Wednesday that the $30.3 million was spent before the state (and JBC) knew they would have a TABOR refund situation. So they had to replace that money with general fund dollars.

Steadman’s proposal won’t go into final drafts until after the General Assembly finishes work on the Long Appropriations Bill.

The major part of the proposal is a referred measure to the voters for this November, asking if the state can keep the money. Steadman proposed that $40 million of the total go to BEST, the school construction fund that was to be covered with marijuana revenues.

Steadman explained that to date, only about $25 million has gone to that fund, although in both Amendment 64 and Proposition AA (passed by voters in 2013) the state pledged at least $40 million to public school capital construction. Tax revenues from marijuana haven’t lived up to what was billed; Prop AA asked voters to allow up to a cap of $70 million per year. However, the most recent revenue forecast from Legislative Council economists explained that the amount of the refund would be capped at the total amount of taxes collected.

Continue reading

Mar 27

Could Colorado’s hospital provider fee be the key to increased road funding?

Reporter-Denver Business Journal

Some Denver business leaders are pushing a state budget fix that would ensure a boost in transportation funding and could help to increase education spending simply by moving the six-year-old hospital provider fee out of the general fund into what is know as “enterprise fund” status.

However, with the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee set to introduce its proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year on Friday, the idea has not gained enough traction yet even to be discussed formally by the committee.

And Democratic and Republican legislative leaders disagree on whether it should be considered, especially since that solution likely would eliminate any Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) refunds to residents statewide in the near future.

However, the same bill says the transfer can be cut in half if TABOR refunds — which are required when state-government revenue grows above a certain cap — are between 1 and 3 percent of the general-fund budget. And they can go away altogether if TABOR refunds exceed 3 percent.

Right now, the TABOR refund is projected to be a little more than 1 percent, which means the $204 million that had been planned for transportation funding would sink to $102 million. Continue reading

Mar 27

Tax and Expenditure Limitation Act

As an interesting side note, while TABOR is well-known in Colorado, relatively few states have a similar government spending limit mechanism in their constitutions.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) actually has a model bill that is based on Colorado’s TABOR amendment that lawmakers in other states can pick up, make minor changes to, and introduce in their own jurisdictions.  We would bet there are constituents in many states who would appreciate a cap on their legislature’s wanton spending.


Tax and Expenditure Limitation Act


The Tax and Expenditure Limitation Act recognizes the important tradeoff between constraints on the growth of state and local government, and the provision of adequate reserves to meet emergencies and to stabilize budgets over the business cycle. The Act is a constitutional provision designed to accomplish these objectives. The Act links a tax and spending limit to an emergency reserve fund and a budget stabilization fund. The Act also provides for temporary reductions in tax rates and/or tax rebates when surplus revenue accumulates above the tax and spending limit, and the cap on the emergency reserve fund and the budget stabilization reserve fund.

Model Policy

{Title, enacting clause, etc.}

Section 1. {Election Provisions} For any fiscal year that commences on or after____ state and local government districts must have voter approval in advance for any new tax rate increase, mill levy above that for the prior year, valuation for assessment ratio increase for a property class, or extension of an expiring tax, any markup on products sold through state-controlled enterprises, or a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district. Voter approval is also required for creation of any multi-fiscal year direct or indirect district debt or other financial obligation without adequate present cash reserves pledged irrevocably and held for payments in all future years, except for refinancing district bonded debt at a lower interest rate or adding new employees to existing district pension plans. Voter approval is also required for suspension of the spending limits imposed by this Act. Continue reading

Mar 26

RETURN TO OWNER: Tabor Tax Rebates May Be Coming to a Mailbox Near You

Money IIIt has been almost 15 years, but hard-working Colorado taxpayers may be in for a TABOR refund in the near future.  The combination of an improving economy and tax receipts from the state’s nascent marijuana industry have created a surplus that must be refunded to Colorodans under the state constitution, unless a ballot measure calling for the funds to be retained and spent by the government is passed in a statewide vote.

Of course, there will be fierce resistance from Democratic lawmakers to refund a penny of the excess tax payments that was dropped into the states’ coffers.  It was not too long ago that the Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst,staked out her position on the issue, saying that “the people would be far better off if we invested that…” and went on to marginalize the refund by comparing it to “50 bucks to spend on a tank of gas or something.”

In case Speaker Hullinghorst has not been part of the middle class for a while, $50 is a lot of money to someone not making six figures.

Hullinghorst’s wild guesstimate of the figure is most likely wrong.  According to current estimates, the surplus tax collections will amount to somewhere between $70 million and $220 million during the 2015 fiscal year.  This would result in refunds between $15 – $89 per taxpayer, with lower-income people getting more.  There is also a possibility that some low earners will get an additional $230, according to a Denver Post story.

We have to ask – are Democrats really representing the middle and lower earners as they claim?  If they were, would TABOR refunds even be a question?

As an interesting side note, while TABOR is well-known in Colorado, relatively few states have a similar government spending limit mechanism in their constitutions.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) actually has a model bill that is based on Colorado’s TABOR amendment that lawmakers in other states can pick up, make minor changes to, and introduce in their own jurisdictions.  We would bet there are constituents in many states who would appreciate a cap on their legislature’s wanton spending.


Mar 26

Colorado roads could get more funding

Personal income rose enough in Colorado last year to trigger provisions that could redirect $1.25 billion in extra funds to repair the state’s roads and buildings over the next five years.

But those transfers may end not long after they start because of caps linked to refunds made under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Personal income in Colorado last year rose 5.6 percent, the third-biggest increase, after Alaska and Oregon at 5.7 percent each, according to a report Wednesday from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Under a law passed in 2009, the state must redirect 2 percent of general fund revenues into the Highway Users Tax Fund and the Capital Construction Fund once personal income growth in the state exceeds 5 percent.

To read the rest of this article, click the following link: