Ballot measures impact bill signed into law
The Colorado Statesman
A new law will allow Colorado voters to know the fiscal impact of a ballot measure before petitions are circulated — a heavily debated effort that seemed doomed in the final hours of the recent legislative session.
The state had already been required to provide voters with cost-impact estimates of ballot measures, prior to an election. But House Bill 1057, which was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday, accelerates that process so that voters will know a proposal’s cost before they are asked to sign a petition.
In addition to fiscal impact estimates appearing in voter Blue Book election guides, the new law requires that estimates of a measure’s impact on government revenues, spending, taxes and fiscal liabilities be summarized on initiative petitions.
Court said that fiscal notes are attached to bills before being considered by lawmakers and that the public should be afforded that same information. The Colorado Legislative Council makes those calculations for lawmakers and is also responsible for preparing fiscal impact statements for ballot initiatives.
Just weeks before the Colorado Legislature wrapped up its 2015 session, Gov. John Hickenlooper introduced a proposal that, in a few years, would result in the state having more money to put towards transportation and education, but reduce refunds to taxpayers. Though the proposal failed, Hickenlooper said he’ll continue to push it in coming months.The governor had proposed reclassifying a fee paid by hospitals so that it does not count against the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, limit. TABOR dictates that if the state collects more than a certain amount of tax revenue, it must return excess revenue to citizens. Hickenlooper said other fees don’t count against that limit, and the hospital fee shouldn’t either.
The proposal didn’t get any Republican support in the session that ended last Thursday, in part because lawmakers said they didn’t want to take any TABOR refund money back from taxpayers.
Hickenlooper said he took the idea public after months of working behind the scenes to build momentum for it.
“We got to the point where it didn’t seem likely that we were going to achieve a compromise, so we wanted to let the public have a debate, because there are two sides to the argument,” the governor added.
He said he still believes a compromise is possible, and said he will work on that for next year’s legislative session.
Along with the governor’s tax proposal, in his regular conversation with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, Hickenlooper said he’s “leaning towards a veto” of two bills that could ban red light cameras and photo speeding enforcement. He also talked about his support for ending a ban on crude oil exports and reflected on Denver’s 10-year plan to end homelessness, which started under his leadership a decade ago.
House Dems pushing fee change to prevent future TABOR refunds | CPR
Democrats in Colorado’s state House are moving forward with an ambitious plan to hold onto hundreds of millions of dollars the state would otherwise have to send back to taxpayers.
Revenues are growing fast enough that the state will soon start sending out tax refunds as required by the Taxpayers Bills of Rights. But budget writers warn those refunds will make it a tough financial situation that much harder. K-12 schools and Medicaid are expected to consume most of the new money Colorado brings in over the next few years, leaving little left over for other areas, like higher education and transportation.
House Speaker Dickie Lee Hullinghorst believes she’s found a way around that squeeze. She wants to reclassify a major fee paid by hospitals in a way that makes it exempt from TABOR limits. That change would lower the total revenue amount covered by TABOR enough keep the state from having to pay refunds for years, giving lawmakers hundreds of millions more dollars to direct to state services.
TABOR: What it does and why it’s important – Journal Advocate
Colorado lawmakers begin a mad dash to the finish next week with more than a dozen significant bills in limbo and the session’s clock set to expire.
The final flurry before the May 6 adjournment is typical each session, but this year it is complicated by a divided legislature seeking elusive common ground on a wide range of issues and a series of late bills with huge implications.
The new bills include a repeal of the sales tax on soft drinks, a new$3.5 billion transportation bonds package, two resolutions to cut the length of the legislative session, an opt-out for mail ballots, the renewal of a state consumer watchdog and a ballot measure on how to spend $58 million of marijuana taxes.
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The 2015 legislative session began with Gov. John Hickenlooper touting the state’s economic successes. It may end with him lamenting the economic problems that couldn’t be solved.
Last week, the governor sent lawmakers a letter, suggesting how they could resolve contradictory fiscal laws that limit the state’s ability to fund certain infrastructure priorities.
The problems? Not enough money for transportation projects, especially repairs to roads and bridges, with an estimated cost of $3.5 billion. And K-12 education is still almost $1 billion short of its Amendment 23-required levels. At the same time, the state is poised to start sending hundreds of millions of dollars back to residents through refunds required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).
In the letter, the governor laid the blame on two laws from 2009. On the revenue side is the hospital provider fee, which the governor criticizes for pushing state revenue above TABOR limits and forcing refunds. The fee is expected to bring in $532.3 million in this fiscal year. In 2015-16, that grows to $688.5 million, according to Hickenlooper’s letter.
The fee counts as cash fund revenue under TABOR, and wasn’t anticipated when revenue caps were set in 2007-08.
TABOR: What does and why it’s important
In 1992, Colorado voters did something no other state in the country had done – they amended our state constitution to include the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, commonly known as TABOR. This new constitutional amendment requires every tax increase to be approved by the voters and limits the amount of revenue the state can keep. While critics of TABOR claim such stringent restrictions have hampered Colorado’s economy, an examination of the amendment’s provisions reveals how it actually helps keep our taxes low and government lean, and is helping Colorado recover faster than many other states.
Perhaps the most widely-known provision of TABOR is the requirement that all tax increases be approved by a majority of Colorado voters. In any given year, the state legislature is faced with numerous budget decisions, but rather than simply allow the legislators to enact tax increases to fund projects as they see fit, voters must approve these increases. Think back to Amendment 66 in 2013, which called for a $1 billion tax increase for education. Citizens overwhelmingly defeated this measure, 66 to 34 percent, sending a message that an increase in school funding should come from existing resources and not new taxes. The result meant the legislature had to make some hard decisions, but since Amendment 66, we have directed more than an additional $200 million dollars of existing resources into K-12 education. Continue reading
Gov. John Hickenlooper pitched a fix Thursday to what some call Colorado’s “fiscal thicket,” a complex network of Constitutional Amendments – most notably the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights – and state laws that dictate how state government spends taxpayer dollars.
The plan – spelled out in a four-page letter to Democrat and Republican leaders in the General Assembly – hinges on the state keeping an estimated $316.6 million in fiscal year 2016-17 instead of paying it back to taxpayers through a TABOR refund.
That money would instead go to (and yes, this adds up to more than $316.6 million): $215 million for transportation projects, $50 million for common education; $20 million to repay local governments for the impact of oil and gas operations; and $75 million to pay back money borrowed from the Medicaid expansion and increased hospital provider fees.
Under the plan, lower income taxpayers could have their cake and eat it, too. They would receive a share of $85 million in a new state Earned Income Tax Credit.
Henry Sobanet, director of the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, said there is enough time remaining this session to address an important question for future budgets.
“Are we sure that the structure we have is providing the resources that all the aspects of the state’s priorities need?” Sobanet asked. “This idea, these conversations have been kind of back and forth for many months, and so we felt it was a good time to try and see if there was some common ground around a vision for transportation, a vision for rebates, a vision for some extra resources for K-12 education.”
Under the plan, voters wouldn’t be asked for permission for the state to keep the increased revenue, a key tenet of TABOR. Continue reading