Two tax refunds possible in Colorado. 9NEWS at 5 p.m. 11/12/14.
NVER—Colorado taxpayers could be in for a pair of refunds from the state, depending on how lawmakers decide to handle two issues caused by the state’s taxpayer bill of rights (TABOR).
That larger of the two refunds would be because of tax revenue forecast to come in $136.6 million more than the limit set by TABOR next fiscal year, which would amount to $41.80 per adult in Colorado, using population figures from the US Census Bureau.
A smaller refund is expected to be triggered in this current year’s budget, tied to legal marijuana sales.
The state may have to refund most of the marijuana taxes it collected in the first full fiscal year of legal sales or recreational pot, an estimated $30.5 million.
That refund would amount to $7.63 per adult in Colorado.
Don’t go making plans to spend your refund just yet.
Lawmakers can always ask voters to let the state keep that money.
While Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) has not publicly stated what he thinks the legislature should do about the refunds, there are signs that lawmakers may ask you to at least part with your marijuana refund.
A refund on marijuana taxes would not happen because pot sales brought in more money than expected to state government.
In fact, the taxes raised less money than the state predicted.
However, because the state’s official voter guide for Proposition AA in 2013 underestimated the total overall tax collections that would be made by Colorado in 2014-15, TABOR requires the new tax to be refunded, a requirement only imposed in the first full fiscal year of a new tax.
“Because of a quirk in the TABOR amendment, we may have to refund all of the first year’s [marijuana] taxes,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, a Democrat who sits on the joint budget committee. “I’m pretty clear that that’s not what voters had in mind.”
Lawmakers do have the option of asking voters to allow the state to keep the money in excess of what TABOR allows.
While Republicans generally favor refunds in these cases, they may be inclined to make an exception this time because the voters directly approved the new taxes on pot.
“I think that was probably the intent of the voters,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, the Republican chairman of the budget committee. “I think that’s probably the way we’ll end up, probably going to the ballot, but I think that’s going to be a decision of the whole general assembly.”
The larger of the two refunds exposes the broader philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans about taxation and the role of government.
This refund would be triggered purely by a healing economy, not an entanglement with a new voter-enacted tax.
Most Republicans are happy to cut you your check, in keeping with the spirit of TABOR.
“This is the taxpayer’s money,” Lambert told 9NEWS. “We have some limitations on the growth of government through the taxpayer’s bill of rights that I think most people in my caucus respect.”
Conversely, most Democrats would rather ask voters to let the state keep the money.
They’d prefer to use this money to pay for improvements to highways and bridges, or beef up school funding to pre-recession levels.
“Before we start making refunds to people we ought to ask should we fix the roof on the barn in the good year instead of just giving it all away,” Steadman said.
Now that Republicans control the state Senate, they are in the stronger position. If they don’t cut a deal, the refunds will happen automatically.
Lambert floated a more ambitious idea: lower tax rates to avoid triggering the refund.
With Democrats still holding a House majority, that’s an idea that’s unlikely to be enacted, though there could be support for tax credits that could reduce the overall size of any refund.
If a refund does move forward, lawmakers do have sway over how the money is distributed to taxpayers. People at different income levels could receive different amounts.
(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)