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Refund madness: TABOR to topple toke tax

Colorado tax coffers are full this fiscal year, thanks to rebounding collections from certain industries and the new retail marijuana sales and excise taxes. Higher than expected collections from general revenues and the new pot taxes have triggered the Taxpayer Bill of Rights portion of the Colorado Constitution. The Legislature is asking for a popular vote on whether the state will be allowed to keep the tax revenues or return the excess to tax payers.State Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver and Colorado Rep. Millie Hamner of Summit County introduced House Bill 15-1367, which addresses the question of whether to refund the excess retail marijuana tax revenue to taxpayers or allow the state to keep the money approved in Proposition AA in 2013.If the measure passes, $40 million of the marijuana taxes collected will remain with the Building Excellent Schools Today grant program that provides grants to school districts for capital projects; $12 million will remain allocated to youth marijuana education, law enforcement and poison control. And $6 million will go to the state’s general fund.If the measure fails, $13.3 million will be refunded through a reduction in marijuana sales tax rates, from the current 10 percent to 0.1 percent in the first half of 2016; $19.7 million will be refunded directly to marijuana grow operations. And $25 million will be refunded to Colorado taxpayers through a sales and use tax refund on state income tax returns.TABOR doesn’t spell out exactly how to refund monies collected above the yearly TABOR cap, said Penn Pfiffner, former state representative who is now chairman of the TABOR Foundation committee. ìUnderstand that TABOR just protects the citizens from government growing too fast,î Pfiffner said. ìTABOR doesn’t tell how to spend it and allocate it, that’s all part of the legislative process. If they make determinations that, íGee, we need to reduce this and that, rather than put it in a general fund refund,’ that’s a political and legislative decision.îOther changes in marijuana taxes and allocations were included in the language of HB 15-1367. A one-day total marijuana tax holiday on Sept. 16 would be part of the automatic TABOR caps. Funding for a school bullying prevention and education grant program will come from future marijuana taxes. Local government shares in tax revenues will be reduced in exchange for a local government marijuana impacts grant program. Counties like El Paso County that do not allow retail sales in unincorporated areas but are adjacent to or include areas that allow retail sales, like Manitou Springs, will be eligible for grants to pay for law enforcement, public health and education costs related to retail marijuana use.TABOR advocates see the need for a refund or a new ballot measure to keep the excess revenues as a feature rather than a bug in the constitutional amendment. ìThis is what TABOR anticipated,î Pfiffner said. ìAny level of government that wants to have more revenue, it just goes to the voters.îThe refund requirements of TABOR were triggered not just by marijuana taxes coming in higher than originally expected, but also because overall tax collections statewide grew. ìMy own personal observation is that some people are not focusing on the fact that when our Colorado economy recovers, the system is set up that tax collection goes up disproportionately,î Pfiffner said. ìTo put it all on the marijuana tax as the cause of busting the TABOR cap is too simplistic. After all, income taxes and sales taxes grew a lot. Other taxes grew as well.îThe bill passed both houses of the state Legislature in May. If signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the measure will be included in the Nov. 3 statewide election.

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