What will happen with the marijuana tax money?

Vic Vela-- THE COLORADO STATESMAN

When it comes to marijuana taxes, Colorado voters will probably be asking themselves in November — “Haven’t we done this already?”

Twice voters have approved ballot measures having to do with marijuana pot taxes and how they would be used. But the Taxpayer Bill of Rights requires that voters will have to take up the issue once again.

“Well it is deja vu all over again,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. “But TABOR is forcing us to vote again.”

Steadman is sponsoring a bill that was introduced in the Legislature on April 20 that would request permission from voters for the state to keep $58 million in tax revenue from the sale of recreational pot, which was made legal through 2012’s voter-backed Amendment 64.

That year, voters overwhelming approved that pot sales be taxed and that those collections go toward the funding of programs that include school construction. The next year, lawmakers developed a system of marijuana sales taxes that voters supported through Proposition AA.

So why the need for another sales pitch to voters to allow the state to do what Coloradans already approved?

“The voters approved this conceptually, but because of a glitch in the wording in the blue book we are in a position where we may have to refund the very revenue we were told we can keep,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, also a sponsor of the legislation, which has been assigned as House Bill 1367.

Hamner was referring to language in the blue book — ballot information packets that are sent to voters for state elections — that provided an estimate on the amount of revenues and spending the state was expected to see this fiscal year. However, thanks to a strengthening economy, the blue book underestimated the surging tax revenues the state is actually taking in.

The TABOR provision triggers automatic refunds when tax revenues or spending exceeds estimates that were presented to voters whenever they consider tax questions on the ballot.

Therefore, the $58 million that the state has collected through pot sales and excise taxes could end up being refunded, if voters reject Steadman and Hamner’s effort.

Ironically, Steadman pointed out the pot tax revenue has nothing to do with the TABOR refund trigger.

“In fact (marijuana tax revenue) has come in about $10 million below what it was projected to be,” Steadman said. “Proposition AA taxes are not violating the TABOR limit, that’s not the reason for the refund. The reason for the refund is the blue book had in it other examples and estimates of what total state fiscal year spending would be and Colorado’s booming economy is violating that limit.”

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