Opinion: Special session a good idea to fix Colorado cannabis tax error

One hundred Colorado lawmakers will be called back to Denver early next month — vacation plans be damned — for a special session to fix a small but significant taxing error made in 2017 road-funding legislation.

Colorado’s Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper pulled the trigger on the specials session Thursday and Republican ire immediately descended on the man for his decision.

“We’ve yet to hear the governor present a strong, iron-clad case for why this can’t wait until next session, which is now just four months away,” Senate President Kevin Grantham was quoted saying in The Denver Post.

Perhaps Hickenlooper failed to articulate a good reason to undertake at least three days of legislative work beginning Oct. 2 — at an estimated cost of $25,000 a day — instead of waiting until lawmakers’ regularly convene on Jan. 10, 2018.

The error doesn’t take away from the wisdom of calling a special session on this issue.

First, the sooner this legal glitch gets fixed, the sooner some of Colorado’s special taxing districts can resume collecting sales tax revenue on marijuana sales in Colorado. These taxes cannot be collected retroactively and government entities have been missing out on the revenue since July 1.

Lawmakers made the mistake in passing Senate Bill 267 to increase revenue for Colorado infrastructure projects. They inadvertently prohibited additional sales taxes from being levied on recreational marijuana sales — something that had been occurring before the bill took effect.

Many special districts were hurt by the error, but the two largest are the Regional Transportation District that levies a special tax to fund buses and light rail and commuter rails and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District that collects a sales tax to fund cultural programs like Denver’s Zoo, Botanic Gardens, Art Museum, and Center for Performing Arts.

RTD estimates it could lose as much as $3 million over the next three months.

Second, this honest mistake doesn’t exist in a political vacuum. Many Republicans are still angry that SB 267 became law over their objections to a portion of the bill that allows the state to spend more money than otherwise would have been permitted under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

We’d like to think fixing an error in bill drafting wouldn’t be held hostage for political gain, but we’d be wrong.

In fact, the Republican House sponsor of SB 267 made it clear on Twitter he would tie his support to other outcomes.

“There was no need for special session. I am a hard NO on fix unless we fix transportation funding using current budget dollars #coleg,” Rep. Jon Becker wrote.

Rep. K.C. Becker, a Democrat who worked closely with Jon Becker in 2017 on SB 267, was incredulous: “Seriously? For something that was a total mistake? You want to leverage at the expense of zoo, museums, & bus users? #coleg #copolitics”

Jon Becker shot back: “Considering transit has been leveraged at the expense of roads and bridges, YES. #coleg #copolitics”

So here we are, happy to see that a clean-up bill will be considered while other issues will be off the table and political wrangling won’t harm government entities who had nothing to do with the mistake.

This story was first published on DeverPost.com



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