Colorado special session ends with no fix for pot-tax error

Posted at 2:57 PM, Oct 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-04 12:17:46-04

DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers have ended a special session without a fix to an intricate spending law that stripped some quasi-government agencies of the ability to collect sales taxes on recreational marijuana.

A Republican majority in the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday rejected a bill approved by the Democratic controlled House, effectively ending any chance at passage.

The Senate and House adjourned soon after the 3-2 committee vote.

Lawmakers agreed that they didn't intend to remove the agencies' ability to charge the taxes and Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered a special session to fix it.

But Republicans controlling the Senate called a special session wasteful. They also questioned whether a fix violated provisions of Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Hickenlooper and other Democrats said they were simply restoring taxes already approved by voters.

RTD said it was "disappointed" that the fix had failed, but stopped short of blaming either side.

"While we disagree with and are disappointed by the decision of the Senate Transportation Committee regarding the inadvertent exemption of funding to Special Districts, we appreciate the time and effort of the General Assembly during this Special Session. We remain available and committed to working with the Legislature, the Administration, our stakeholders and the business community to make certain that Special District funding is fully restored," said David Genova, RTD General Manager and CEO.

Gov. Hickenlooper was displeased at the special session’s failure, and said the session was “overshadowed” by partisan politics:

“It is disappointing that the Republican-controlled Senate refused to fix an error, acknowledged as a mistake by all involved. Coloradans expect us to work together and solve problems. This week, we failed to do so. The special districts will continue to have unintended funding cuts - cuts that will have real implications for Coloradans who rely on buses to get to work, cultural institutions to educate their families, and other services. “I strongly commend the bill sponsors for all of their efforts. In the end, partisan politics overshadowed the clear intentions of Colorado voters. These tactics only divide us and fuel cynicism. We have been raised to own up to our mistakes and fix them. Most Coloradans believe these values should apply to everyone, especially to government.”

Republican leaders hit Hickenlooper for calling the session, saying it was a waste of time and money, and blaming him for not working with Republicans during the general session:

"This unfortunate waste of time and tax money could easily have been avoided if Gov. Hickenlooper spent more time working in a bipartisan fashion in advance of calling the special session. Our opposition to this special session was well known to the governor. He knew we had philosophical and constitutional questions about the so-called fix he was backing. More bipartisan consultation and pre-planning was needed to improve our chance of success. But he plowed ahead anyway, without adequately laying the groundwork for success.

So where do we go from here? Back to work, as always. The three months between now and January give us the time we need to work through issues that were impossible to resolve in a surprise special session. We agree that finding a solution to the bill-drafting mistake is possible and we regret any hardships the glitch may be causing in some of the special districts. But we are also working toward a constitutional solution, which addresses the problem without violating our oaths of office or further complicating things by getting us sued for a TABOR violation.

Finding a resolution, a constitutional resolution, will be the focus of this caucus in the months before the regular session in January. I look forward to addressing this issue and all of our top priorities when the legislature meets again.” –Senate President Kevin Grantham

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville slammed Hickenlooper in a statement that followed the end of the session:

"Tax payers should be furious that the governor wasted more than $50,000 to call us back into session to debate policy that violates Colorado's Constitution. The special districts have no one else to blame than the governor for waiting months to address this issue, and then failing to discuss with the legislature any other viable options to solve this problem."

But Democratic leadership blamed Republicans for playing partisan games with the special district funding:

“We presented a constitutionally sound measure to fix a mistake that will impact Coloradans across the state,” said Majority Leader KC Becker, House sponsor of HB17B-1001. “Unfortunately, after we assembled for the special session, the other party chose to waste this opportunity to get this right. It’s very disappointing that they chose partisan politics over Coloradans who have repeatedly asked for these services.”

“We’re talking about impacts to real Coloradans,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran said. “The Summit County worker who’ll have a harder time finding an affordable apartment. The Lakewood retiree who needs the bus to get to the grocery store and the doctor. The voters have asked for these services and it’s unfortunate that this unintended omission will continue to have impacts for Coloradans.”

“The Colorado General Assembly was not at its best over these past two days, and that is profoundly disappointing. This error is costing counties like Pitkin, Eagle, and San Miguel thousands in transportation dollars, and could result in services like rides for the disabled being cut, or perhaps bus fares being increased," said Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman. “It is still my hope that as we prepare to go into the 2018 legislative session, the spirit of bipartisanship and camaraderie we showed during the Senate Bill 267 debate will return, and that we can come back together to work on important issues for the good of all of Colorado," Senator Guzman concluded.