Fix to last year’s omnibus rural Colorado bill leaves decision to special districts

Author: Marianne Goodland - January 17, 2018 - Updated: January 26, 2018

marijuanaIn this Sept. 16, 2015, file photo, customers shop for marijuana inside a recreational marijuana store, in Denver. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, file)

Late Tuesday the state Senate rolled out the bill that will fix last year’s unintentional error in the omnibus bill for rural Colorado.

Senate Bill 18-088 has 22 Senate co-sponsors, which ought to be more than enough to get it across the finish line in that chamber, except for one small detail. The bill doesn’t have any of the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee signed on to help move the bill forward, leaving an open question on whether it can survive its first crucial hearing.

The bill is the result of a drafting error from the 2017 legislative session and in Senate Bill 17-267, Sustainability of Rural Colorado. The measure accidentally left out language that would continue to allow nine special taxing districts to collect a portion of the state’s marijuana tax revenues.

SB 267 hiked the sales tax on recreational marijuana from 12.1* percent to 15 percent, as allowed by voters. That 2.9* percent is what the special districts were allowed to collect within their borders.

SB 88 would restore the taxing authority to the special districts that lost the marijuana revenue after the passage of SB 17-267. The question of whether to seek voter approval for that taxing authority is left to the special districts to decide. The bill includes a safety clause, meaning the districts could start collecting the tax as soon as possible after the governor signs it. He has not yet said whether he would do so, as he said Tuesday he had not seen the bill.

According to a 2017 analysis of the error, the nine districts — five transportation districts, one hospital, one housing, one cultural and another that isn’t identified — would lose $6.9 million in 2017-18 and $8.6 million in 2018-19. The biggest loser is the eight-county metro Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), which could lose almost $6 million in 2017-18 alone.

The error caused Gov. John Hickenlooper to call back lawmakers in October for a special session, despite warnings from Senate Republicans that the fix could be dealt with in January. The session ended after two days with no fix.

It’s now January, said Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City on Tuesday. Grantham is among the 22 Senate co-sponsors of SB 88.

Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, is the measure’s chief sponsor. He told Colorado Politics Wednesday that the measure reauthorizes the marijuana tax for the special districts, but leaves it up to the districts, their attorneys and their voters on whether to seek a special election to re-confirm the districts’ ability to collect those taxes.

Possibly some of those districts might seek that vote, but more than likely most will not, Gardner said Wednesday, although ignoring a vote might be risky.

Cost is one issue for a special district. During the special session, RTD estimated the cost of going to voters for reauthorization might be a million-dollar campaign.

For Gardner, the issue boils down to this: When the General Assembly makes a mistake, no matter if unintentional, it’s up to lawmakers to fix it and “to do it in the best way possible.”

“We’ll never wave a wand” and fix everything that went wrong with 267, Gardner said, such as finding a way to repay the dollars lost. That would have to come out of 267 funds, but the votes just weren’t there to do that, he explained.

In the Senate, the bill has 15 Democratic cosponsors, one unaffiliated (Sen. Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge) and six Republicans. That does not include any of the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee: Chair Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton, and Sens. Jim Smallwood of Parker and Jack Tate of Centennial. Tate voted for SB 267 last year, both in committee and on final vote in the Senate. Neville voted against it in committee; both he and Smallwood voted against SB 267 in the Senate’s final vote.

In the House, the measure is sponsored by House Majority Leader KC Becker, one of the primary co-sponsors of SB 267, along with 33 other members: three Republicans and 30 other Democrats. Missing among the Democrats: Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton, who has his own version of an SB 267 fix. The measure has the support of all three House members of the Joint Budget Committee but doesn’t have the backing of the Senate’s JBC members.

The 2018 fix is not yet scheduled for a hearing.


Correction to change percentages to 2.9 percent for the special taxing districts portion.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.