Updated: Special districts to pay the cost of special session to fix tax error

Author: Joey Bunch - September 29, 2017 - Updated: September 29, 2017

Special sessionGov. John Hickenlooper speaks at the Colorado State Fair on Aug. 25. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

The special session that starts Monday won’t cost taxpayers a dime, at least not most taxpayers, the governor’s office tells Colorado Politics.

Gov. John Hickenlooper brokered the deal, because special districts — those that collect a taxes for special services, such as bus and transit lines or parks and museums — because they stand to lose millions because of an error in Senate Bill 267.

The omnibus spending bill had lengthy details and passed in a hurry during the final days of the legislative session that ended in May. The compromise bill to save rural hospitals monkeyed with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, but it also inadvertently unraveled special districts’ ability to continue to collect a tax on retail marijuana sales.

Special districts are political subdivisions of the state that collect taxes to provide specific public services, including ambulances, fire protection, water or sanitation. The pot revenue makes up only a small portion of their income, but adds up to millions statewide.

The session is expected to cost between $20,000 a day and $25,000 a day. The last special session in 2012 cost $23,500 a day. It takes at least three days to pass a bill in the session, since the two floor votes in a chamber can’t happen on the same day.

While legislators can’t stray beyond the single subject of Hickenlooper’s session call, they could offer lengthy amendments or kill the bill in a committee. .

Some Republicans are hopping mad at the governor for calling the special session instead of waiting for the next regular session to begin on Jan. 10.

If Hickenlooper hoped to appease opponents of the session by taking the tab off taxpayers’ account, he misread them, again.

“Having interested parties pay the cost of a special session has to be one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard from this governor, coming in close second to his baffling and botched decision to hold an unnecessary special session without doing the pre-planning and consultations required to improve our chance of success,” Senate President Kevin Grantham said. “This idea would set a terrible precedent and has potential to create huge public misperceptions about the fairness and integrity of the process.

“We sometimes hear the criticism that politicians are ‘bought and paid for,’ but what the Governor’s proposing here would make that literally true. What’s next? Will he try lining-up sponsorships for the regular session as well? His complete mishandling of this situation, from beginning to end, doesn’t bode well for next week.”

Hickenlooper first raised the possibility of that special districts would cover the cost of a more timely fix during an interview with Colorado Politics on Wednesday for a cover story profile about his successes, failures and political future to appear in our weekly print magazine to be published Oct. 6.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Grantham’s response and other details.)

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.