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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 25, 20174min200

Recalling a recent conversation, City Councilman Merv Bennett said some people joke that Pikes Peak has been replaced as Colorado Springs’ most prominent landmark. Now, it’s orange traffic cones.

The ubiquitous cones marking detours around street work are a result of construction funded by 2C, a ballot issue approved by voters in November 2015 dedicating $250 million evenly split over five years to repair the city’s crumbling streets, curbs and gutters.

In its second year, work funded by 2C is under budget and ahead of schedule, Public Works Director Travis Easton said Thursday in a quarterly update. And revenues from the 0.62 percent sales tax are higher than last year.

Through June 30, the tax has generated $20.1 million, 12.9 percent higher than last year at the six-month mark, said Corey Farkas the city’s streets program supervisor. The city collected about $51 million in 2016.

Roadwork is also up for the year, Farkas said. In 2016, 229 lane miles were paved through the tax. This year, the city has finished 137 lane miles and is on track to complete 238 by October.

Much of the work is long overdue, and is scheduled for streets that wee the subject of frequent complaints, Farkas said.

“We’ve done a lot of work on Woodmen, which was in bad shape from Lexington all the way out to Black Forest. It’s a wonderful road to drive on right now,” he said. “We’ve also fixed Lake Avenue from I-25 all the way west. That was in really bad shape.”

Not everyone might be satisfied by the pace of construction, which often is slowed by having to coordinate work being done by different contractors and Colorado Springs Utilities, Farkas said.

“We don’t want to pave a road where Utilities has bad waterlines underneath and a waterline blows and we’re digging up new roads to replace their bad infrastructure,” he said.

Las Vegas Street was one street that required coordination, Farkas said, because a portion of the street is in front of the Springs Rescue Mission, which is expanding soon. To prevent having to cut through a newly paved street to connect underground utilities, the street work was pushed back from 2018 to 2019.

When voters passed 2C they approved a specific list of streets where about 1,000 lane miles worth of work will be done, Farkas said. All of those projects will be finished by 2020, when the tax ends. And there will likely be enough money left over to fund another batch of projects.

The tax also frees up other city funds that Public Works taps, Easton said, allowing it to better maintain streets that aren’t due for makeovers.

Farkas said five years of 2C work won’t cure all the city’s traffic ailments, but it’s a step in the right direction. He said he’d like to see the tax continued for a second round to fix more of the city’s 5,691 lane miles of streets.

A full list of ongoing and completed public works projects for 2017, which include 2C projects, can be found at www.coloradosprings.gov/publicworks.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 3, 20177min120

Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, fired back Wednesday at county commissioners questioning the way she’s handled a mistake that left local taxing entities short nearly $6 million for months. Horn also denied the incident might damage her statewide campaign, telling Colorado Politics the imbroglio demonstrates she has the skills to handle problems in a treasurer’s office when they arise.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 25, 20175min227

Last week Colorado Politics was the first to tell you about Sen. Ray Scott’s talk on social media about taxing bicycles.

In an interview with us, the Republican pragmatist from Grand Junction said cyclists use the roads just like other forms of transportation, but unlike owners of those other forms of transportation, cyclists pay no taxes to help support the roads or services. Other vehicles, including motorcycles and ATVs, pay gas taxes and vehicle taxes and fees. As expected, the idea is getting pushback from cyclists.

A bike tax passed the Oregon legislature this year, but it was Democrats pushing it and Republicans opposing it.

Scott has a double purpose: to raise some much-needed money for transportation while exposing what he sees as a double-standard. And, thirdly, Scott loves to stir the pot of conversation and debate. He has a wicked sense of humor.

Can a bicycle outrun the tax man forever?

Here’s what Scott said Monday night on Facebook:

I’m a little shocked by the raw nerve I struck with my comments about leveling the playing field between cyclists, ATVs, snowmobiles and watercraft, when it comes to how we treat, and tax, these machines. But maybe I shouldn’t be, given how defensive bicyclists get when anyone raises the apparently politically-incorrect question of whether they benefit from a double standard and ought to pay a fairer share of the cost for the roadways they use with increased frequency. My attempt to start a conversation has been met with hysteria by some and reasonable ideas by others, reflecting a diversity of opinions on the subject that didn’t cut neatly along party or ideological lines.
The Denver Post, for instance, voiced support for bike taxes, while the Grand Junction Sentinel, came out hard against any discussion of the topic. The need to take swipes at me was the only thing both papers apparently agreed on. I’ve heard from normally-tax-averse Republicans supporting some type of tax, fee or assessment on bicyclists, and from Democrats who show zero support, even though their peers in liberal-leaning Oregon already have embraced the idea.
My tracking is showing a 50-50 split on both sides.
The 2018 legislation is still many months away, giving me plenty of time to weigh the wide variety of responses I’ve received and consider next steps. But I’m more convinced than ever, based on the live wire nerve I inadvertently struck when I raised the issue, that this is a debate worth continuing in the down time between legislative sessions, so that any concrete proposals that result can be refined and improved before the General Assembly meets again.
I sincerely appreciate the feedback and responses I’ve received, from all sides, and will be continuing to discuss the issue with colleagues and various stakeholder groups in the time between now and the next session. So keep those cards and letters, those tweets and emails and nasty-grams, coming, folks. This clearly is an issue the Coloradans feel passionately about, and something lawmakers might want to take up when we next meet.

Scott is planting seeds to yield food for thought, but he’ll have a hard time on this one. Cyclists have good friends in the legislature, including passionate riders in both chambers. But he also will have a hard time nailing down all 18 members of the Republican caucus in the Senate. The GOP has only a one-seat majority, but then again Democrats do like a tax for bike lanes and the great outdoors, so don’t count Scott out yet.


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 24, 20175min200

The Colorado Supreme Court is being asked to review what constitutes a “fee” or a “tax,” which could leave funding for elections in jeopardy.

The case, initially filed by the National Federation of Independent Business, claims that businesses carry an unfair burden of the cost of funding state and county elections through business filings. The group hopes to reclaim the revenue, which would potentially throw elections into flux.

NFIB and the Secretary of State’s Office – which administers elections in Colorado – is asking the Supreme Court for clarity. The request stems from a March Colorado Court of Appeals decision, in which the appellate court required more information before making a decision.

Prior to the appellate order, a lower court in November 2015 tossed NFIB’s lawsuit, which brought the case to the Court of Appeals. The case started under former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican.

The question at the heart of the case is whether business filings collected by the department qualify as a “fee” or a “tax.”

“NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing ‘fees’ is facially unconstitutional and urges the court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” read a news release from NFIB.

NFIB contends that the business filings are no different than a “tax” since the filings fund general operations rather than a particular service. Assuming the filings amount to a “tax,” then the revenue would have to be approved by voters under TABOR, attorneys argue.

The state, however, points out that a charge is a “fee” under TABOR when it funds a particular function or service. Because the fees charged by the secretary of state are placed in a segregated account and may be used only to fund the department’s operations, it is defined as a “fee,” the state argues.

The charges were enacted in 1983 — well before TABOR  — and the legislature required the department to set and adjust fees for all department work.

Business filings range from $5 to $125, and make up nearly the entirety of the Department of State’s approximate $20 million-plus annual budget. Only about 10 percent of the charges pay for business-related services, according to attorneys for NFIB.

The other 90 percent of the charges collected each year pay for general government expenses overseen by the department. The largest portion goes to the department’s elections division, which accounts for approximately 65 percent of the department’s total annual budget.

If the Supreme Court sides with business interests and the secretary of state’s office is no longer allowed to use business filings to fund elections, then the legislature would have to come up with about $20 million from the general fund to pay for operations.

In its request to the Supreme Court, NFIB argues that, “The unquestionable primary use of the business charges is to pay for functions and activities unrelated to business services. NFIB contends that this arrangement makes the business charges a tax rather than a valid fee. As a tax, the business charges are subject to TABOR.”

“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not a ‘fee,’” said Karen Harned, executive director for NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 20, 20175min80

ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus reported in March on a legal development that could have big implications for the ability of the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to fund its wide-ranging operations — including the state’s elections.

At issue is whether the fees the office charges businesses to register and file other paperwork with the state are in fact taxes that should be subject to the provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The key constitutional clause requires, among other things, a vote on every tax hike. If the courts ultimately side with a lawsuit by the National Federation of Independent Business, which contends the fees are taxes in disguise, it would mean the Secretary of State’s Office was breaking the law any time it had raised its fees since TABOR was enacted by voters in 1992. Theoretically, the office could be forced to forego its main source of the funding it uses to sustain its entire operation — elections, business registration and more.

As noted in Marcus’s report, the Colorado Court of Appeals had sent the small-business advocacy group’s lawsuit back to a lower court for further fact finding. That could eventually lead the courts to determine how many times the secretary of state has raised fees — it hasn’t at all during the tenure of current Secretary of State Wayne Williams — and whether the increases really amounted to tax hikes restricted by TABOR.

This week, the NFIB filed a motion requesting that the Colorado Supreme Court take up the case and settle the matter once and for all. Says an NFIB press statement issued Wednesday:

NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the Secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing “fees” is facially unconstitutional and urges the Court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the Secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).

Underlying NFIB’s legal argument is a practical concern: that the fees businesses pay to the Secretary of State’s Office overwhelmingly fund other functions unrelated to its business-related services. And NFIB would quite like for its thousands of members statewide to hold onto more of their money, which they feel is being used unfairly to subsidize the entire office. The press release quotes Karen Harned, executive director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center:

“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not ‘a fee.’ Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”

Yet, as Marcus reported in March, lawyers for the state contend the fees are just that and nothing more because they are earmarked for the specific functions of the office — and that it’s within the purview of the secretary of state to use the revenue that way.

The suit originally was filed during the tenure of former Secretary of State Scott Gessler.

 

 


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 19, 20175min454

Colorado has received more than $500 million in marijuana-related revenue since recreational cannabis sales began in 2014, according to a new report.

Compiled by the Denver-based marijuana policy firm VS Strategies, the report looked at state data, which was released on Wednesday.

Pro-marijuana advocates are expected to hold a news conference at noon on Wednesday, where they will point to the value of marijuana tax revenue in Colorado.

Among those who will attend the news conference is Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, who has taken a lead role on cannabis policy in Colorado. Singer has a background in youth counseling, and has advocated for cannabis revenue to be used for counseling services.

Also expected to attend the news conference is Lauren Arnold, executive director of the Aurora-based Adoption Exchange, which was recently awarded funding from the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program, which has been allocated more than $3 million in marijuana tax revenue.

Colorado has recently begun to expand its use of marijuana tax revenue, with an initiative led by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who opposed marijuana legalization, but who has cautiously acknowledged that the “experiment” appears to be working in Colorado.

Hickenlooper’s office made marijuana money for homeless and housing a priority. The money was at first not included in the annual $26.8 billion state budget, but lawmakers later amended it. The original proposal called for $16.3 million for housing and homeless services, but budget writers lowered that to $15.3 million.

At the news conference planned for Wednesday afternoon, marijuana advocates will present Singer with a jumbo check for a half-billion dollars.

“Legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana for adult use has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for Colorado,” said Mason Tvert, who co-directed the successful 2012 campaign to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. “Marijuana tax money has been used to improve a wide range of programs and services.

“It is funding everything from school construction to substance abuse treatment to fighting homelessness. While it might not fix every school or help every person who needs it, it is having a significant and positive impact on our community.

“We hope lawmakers will continue to distribute these funds responsibly and not lose sight of what voters intended when they opted to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol.”

In response to the study, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, a national anti-marijuana legalization group, said the cannabis industry is trying to protect its own self interests.

“Like the tobacco industry before it, the Colorado marijuana lobby is touting marijuana as the panacea for every contemporary challenge Colorado faces,” said Kevin Sabet, President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “The truth is, the health and safety costs caused by the commercialization of marijuana far outweigh any revenues collected.”

Sabet went on to point out that Colorado’s budget needs are far greater than marijuana tax revenue can provide, despite the fact that marijuana taxes helped to close a budget hole this year as lawmakers struggled to pass a balanced budget. He also suggested that legal marijuana created loopholes that allow for an underground market to still exist.

“It’s time for the marijuana industry to face the truth – they lied to voters and have failed to live up to their promises,” Sabet said. “Waving around an oversized novelty check makes pot lobbyists feel good, but it does not help the families and communities who have to deal with the costs of marijuana commercialization.”


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Peter MarcusMay 22, 20174min110

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed a measure that will provide a state income tax deduction for monetary awards received as a result of winning an Olympic medal.

House Bill 1104 was signed at a ceremony at the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.

The measure follows a move by Congress last year that gave broad passage to a similar measure to exempt medals and stipends from taxes.

In the Colorado legislation, deductions are given to to anyone who receives a medal at the summer or winter Olympics or Paralympic games.

Non-monetary benefits and endorsement earnings are not eligible for the income tax deduction, which will be available beginning in tax year 2018.

Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, was the driving force behind the bill during the last session.

The USOC gives athletes who win a medal at the summer or winter Olympics a cash award: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals. Paralympian medal winners are paid $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000, respectively.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic teams have won an average of 100 medals during each of the last four summer Olympic and Paralympic games and 35 medals during each of the last four winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

Federal law allows the value of Olympic or Paralympic medals and any monetary prizes received from the USOC to be excluded from federal taxable income, as long as the taxpayer has an adjusted gross income of less than $1 million.

House Bill 1104 won’t have much of an impact on state revenue, according to state fiscal analysts. Data from the USOC shows there were 65 Colorado residents that participated in the 2014 winter and 2016 summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Of these, seven athletes won an Olympic or Paralympic medal for a total of seven medals.

The value of the state income tax would have been approximately $2,400 in tax year 2014 and nearly $2,800 in tax year 2016.

It also won’t cost much money to implement the program, as fiscal analysts believe it can be accomplished with existing resources given the small number of taxpayers that are expected to claim the state income tax deduction and its availability every two years.

“Your proposed state-based legislation would provide much needed and significant financial support to some of Colorado’s most dedicated amateur athletes,” Desiree Filippone, managing director of government relations for the USOC, said in a letter to lawmakers as the bill was moving through the legislative process.

“Our Olympic and Paralympic athletes shouldn’t be penalized by way of a tax on their medals or stipends,” said Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, a sponsor of the bill. “Not everyone ends up on a Wheaties box, and as Coloradans we have an opportunity to make a statement and a difference to and for the young people that work so hard to represent the U.S.”



ColoradoPolitics.comMay 15, 201713min60

The Colorado legislature adjourned on Wednesday, and the afterglow shines a light on what exactly happened in the 120 days that lawmakers quarreled under the gold dome in Denver.

Counting down the hits, here are the 10 things you should know about what just happened:

 

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Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in a church to avoid immigration authorities for the past three months, smiles after leaving the church early Friday in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

10 — Sanctuary cities, right to rest, no more Columbus Day
In a split legislature, strictly partisan bills are doomed to fail. Nonetheless, long hours were put in arguing over arresting public officials for not boosting immigration laws in a sanctuary city. Homeless people still can’t camp in public parks, if cities have an ordinance. Columbus Day in Colorado will continue to be celebrated and reviled.

Read more here, here and here.

 

Students at DSST Cole High School, a charter school in Denver. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado)

9 — Charter schools are getting cool
Charter schools are public schools, but they haven’t been treated that way when it comes to tax dollars. This session they made headway. Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, pushed the equitable-funding issue to the last day, with results that had charter school champions cheering.

Read more here.

 

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(Colorado Springs Gazette/Paul Klee)

8 — Parks and Wildlife out in the cold
The state’s fee-funded outdoors agency hasn’t raised hunting, fishing and park fees since 2005. The agency already has cut $40 million and 50 staff members, but faces even deeper cuts without raising rates. Lawmakers said no. Bring on the cuts.

Read more here.

 

In this Dec. 31, 2012, file photo, Rachel Schaefer, of Denver, smokes marijuana on the official opening night of Club 64, a marijuana-specific social club, where a New Year’s Eve party was held in Denver. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

7 — Pot’s wild ride
To the last day, marijuana was a focus. Bipartisan efforts to create marijuana social clubs efforts never advanced, the ongoing conversation did. Raising pot taxes was used as an incentive by Democrats to get Republicans on board to reclassify the state’s Hospital Provider Fee, and the legislature OK’d counties to pass pot taxes. Gov, John Hickenlooper advanced the session by saying he wanted more pot taxes to go toward homelessness programs. And as the final hours ticked away, the House debated, in bizarre terms, how many people should be allowed to smoke pot on a porch. Lawmakers couldn’t agree.

Read more here, here and here.

 

Congressman Ed Perlmutter announces run for Colorado Governor Sunday April 9, 2017 in the parking lot of Natural Grocers in Golden, CO. (Photo by Evan Semón Photography)

6 — Who was legislating and who was campaigning
Just months removed from Election Day, at least dozen of the General Assembly’s 100 members have their eyes on offices higher the legislature. Sometimes good pieces of legislation also look good on a campaign flier, and lobbyists with PACs become the best lobbyists of all.

Read more here, here, here and here.

 

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House Republican Leader Patrick Neville talks to reporters at the state Capitol the day after the session adjourned. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

5 — A moderate shift to the left in the Senate
The Senate president proposing a tax increase to fund roads, while the Senate president pro tem pushed a restructuring of the Hospital Provider Fee, served as the clearest examples of a shift in tone and thinking for Senate Republicans. Two issues that were always considered off the table. Meanwhile, Republicans advanced legislation to strengthen penalties on crimes against gay people, while also supporting a bill to extend coverage to provide a 12-month supply of contraceptives for women.

Read more here.

 

A home explosion in Firestone on April 17 killed two and sent two people to the hospital. Fire officials said it was the result of an uncapped flow line from a nearby oil and gas well. (Dennis Herrera/ Special to The Denver Post / Daily Camera)

4 — Oil and gas issues exploded
Oil-and-gas interests had been on a legislative winning streak and had made a good case as a good and safe neighbor, until a house near a pipeline in Firestone exploded and killed two people on April 17. That caused a last-days struggle between Republicans and Democrats, one that’s likely to continue into next year’s session and elections.

Read more here, here, here and here.

 

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(Colorado Springs Gazette file photo/Rich Laden)

3 — Put up or shut up for construction defects reform
After four legislative sessions, the first measure of construction defects litigation reform is law. The cost of insurance and lawsuits was said to be why construction of affordable condominiums in the state has withered, but now that lawmakers have delivered, it’s up to builders to respond.

Read more here.

 

In this Thursday, March 9, 2017, photograph, Dr. Lindsey Fish waits for a patient in a procedure room in Denver Health Medical Center’s primary care clinic located in a low-income neighborhood in southwest Denver. (AP)

2 — Republicans got on the omnibus
For years, GOP lawmakers fought reclassifying a fee on hospital beds to get it out from under the state’s constitutional spending cap that triggers tax refunds. This session, the biggest bipartisan win was doing just that, as Republicans traded for higher Medicaid copays, a lower spending cap and money for rural schools, roads and hospitals.

Read more here.

 

And the biggest story of the session …

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Heavy traffic moves along Interstate 25 near Castle Rock, which is two lanes in each direction. (Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette)

1 — Road bills sputtered
The highest goal of the session, to address the state’s ailing, clogged transportation system, didn’t go nearly as planned. Two bills that would have put billions into wider interstates and local transit died in the Senate, bogged down over asking taxpayers to pony up.

Read more here, here and here.

Editor’s note: Compiled by Colorado Politics staff Joey Bunch, Peter Marcus and Erin Prater.