UPDATE: Vic Vela at Colorado Community Media sheds some light on the arcane workings of TABOR in play here:
A TABOR technicality may require the state to issue pot revenue refunds – even though voters intended for money that's collected from marijuana tax money to go towards school construction and the cost of pot industry regulations.
TABOR is generally thought of as being a statute that requires all tax hikes be approved by the voters. But the technical clause also includes an area that requires the state to issue tax refunds when state spending exceeds expectations that are included in voter information material that is sent out each election, otherwise called the "Blue Book."
That seems to be the case this year and lawmakers are trying to figure out how to deal with it.
"This is confounding," said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. "TABOR told us to let the voters decide. The voters have decided and their wishes may be frustrated by something hidden in the TABOR amendment."
Doug Bruce says, "mwah!"
As FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports, things sometimes look different from a seat on the powerful legislative Joint Budget Commission. And that includes, where the subject is a reasonable actor, Republicans:
For years Democrats have been ranting and raving about Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which requires voters to approve all tax hikes and keeps state spending from rising beyond a certain level.
On Tuesday, during a Joint Budget Committee briefing on the state’s quarterly revenue forecast, a Republican lawmaker joined them.
“I have to tell you, quite honestly, the more I learn about TABOR, particularly what it did with the floods in our counties, the less and less I like TABOR, and the more insidious I think it has been to state government,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee and is in her final year at the legislature…
“I’ll have an effigy burned in my front yard when I get home, but it’s the honest to goodness truth,” Gerou said. “It’s not been good.” [Pols emphasis]
The problem, as we discussed a week ago with regard to growing estimates of revenue from the taxation of marijuana in Colorado, is that the controversial 1992 Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) may soon force the state to refund "excess" revenue to avoid exceeding the measure's arbitrary cap on spending. This would come despite the need to continue backfilling years of recession-forced cuts to the state budget, and even despite two votes by the people of this state to impose a healthy tax on marijuana sales. As Stokols reports, although the marijuana tax revenue is itself not yet exceeding the limit, overall growing state revenues in addition to the marijuana revenue could push the state over the overall budget limit imposed by TABOR.
The 2013 Blue Book estimated not just the revenues that might come from the marijuana taxes but also the impact on total state fiscal year spending, which was anticipated to be $20.15 billion.
So even if tax revenues themselves come in below the projection, taxpayers could still be eligible for TABOR refunds if overall state spending exceeds the Blue Book projection — which is likely based on the new revenue forecast, showing revenues up as much as $93 million in Fiscal Year 2014-15.
As a result? A statewide vote this November could be necessary–whether to allow the state to keep the "excess" revenue needed for so many budgetary line-items, or force the state to issue wasteful $10 checks to every taxpayer.
“I don’t think there’s one voter in the state of Colorado, other than maybe Douglas Bruce, who thought we were going to have to go back to them again to be able to keep the money,” said JBC Chair Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.
Doug Bruce, convicted felon tax cheat and author of TABOR, is surely one of very few people smiling about this. But kudos to outgoing Rep. Gerou for rejecting the GOP's litmus test, and making the case to her fellow Republicans that their cherished "drown government in the bathtub" law really is doing more harm than good.
For which, like she says, they'll probably burn her in effigy.