Pols squabble before special session even starts

What will happen Monday morning when the Colorado Legislature convenes for a special session is anybody’s guess.

While Democrats are saying the special session is needed for a very easy fix that shouldn’t take long to do, Republicans are calling it much more than that.

Last month, Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the session after several special districts around the state, particularly the larger ones in the Denver area, complained that a new law approved during this year’s regular session was preventing them from collecting millions of dollars in recreational marijuana sales taxes.

But Republicans are saying that the fix can wait, and that it makes little sense to spend taxpayer money now.

Even though Hickenlooper said the special districts themselves have offered to pay the $25,000-a-day cost of operating a special session, that didn’t appease Republican leaders in the Legislature.

“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 chances of success,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City.

The error centers on SB267, a bipartisan measure that took the hospital provider fee that funds health care programs for the poor out from under the revenue caps under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. 

That new law, which went into effect July 1, made several other changes, including doing away with a state sales tax on retail marijuana, replacing it with a higher excise tax.

The law eliminated a 2.9 percent state sales tax on recreational pot, but increased the excise tax on marijuana from 10 percent to 15 percent. The law didn’t impact medical marijuana sales.

Problem is, that sales tax change inadvertently included certain special districts that collect sales taxes.

The biggest hit came to the Denver Regional Transportation District and the Denver Science and Cultural Facilities District, both of which have already lost millions.

On the Western Slope, three regional transit authorities also were impacted: The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which provides service to Rifle, the Gunnison Valley Transit Authority and the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation, which provides bus service in Telluride and Mountain Village.

By law, the Legislature can’t approve a bill in less than three days. But because Republicans control the Colorado Senate, they can adjourn the special session without approving anything.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said that would be a mistake.

“All the grumbling and finger-pointing should not hide the fact that this glitch is hurting real people across Colorado, from Arapahoe County to Montezuma and Gunnison,” she said. ‘When we go into special session, we need to remember the retiree who relies on the local bus to get to the doctor or the grocery store. No one in the Legislature intended these negative impacts when they voted on Senate Bill 267. We need to put aside political games and do the right thing.”


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