- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Sept. 4, on marijuana revenues:

Colorado’s quirky tax laws strike again.

Even though voters have twice agreed that $40 million in revenue from legal marijuana should be spent on school construction projects, they’ll have to approve a statewide measure on November’s ballot to make it happen. Otherwise 100 percent of the revenue the state collected during the first year of pot sales will get refunded to taxpayers and the industry.

It’s all a function of the 1992 voter-approved constitutional amendment known as the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, which requires the state to pay back taxpayers when the state collects more than what’s permitted by a formula based on inflation and population growth.

Voters approved Amendment 64 legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana for adults in 2012. In 2013, voters approved taxing pot by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. But TABOR requires the state to provide voters with an estimate of how any new tax will impact revenue. The Blue Book estimate for total tax revenue was about $270 million short of what the state actually collected during the last fiscal year because of an unexpected uptick in the economy and stronger-than-expected severance tax revenues.

Even though marijuana revenues didn’t exceed projections, total state revenues did, triggering a refund scenario for the first-year marijuana tax and forcing lawmakers to ask voters to exempt pot taxes from the refund requirements.

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, told The Sentinel’s editorial board Wednesday that Proposition BB simply preserves what voters intended when they authorized excise and sales taxes on recreational marijuana. Lawmakers showed overwhelming bipartisan support for the bill to place Proposition BB on the ballot.

If Proposition BB isn’t approved, $25 million will be refunded on Colorado income tax returns. The rebates average $8 to each full-time resident. Another $24 million will be refunded to growers and roughly $16 million will come via a sales tax holiday on pot purchases.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, Colorado pot shoppers will see a one-day pot tax holiday on Sept. 16, the day after the state certifies pot tax revenues. The no-tax day is another requirement triggered by TABOR.

We hope voters will forego a modest rebate and allow the state to keep the money and spend it the way it was intended. Proposition BB allocates $40 million for public school construction and $12 million to fund marijuana education, substance abuse treatment and prevention, youth mentoring services and Future Farmers of America and 4-H programs at the state fair.

Voters have twice voted in favor of taxes on legal marijuana sales, and passage of Proposition BB enacts what Colorado voters have already decided, Steadman said.

This is a one-time exemption. The rebate pertains only to the first year of a new tax, so the question won’t come up again. To date, there’s no organized effort opposing the ballot measure.

Steadman said lawmakers tried to create a clear choice for voters. We think they’ve succeeded. Since Amendment 64 passed, we’ve waited for the school construction fund to become viable. Here’s the chance to finally make it happen.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1K7q53I

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The Denver Post, Sept. 5, on the state’s death penalty:

In the past 12 months, two separate polls have indicated that most Coloradans support the death penalty.

In September of last year, a Denver Post poll found 63 percent of respondents support the death penalty, with 28 percent opposed (the rest were unsure).

And two months ago a Quinnipiac University poll found 67 percent of respondents in Colorado supported the death penalty, with only 26 percent saying it should be abolished.

Both of those polls occurred, of course, before the recent verdicts that sentenced both James Holmes and Dexter Lewis to life in prison without a chance for parole.

Does that change the political calculus for Coloradans?

Does the fact that criminals who committed two of the most brutal massacres in memory in this state escaped the death penalty despite the efforts of highly skilled prosecutors say anything about whether the law should be retained?

We think it does. Indeed, the verdicts seem to confirm what death penalty opponents have been arguing for years: that some of the same Coloradans who tell pollsters that they support the death penalty are actually reluctant to vote for it when they find themselves on a jury faced with the life-or-death question.

For that matter, prosecutors are clearly reluctant to ask for the penalty given the resources of staff and money they have to pour into the effort over a period that stretches into years.

The result is that it is almost impossible to predict who will get the death penalty and who will not - not to mention when a prosecutor will even choose to seek it.

No law with such serious consequences should be applied so haphazardly.

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, the essays published in this section today suggest that despite the two verdicts, opinions on the death penalty remain nearly as entrenched as they ever were.

With one possible exception: In her reaction, state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, appears to flirt with repudiating her past support for the death penalty, without actually doing so. If she ever does, it will be a major loss to the coalition in support of capital punishment given her party affiliation and personal history of having her son’s killers on death row.

Even if Colorado’s law remains unchanged, it’s an ideal time for Coloradans to reassess arguments for and against the death penalty given what has just occurred. So long as the penalty remains on the books, the debate about its morality and fairness will surely continue.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/1KDMz31

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The (Longmont) Times-Call, Sept. 5, on the state’s school finance system:

When voters approved the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in 1992, most who voted for it probably thought it would limit tax increases, something that seemed quite attractive as the country’s economy was just beginning a boom after a rough patch.

Those voters might be surprised to hear a new study on TABOR effects shows that more than 80 percent of Coloradans pay more now in school property taxes than they would have if TABOR had never been passed.

According to the study by the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University, published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, disparities in school funding between school districts have grown as well.

In many of Colorado’s 178 school districts residents who could afford to have passed tax increases to increase funding to schools, therefore raising their own taxes.

But poorer districts haven’t been able to keep up, increasing the difference in the quality of education they’re able to offer.

Population growth or loss also affected individual districts’ funding.

The study reported taxpayers in 74 districts that serve 81 percent of the state’s population pay more now than they would have without TABOR.

In districts that did not pass property tax increases, more of the burden for funding education has been passed on to the state.

The study’s authors call it a “cautionary tale for other states as they consider enacting tax and expenditure limitations.”

But perhaps it also shows the need for TABOR and/or school finance reform.

The state’s school finance system was modified in 1973, 1988 and 1994, but has not been changed since.

Three voter-passed measures have a continuing effect on education funding and the state’s ability to fund other services: TABOR; the 1982 Gallagher Amendment that sets a ratio that forces nonresidential properties to pay a greater share of property taxes than residential property; and Amendment 23, passed in 2000, requiring K-12 funding to increase by inflation plus 1 percent for the first 10 years it was in effect and by inflation after that.

It’s time for the state to come to grips with how all these measures affect state services, including education, and to work out a school finance system that ensures every student in the state has access to a quality education.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1g9bsoO

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The (Loveland) Reporter Herald, Sept. 8, on flaws found in tax exemptions:

When seniors and disabled veterans were given a break on their property taxes through the actions of voters and state legislators, a strong policy statement was advanced: Longtime residents and those who served for our country should get a break while property values in the state climbed through the roof.

State budget writers have been able to backfill in recent years those tax collections that otherwise would have gone to the counties, school districts and other taxing entities.

This year, however, state auditors noticed an interesting effect: Because the counties were being made whole by the state, they didn’t have the impetus to be making sure all those receiving exemptions were eligible to do so. It’s not a case of someone pretending to be a senior or a disabled veteran, but more a matter of their heirs remaining to collect the benefit after the intended recipient has died.

In some instances, issues with the tax recipient’s estate caused delays that rolled the tax exemption for a year or two, but in others, the recipient has moved out of state, which disqualifies him or her from the program, or a couple claims a pair of properties, also not allowed.

The Denver Post quoted state officials who noted discrepancies in the system account for about $25 million in questionable exemptions, and the number is sure to go higher. As the baby boomer population ages, many more people will become eligible for the program and much more state spending will be required.

The answer is not a new battalion of tax agents to check on every senior or disabled veteran claiming the exemption, however. Some tweaks might come before legislators in coming years that will put a greater responsibility on counties to make sure their registries are up to date and that cross-reference other records such as income tax returns and death certificates when needed.

The reasons behind the senior and disabled property tax exemptions are as sound now as they were when they were enacted. Those who knowingly cheat the system, however, raise the costs for everyone else.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1LjTkBm

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