Policy Corner: Special Session

Governor Hickenlooper Calls for Special Session on Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act

State lawmakers will be called back to the Capitol next Monday, October 2 to makes changes to the Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act.  The extensive bill is filled with compromises that helped the controversial legislation pass in the last hours of session.  The bill moved Hospital Provider Fee funds from the general fund to an enterprise fund, avoiding millions in cuts to rural hospitals.  The bill also contained funding for rural schools and hospitals by leveraging a special tax with marijuana tax dollars, among other components.

Instead of a 2.9% sales tax and an additional 10% tax, retail marijuana would be subject to a single 15% state tax.  This move, dubbed a drafting errors by state officials, effectively exempts certain special districts from receiving their cut of state marijuana taxes.  Denver Regional Transport District (RTD), the Denver Zoo, and even Southwest Health System in Cortez are impacted by the error.  Southwest Health System alone is losing $7,200 a month in sales tax, with a potential total loss of $1.2 million if legislators wait until the official start of session January.

Republicans have argued combining the taxes in the first place was a violation of TABOR, and that calling legislators back for a special session is a waste of taxpayer dollars at $25,000 per day.  In addition, they note the tax dollars represent on a few percentage points of the budgets for these special districts.  Democrats, including Governor Hickenlooper, say the error has the potential to impact crucial programs throughout the state by cutting million from their budgets, and that if legislators stick to the intended narrow focus of the legislation, costs to the taxpayers will be limited.  In fact, this Friday morning the Governor announced he had brokered a deal to have the special districts pay the cost of the session.

The session convenes Monday and lawmakers could be headed home as soon as Wednesday if the special session focuses only on amending SB17-267.  However, all 100 legislators are allowed to bring one bill over the course of the session.  Lawmakers will have to keep their bills within the scope of the Governor’s agenda, however those decisions are ultimately guided by Senate and House leadership.  Exchanges between state lawmakers over social media have been mixed, leaving advocates and lobbyists much in the dark as to how the special session will play out.  Stay tuned to CRHC Action Alerts and Policy Updates to stay active and informed during the special session!

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