Starting Monday, all 100 state legislators returned to the state Capitol to take up consideration of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s call to change a law he signed earlier this year. The governor has said this problem is a simple ‘drafting error’ in current law that the legislature could easily erase and rewrite.
But herein lies the problem, in Colorado, our constitution requires voter approval for any tax policy changes that raise revenue. Law is not a rough draft that can be changed with a pencil eraser. There are no clauses in our constitution that exempt lawmakers from following the law because an error was unintentional.
The issue has to do with a law that the governor signed last session that inadvertently stopped certain special districts’ ability to collect sales tax on marijuana. The governor’s proposal is to simply have the legislature change that law to permit the collection of these taxes. However, the language in the Colorado Constitution very clearly states: “districts must have voter approval in advance for a tax policy change directly causing a net tax revenue gain to any district.” Allowing additional sales tax to marijuana transactions is a change in tax policy that will cause a net revenue gain — it’s that simple.
The fact is, the legislature routinely amends current law to address unintended consequences, unforeseen impacts or, mistakes in the language during its regular 120-day session. When applicable, any proposed tax policy changes are drafted as ballot referendums. Certainly any drafting error or miscalculation is unintentional, but we have an established process in place to address these issues.
It’s deeply concerning that the governor expects legislators to consider a proposal that very clearly conflicts with the Constitution because he views this drafting error as too minor to require constitutional protections. As a legislator, my oath is to uphold the constitution, every word and every letter. Subjectively deciding which tax increases are subject to the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights in our Constitution is an attack on the Constitution itself, and greatly weakens the protections that make TABOR so important.
Had the governor reached out to me, or to any Republican members, before he called this special session we could have expressed our concerns with his proposed fix. We could have discussed other options to resolve the issue, and at the very least, avoided a special session that is going to cost Colorado tax payers, or the special districts who have expressed a willingness to pay for this session, nearly $100,000.
The governor’s failure to consult the legislature and properly explore all of his options now comes at all of our expense. The language in his call for a special session is very specific and leaves no room for any other options. Sadly for Colorado tax payers this special session is a waste of money and that could have been avoided.