Colorado voters will be asked in November whether the state should stand by the decision to use marijuana tax profits for school construction and other programs, under legislation signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper on June 4.
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Quirky taxing-and-spending restrictions in the Colorado Constitution prompted the do-over.
The rules say all revenue from new taxes must be returned if state funds exceed projections.
Recreational marijuana tax dollars fall into that category this year, and because the state's budget grew faster than projected, about $58 million in pot taxes must be refunded, meaning most Colorado taxpayers could expect a tax credit of a few dollars, regardless of whether they've ever purchased pot.
For schools to get the previously earmarked funds, “we have to go back and ask the voters a second time if we can keep the money that they already told us to collect,” the Democratic governor said before signing the bill.
The eccentric nature of the state's tax laws wasn't lost on Hickenlooper, who quipped, “That's part of the magic of living in Colorado.”
Regardless of what voters say in November, the state won't have to deal with this issue again because the refund mechanism applies only the first year of a new tax.
Lawmakers, the governor and even pot industry leaders have said they hope voters restate their previous intentions.
The measure signed June 4 calls for putting $40 million aside for school construction projects and budgeting additional funds for programs to keep kids from using pot and training police to spot drivers who are high.
About $2 million would go to create a “Bullying Prevention and Education Fund.”
And the Colorado State Fair would get $300,000 for the 4-H Club and Future Farmers of America.
“This is exactly what we should be doing with this money,” said Democratic state Sen. Pat Steadman, the sponsor of the bill.
Hickenlooper said he and lawmakers will campaign in favor of the ballot question.
If voters reject the measure, about $20 million would be returned to pot growers.
Another $25 million would be refunded to taxpayers through small, individual income tax returns.
The rest would be refunded slowly in the form of a six-month drop in pot sales taxes from 10 percent to 0.1 percent.
Jason Warf of the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council and others expect the ballot measure will pass again easily.
Voters approved the 2013 taxing measure by a 2-to-1 ratio.
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