DALLAS — Colorado's $25 billion state budget is signed, but lawmakers still have other bills to resolve before the imminent end of their session.
Among them is a proposal to authorize $3.5 billion of tax revenue anticipation notes for highway projects.
Senate Bill 272, sponsored by Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, would renew the 1999 TRAN bonds that funded the $1.67 billion "T-Rex" Interstate-25 improvement work through Denver and 24 other statewide projects.
With the 2015 session scheduled to end May 6, a logjam is building, with several contentious issues unresolved, including a proposed ballot measure allowing use of $58 million of excess marijuana tax revenues for public education.
Under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights adopted in a 1992 voter referendum as part of the state constitution, the state and local governments must get voter approval to retain any excess tax revenue that, for example, might be produced by higher sales or rising property values. The revenue cap for government is based on population growth and inflation.
The 2015 General Assembly is the first in nearly 15 years that will require lawmakers to provide taxpayer refunds. Under the TABOR cap lawmakers set aside $70 million for taxpayer refunds in 2016 and an additional $117 million in 2017.
The provisions were included in the $25 billion "long bill" budget that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law April 24.
"This budget crafts a careful balance between the public needs that accompany a growing economy and the fiscal prudence ahead of looming challenges caused by our conflicting constitutional provisions," Hickenlooper said in a letter to lawmakers.
Passage of the budget was more challenging this year compared to 2014 because legislative control was split between Hickenlooper's Democratic Party, which held the House, and Republicans, who have a majority in the Senate.
The budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 provides more than $240 million in investments to maintain and improve "critical state buildings" and systems.
"For the first time since FY 2007-08, Colorado will provide meaningful General Fund support to transportation needs," Hickenlooper said is his news release Friday after he signed the budget. The budget transfers $102.6 million to the Highway Users Tax Fund to support critical road construction and transit projects, he said.
"We have increased the availability of scholarship opportunities for Colorado students and tuition increases will be below 6%," Hickenlooper noted. "Fiscal Year 2015-16 is also the first year of a bold performance funding model wherein performance factors, school mission, and student success are major components of resource allocations.
Still to be considered is House Bill 1367, the measure that would ask voters in November to approve applying $40 million of marijuana revenue toward school construction projects, $12 million for youth programs and marijuana education and $6 million for general state spending, for a total of $58 million.
Sponsored by authors of the budget bill, HB 1367 would lower the marijuana sales tax to 8% from 10 percent to 8%. The current tax structure also includes a 15% excise tax.
The tax measure, based on Proposition AA and Amendment 64 passed by voters in 2013 that for the first time taxed legal marijuana sales, enjoys broad support in both houses.
"We believe that when they passed Amendment 64 and Proposition AA, the voters of Colorado intended for marijuana taxes to go to fund state priorities, not go back into the pockets of marijuana consumers," said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, a sponsor of the bill. "The voters' intent was that this newly legal industry pay for itself."
If voters defeat the proposed ballot question, then $13.3 million would be refunded through a sales-tax reduction, $19.7 million would go back to cultivation facilities and $25 million would go back to taxpayers, resulting in refunds of anywhere from $15 to $90, depending on income status.