Special session: Hospital district, regional transit victims of partisan legislative games

In this Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, the gold-covered dome on the State Capitol shines in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file) Enlargephoto

In this Nov. 3, 2015, file photo, the gold-covered dome on the State Capitol shines in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

Last week’s special legislative session, aimed at correcting a marijuana-tax error, accomplished exactly nothing good, and the stubbornness of a few GOP committee members will mean some Colorado special districts will continue to go without money that was fully intended for them.

Last summer when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 267, which increases revenue for infrastructure projects within the state, the bill was intended to remove a statewide sales tax on marijuana. A provision in the bill allowed cities and counties to continue to levy sales taxes on retail marijuana sales, but special districts were accidentally omitted. That tax was being collected before the bill took effect, and no one intended it to stop. The problem was simply the erroneous omission of a few words.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, who apparently misread the amount of opposition to a special session, called lawmakers back to fix the problem. Some GOP legislators were already irritated at the passage of SB 267, and they disapproved of the cost of the session. Wait for the regular session that begins in January, they said.

Some held that because the tax had been allowed – however unintentionally – to expire, reinstating it requires voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Others believed that a longstanding Colorado Supreme Court ruling would allow the change.

Regardless, the fix didn’t make it past the three Republican members of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sens. Randy Baumgardner, John Cooke and Ray Scott. Other lawmakers went home without being able to vote on a straightforward measure that had the votes to pass.

The big losers include the Regional Transportation District, which provides bus and rail service to the Denver/Boulder area, and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District that includes the Denver Zoo, museums and performance venues.

Locally, the error affects the San Miguel Regional Transit Authority to the tune of $10,000 in the remainder of this fiscal year alone, and the Montezuma County Hospital District, which is losing out on approximately $7,200 in revenue each month just as it is in the middle of a big construction project.

That money cannot be collected retroactively. It’s just gone. These amounts may seem inconsequential to lawmakers in Denver, and it is not a large figure even in Cortez, but every penny matters, as does the principle.

Ironically, one purpose of SB 267 was to shore up revenues for rural hospitals. That’s a goal some lawmakers apparently fail to take seriously.

Their beef wasn’t with the local hospital district or the other special districts that were harmed by the mistake, and that makes their vote even more disturbing. Although the intent was always clear and the provision relating to the taxing authority of special districts was not controversial, some GOP legislators chose to play politics rather than allow a few special districts to resume tax collections on recreational marijuana purchases.

We expect more of our state legislators. Those who kept a fix from even coming up for a floor vote have caused real harm when a simple solution was available.