Special Session Shenanigans Nearing Point of Absurdity

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

As the countdown to the October 2nd kickoff of a special session of the Colorado General Assembly to address a drafting error in legislation this year that’s costing special tax districts like RTD Denver millions in uncollected marijuana tax revenue, 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman tried to sort out earlier this week the whys and wherefores:

Colorado’s 100 state lawmakers will trudge up the capitol steps for at least three days of extra work in October—all because of a technical error in a bill they passed earlier this year.

The major political parties don’t agree on whether this is an emergency that warrants calling a special session—the next regular session in only months away in January—but they do at least agree on what the problem is…

By removing marijuana from the group of things subject to regular sales taxes, special districts and other limited purpose governmental entities could no longer collect sales tax on retail marijuana.

“Consequently, those entities have experienced, and will continue to experience, reductions in revenue that jeopardize their ability to provide services to their constituents… a correction is needed to ensure services are not unintentionally diminished,” said Hickenlooper in the executive order.

As we discovered late last week, Republicans not only are aware of the error in this legislation that’s costing special districts millions, GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg had already filed a draft bill for the 2018 legislative session to fix the error. In their initial angry response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order calling the special session, Republicans never once mentioned this critical detail.

After we exposed the existence of a Republican bill to accomplish the goal of the special session last Friday, Sen. Sonnenberg responded:

The problem? That statement is ridiculous. Every month that goes by is costing money to these special districts, something that everyone agrees was not intended. Waiting until January would cost RTD alone an estimated $3 million–far more than the cost of a special session. If the problem is worth fixing at all, why would you not avert the loss of millions of dollars to these districts by acting now? It just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the real problem: Sen. Sonnenberg, the prime Republican sponsor of this year’s grand bargain legislation that included the drafting error cutting off special districts from marijuana tax revenue and a possible future congressional candidate, has taken heavy fire from far-right activists at the Independence Institute and Americans for Prosperity for what they see as an apostasy against the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Their position, that a statewide campaign and vote was needed to make the changes in this year’s bill, wasn’t agreed with by Gov. Hickenlooper, the state’s Republican attorney general, or the majority of legislators–and in the end AFP lost the fight and SB267 was signed into law.

Now that this mistake has been discovered that is costing special tax districts millions of dollars, these same activist groups are pressuring Republicans to not fix the problem at all:

As you can see, AFP-Colorado has leapt right past the question of whether to fix the problem now or wait until January–by declaring that any such fix requires a statewide vote of the people. That’s not a position either directly or indirectly supported by legal opinions from the AG or rulings by the Supreme Court, who have consistently interpreted TABOR in favor of allowing the state to carry out basic functions–and yes, to get around TABOR’s obtrusive yet narrow wording where necessary in order to do so.

Look, we get that TABOR’s defenders view it as obligative to defend the 1992 law’s provisions to to the smallest semantic detail, but in this case they are rapidly descending into self-reinforcing nonsense. No reasonable observer of this process would conclude it’s justified to demand a multimillion-dollar statewide election campaign to fix a drafting error in legislation that is doing immediate harm. If anything, this dogmatic insistence on manufacturing an unworkable situation from a simple drafting error exposes the underlying motivations of the law’s defenders: to make it harder to govern. To blame the system instead of fixing the error. To use the hurdles TABOR imposes to break government, not to fix it.

This kind of intransigent nonsense may be what TABOR’s convicted felon tax cheat author intended, but the 52% of Colorado voters in 1992 who voted for TABOR should be horrified by the destructive nonsense their vote 25 years ago is being used to justify today.

9 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. ModeratusModeratus says:

    Why should taxpayers pay for legislator mistakes? TABOR is very clear. Taxes may be reduced but not raised without a vote of the people. If you make a mistake and cut taxes, too bad. You can't raise them again without a vote.

    TABOR is not the problem, sloppy tax and spend legislating is the problem. Let the legislators pay for this mistake, or better yet learn a lesson and not make stupid mistakes in legislation. Maybe the pain will teach them.

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