TABOR requires pot tax holiday

Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015 8:21 PM

Did you load up on recreational pot Wednesday from one of Durango's many retail suppliers?

The herb was free of the state's 15 percent excise and 10 percent pot sales taxes that day, a significant decrease in price. According to an Associated Press story in the Herald last week, this will cost the state $3 to $4 million.

Why a tax holiday? Apparently it's in lieu of a tax refund to recreational pot businesses and buyers. And why was that?

The tax money is supposed to cover the cost of regulating these businesses, and part of the money is supposed to go to K-12 schools. State and local voters approved recreational marijuana for adults by a comfortable margin in 2012. Those taxes were part of the deal.

But the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, passed by voters in 1992, said otherwise. According to TABOR, a separate statewide voter approval was required for the state to keep that money. In 2013, voters overwhelmingly did just that.

But TABOR says that's still not good enough, because total state revenue has increased with the economic recovery. So the pot tax money still has to be returned, via the one day tax holiday. In November, voters will be asked YET AGAIN to let the state keep the money, apparently for the future.

TABOR creator Douglas Bruce has always proclaimed that he is promoting power to the people - except when they vote in ways that he doesn't like. After TABOR took effect in 1993, voters in most local government jurisdictions around the state approved "de-Brucing" measures that are allowed by TABOR, so their local government could keep and spend increased revenue. Note that the revenue increases were from existing tax rates, not new or increased taxes.

Bruce responded with a ballot issue to take away voters' power to de-Bruce. Voters rejected that, along with several other Bruce schemes over the years that would have bankrupted every level of government, from the local cemetery or fire district to the state government itself, or at least made them unable to function.

Those ballot issues have provided that clear pattern of intent.

The pot tax situation is just the latest example of the nasty surprises we get from TABOR, which is incredibly convoluted and contains a lot more than just requiring voter approval for any tax increase.

Interestingly, another article in the same Herald issue last week said many property owners may be paying higher property taxes now than if TABOR hadn't passed. Go figure.

TABOR is so convoluted that in the 1990s, voters approved another state constitutional amendment limiting state ballot issues to a single subject; although I've seen stuff on the ballot that made a mockery of that.

I'd be happy to have a single subject measure to repeal Article X, Section 20 of the state constitution in its entirety. That's TABOR. But people like being able to vote on tax increases. So it's time to at least look at the part of TABOR that is forcing this pot tax situation.