Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday called a special legislative session to fix a bill-drafting error that has been costing a number of Denver-based institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in marijuana revenue.
The Oct. 2 special session will be the first in five years for Hickenlooper and the Colorado General Assembly, an extraordinary step for a governor who has typically deferred to lawmakers on legislative matters during his two terms in office.
“After hearing about the potential impact on citizens around the state, it is clear that this problem is best solved as soon as possible,” Hickenlooper said in a statement announcing his executive order, capping a day of speculation about his plans.
“There’s a serious amount of money involved and consequences,” Hickenlooper said earlier Thursday in an interview with The Denver Post. “We are trying to figure out: Does it make sense? Can we make a difference?”
In an interview before the governor announced his decision, the General Assembly’s top Republican lawmaker said he was unconvinced.
“We’ve yet to hear the governor present a strong, iron-clad case for why this can’t wait until next session, which is now just four months away,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham in a statement. “Perhaps the governor can convince a majority in my caucus that some major disaster will befall the state if we don’t address this issue until January. But as of now, I’m not seeing any groundswell of support for this from colleagues or constituents.”
The problem was discovered near the end of June — a little over a month after the 2017 legislative session was gaveled to a close.
The error stemmed from Senate Bill 267, the wide-ranging spending measure that overhauled a state hospital funding program and rewrote the state’s pot tax law, eliminating a 2.9 percent tax on recreational pot in favor of a hike in the special sales tax on weed from 10 to 15 percent.
But the rewrite of the law mistakenly cut funding from the Regional Transportation District, the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District and other organizations, omitting them as recipients of recreational pot tax revenue that they had already received before the bill took effect July 1.
The Denver arts and cultural district includes dozens of organizations, such as the Denver Zoo and Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
RTD officials previously told The Post that the regional transit service could stand to lose as much as $3 million if the pot tax glitch wasn’t fixed before the next legislative session begins in January.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, deferred to the governor Thursday afternoon when asked about a possible emergency session.
“The special districts revenue glitch is clearly an issue that needs to be fixed,” Duran said in a statement. “… If he (the governor) wants to move more quickly, we’ll be ready.”
“We never intended this,” added House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, speaking of the bill he co-sponsored. “There were dozens upon dozens of people that reviewed this draft” but didn’t catch the error before it was too late.
Jacque Montgomery, the governor’s spokeswoman, said that the issue can’t be addressed without legislation — meaning the problem won’t be solved until the legislature returns.
Hickenlooper earlier this year flirted with the idea of calling lawmakers back to the Capitol to hammer out deals on transportation funding, health care and the Colorado Energy Office, whose funding sunsets this summer. But he ultimately backed off the idea when Republican lawmakers balked.
The last time Hickenlooper called a special session was 2012, when lawmakers were called back to debate a civil unions bill and other unfinished business.
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