DENVER (AP) – A Republican bill that would allow Colorado to keep more of the tax revenue it already has to spend on roads, education and health care cleared a hurdle Tuesday.
The bill by Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa would ask voters to change the way limits on state revenue are calculated under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, included in the state Constitution in 1992.
Now, the limit is determined by population growth and inflation. Any tax income over the limit must be returned to residents as refunds, unless voters approve otherwise. Thurlow and Crowder want to set the limit using use personal income growth instead.
Thurlow says the state’s spending blueprint needs to adapt because circumstances have changed substantially since 1992.
The measure is a first step toward allowing Colorado to start paying for underfunded schools and roads, he told his colleagues. That would start with an extra $175 million in the 2018-2019 fiscal year, according to legislative analysts.
Budget projections say taxpayer refunds would total $280 million and $287 million in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. Thurlow says his bill could cut those amounts to $130 million and $209 million.
Several Republicans argued Tuesday that the legislation amounts to a tax hike – which TABOR allows if voters say so. One GOP lawmaker introduced an amendment that Democrats ultimately defeated.
Rep. Polly Lawrence didn’t raise the tax-hike argument but pushed an amendment to devote any extra revenue to transportation and transit needs, which both parties have declared a priority of this session.
Lawrence argued the money should go to state highway projects, including improvements to Interstates 25 and 70. That would allow voters to know where the money is going, she said.
“It keeps our sticky fingers off of it,” Lawrence said, reflecting on Colorado’s $9 billion road projects backlog. “At what point do the people inside the building start taking this seriously? Because in the four years I’ve been here, we haven’t.”
Thurlow argued that requirement would complicate his bill.
“I’m trying to unwind contradictions, and this is another contradiction,” he said.
The bill faces another formal House vote before going to a GOP-led Senate that traditionally has resisted any changes to how the limit on state revenue is calculated. If it passes both chambers, voters would still need to approve it.
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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