DENVER (AP) – Colorado residents will get tax refunds because the state’s improving economy means government is collecting more revenue than it is allowed to keep under the 1992 voter-approved Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday unveiled his budget proposal for next year, and it includes $136.6 million in refunds through credits or sales taxes when people file taxes in 2016. Refunds are required when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth.
The budget also increases funding to public schools by $480 million and colleges by $107 million. State employees are also getting nearly $73 million for pay raises and health insurance.
Hickenlooper is up for re-election Tuesday. If he loses, Republican Bob Beauprez will have a chance to amend the budget. Colorado governors are required to release their annual budget proposals at the start of November, and the tax refunds have been years in the making.
The last TABOR refunds happened about a decade ago because of a combination of slow economic growth and a voter-approved time-out from reimbursements.
Lawmakers were first alerted of the possibility for refunds in September, when economists projected increasing revenue collections.
The growing economy means Hickenlooper’s administration can propose more funding in a variety of areas. Those include:
– $154.7 million for higher caseloads in health care programs, notably Medicaid, which is administered by the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
– $281.6 million to finish capital construction and information technology projects. That includes $52.4 million to upgrade technology and reduce wait times at the department of motor vehicles.
– $8.2 million to hire 130 child welfare caseworkers at counties statewide, an attempt to address high workloads.
“The goal of the budget is to do in many cases what the voters have told the government to do,” said Henry Sobanet, Hickenlooper’s budget chief. “They want to prioritize education, and you can substantial increases for K-12 education and higher education. We have agreed to start construction projects in prior sessions and we need to finish those. You can see health care a priority here, you can see economic development a priority.”
Lawmakers who convene in January for the 2015 legislative session can choose to ask voters to keep the excess revenue that will otherwise be refunded. And lawmakers will make their own additions or changes to the budget before it’s approved and signed next spring.
Recreational marijuana taxes may also trigger refunds because of the overall rise in state revenue and because of a TABOR provision regarding new taxes. The refunds would happen even though pot revenue is nowhere near the estimate voters received when they approved the taxes in 2013.
Voters approved the pot taxes for school construction and enforcement and prevention programs. So far, the taxes are estimated to generate less than half the $70 million predicted. Lawmakers may choose to ask voters to keep the pot taxes instead of refunding them.
In all, the state budget is nearly $27 billion when it includes federal funds and other money lawmakers don’t control. Lawmakers have more power over the general fund, which is made up tax revenue. The general fund is $10.3 billion of the overall budget.
The overall budget is $1.7 billion higher than the current one.
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– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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