Colorado voters reject marijuana tax hike, two other statewide ballot measures

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Colorado voters defeated Proposition 119, an increase to the state’s retail marijuana sales tax that would have helped fund tutoring efforts, as well as the two other statewide measures in Tuesday’s election, according to unofficial results.

The other two measures, Proposition 120 and Amendment 78, called for a reduction in property tax assessment rates and a requirement for all state spending to go through the Colorado legislature, respectively.

More than 1.2 million Colorado voters had cast ballots in Tuesday’s election as of 5 p.m. — about 31% of the state’s active registered voters.

Voters rejected Proposition 119 by 54.25% to 45.75%; Proposition 120 by 57.23% to 42.74%; and Amendment 78 — which would have required 55% of the vote to pass — by 57.16% to 42.84%, as of results posted at 8:28 p.m.

Proposition 119 called for a 5-percentage-point increase on the state’s 15% sales tax for retail marijuana by 2024 (starting with a 3% rate increase in 2022 and 4% in 2023). The money raised would have gone toward out-of-school enrichment programs with a priority on kids from low-income households. It had both bipartisan support and opposition.

Proponents conceded defeat Tuesday night, saying the results of the election would only make the achievement gap between students from wealthy families and those from low-income households worse.

“Access to affordable, quality after-school education services is not a possibility for many families living in Colorado — and we will work with anyone who has a better idea on how to tackle the problem,” Curtis Hubbard, a Yes on Prop 119 campaign spokesperson, said in a statement.

Opponents had argued that the measure wasn’t what it seemed and would have increased already high marijuana taxes, and that the plans lacked transparency for how dollars would have been spent.

“Momentum has steadily shifted against Prop 119 in recent weeks as voters learned more about it and how it would take money from public schools,” Wendy Howell, CO Working Families Party state director, said in a statement Tuesday after early returns.

Proposition 120 and Amendment 78 were backed by conservative political group Colorado Rising State Action, and executive director Michael Fields conceded their defeat after 9 p.m.

Proposition 120 called for cutting the residential tax assessment rate from 7.15% to 6.5% and commercial property tax assessment rate from 29% to 26.4%, with backers saying it would have saved an average of $1 billion annually.

It was complicated, though, because the Democratic-majority Colorado legislature passed bipartisan SB21-293 this year in an attempt to thwart the measure by approving $200 million in property tax cuts for two years and changing the tax code classifications from two categories to six. Opponents of the proposed measure argued that a permanent tax cut would negatively affect local governments, special districts and services residents rely on, and say with the passage of their bill, the ballot measure won’t do what proponents are promising.

By the time the bill became law, it was too late for Colorado Rising State Action to make the change in the ballot language to the outdated tax categories.

With SB21-293 in effect, Proposition 120 would have only applied to multifamily housing units and commercial lodging.

“I don’t think that (the vote) reflects the frustration that people have with higher property taxes they’re getting,” Fields said, adding that the property tax issue isn’t one that will be going away any time soon.

Amendment 78 had a higher threshold for passage since it was a constitutional change. It would have required the state legislature to sign off on all state “custodial money,” money that comes from outside the state government, including federal emergency funds, money from legal settlements and grants.

Proponents of the measure had said it would create better oversight of all money spent and would not allow the governor or attorney general, for example, to spend the money without approval. But opponents argued that it would have delayed funding in emergencies and hurt local communities by adding another layer of bureaucracy. A lawsuit to invalidate the measure was unsuccessful.

The fact that voters were rejecting all three ballot issues Tuesday night shows that “it’s hard to get yes votes, especially on an odd-year ballot,” Fields said.

Groups like the We Thrive Coalition, which advocates for an equitable tax code, opposed Proposition 120 and Amendment 78, with Amie Baca-Oehlert of the Colorado Education Association saying if the results hold, they show that Colorado voters “are understanding the value of our public goods and services and that we need to devote funding to ensure that we have a Colorado that works for all.”