Er­ror in law costs RTD, zoo, mu­seum

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By John Aguilar

State law­mak­ers are in a mad dash to cor­rect an er­ror in a re­cently passed law that is slic­ing off hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars a month in rev­enue for sev­eral well-known Colorado in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the Re­gional Trans­porta­tion Dis­trict, the Den­ver Zoo and the Den­ver Mu­seum of Na­ture & Science.

The prob­lem traces to lan­guage in a com­pre­hen­sive spend­ing mea­sure passed dur­ing the fi­nal days of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Sce­nar­ios to fix it in­clude a rare spe­cial ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture.

“I would talk to the gover­nor about (call­ing a spe­cial ses­sion),” said Sen. Lu­cia Guz­man, D-Den­ver, one of bill’s spon­sors. “We have to do every­thing we can.”

Se­nate Bill 267 boosts pay­ments to hos­pi­tals and schools, gen­er­ates $1.9 bil­lion for trans­porta­tion and elim­i­nates the 2.9 per­cent reg­u­lar sales tax on recre­ational pot in fa­vor of a bump in the spe­cial sales tax on weed from 10 to 15 per­cent.

But the bill mis­tak­enly omit­ted RTD, dozens of arts and cul­ture en­ti­ties that make up the Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Fa­cil­i­ties Dis­trict, or SCFD, and other state-sup­ported or­ga­ni­za­tions as re­cip­i­ents of the state’s re­cast rev­enue from the state’s recre­ational mar­i­juana sales tax.

One ap­proach that could avert a spe­cial ses­sion would in­volve con­ven­ing a smaller group of law­mak­ers in a rule-mak­ing role in the next few weeks.

“I do hope it can be a very easy fix,” said Rep. K.C. Becker, D-Boul­der, a bill spon­sor.

But if nei­ther that nor a spe­cial ses­sion hap­pens, then the prob­lem would have to wait for the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion in Jan­uary. RTD could by that time be out more than $3 mil­lion in pot tax rev­enues.

The sud­den dis­ap­pear­ance of $500,000 the agency ex­pected to bring in from the tax each month, said RTD spokesman Scott Reed “will have an ob­vi­ously notable and un­ex­pected im­pact to RTD’s bud­get.” But he pointed out that it is only 1 per­cent of the agency’s to­tal an­nual sales and use tax rev­enues “and a frac­tion of a per­cent of our over­all bud­get.”

“We will likely be able to move for­ward for the re­main­der of this year with­out mak­ing any ad­di­tional for­mal bud­get re­vi­sions re­quir­ing board ac­tion,” he said Tues­day.

Still, Guz­man said the er­ror should never have hap­pened. The short­com­ings in the spend­ing bill were first re­ported last week by The Com­plete Colorado.

“It’s a sit­u­a­tion that was a hor­ri­ble over­sight, and we feel hor­ri­ble about it and we’ll get it back on track,” she said.

The er­ror came about in the clos­ing days of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, when bills were be­ing writ­ten, rewrit­ten and amended at a light­ning pace. Reed said RTD was never asked by leg­isla­tive staff to note what it con­sid­ered to be the fi­nan­cial ef­fects of the bill.

When asked about the er­ror’s im­pact on the SCFD, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Deb­o­rah Jordy said the or­ga­ni­za­tion “is aware of the is­sue and is cur­rently work­ing through fi­nan­cial mod­el­ing which will al­low us to bet­ter un­der­stand the true fi­nan­cial im­pacts for the dis­trict.”

SCFD’s funded or­ga­ni­za­tions, like the Den­ver Zoo, the Den­ver Botanic Gar­dens and the Ar­vada Cen­ter for the Arts and Hu­man­i­ties, have been no­ti­fied about the sit­u­a­tion, she said.

Henry Sobanet, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of State Plan­ning and Bud­get­ing, said draft­ing er­rors are not un­com­mon in the state­house but that the over­sight in the spend­ing bill, missed by any num­ber of staffers, pol­icy an­a­lysts, law­mak­ers and lob­by­ists, was un­like any­thing he has seen in re­cent years.

“I think the com­plex­ity and time de­mands of the bill were def­i­nitely con­trib­u­tors to this one,” Sobanet said.

House bill spon­sor Jon Becker, a Repub­li­can from Fort Mor­gan, said he and his col­leagues spent hours go­ing over de­tails in the 59page bill but no one caught the fact that at least half a dozen spe­cial dis­tricts had not been in­cluded in the mar­i­juana tax lan­guage.

“There are usu­ally enough checks and bal­ances that this doesn’t hap­pen,” he said. “Cer­tainly no­body wanted to cre­ate hard­ship for any­body.”

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