Is costly Colorado pot tax error worth a special session? Why the GOP says no

The $7,200 that the Montezuma County Hospital District loses monthly because of a mistake by state lawmakers may not seem like a lot, but Keenen Lovett insists the rural health care provider is feeling the loss.

“It is an urgent matter for us,” said Lovett, an attorney who represents the district. “You take out that kind of money … and yeah, it’ll make a difference.”

The sense of urgency in certain parts of the state is what prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to call state lawmakers back into a special session to fix legislation that mistakenly exempted retail marijuana from sales taxes in nine special districts around the state.

But not all share the same outlook. The leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate made clear they plan to adjourn the special session without passing legislation to fix the glitch.

This week, Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, once again called on the Democratic governor to rescind the executive order and complained that he did not adequately consult Republican lawmakers about the special session.

Instead, Grantham said the Senate would wait until the legislature reconvenes in January to act. By that point, the total revenue loss is projected to top $4.5 million, but most districts are expected to avert significant impacts to public services.

“There should have been a little more talking on the front end instead of the last-second, eleventh-hour crisis being thrown at us in the legislature,” Grantham said in an interview. “This will end up being taken care of in January.”

Grantham’s political action committee later sent a fundraising solicitation blasting the governor for wasting money with a special session, saying Hickenlooper was “toying with taxpayer dollars to advance his political agenda.”

If lawmakers are concerned about the cost, they can decline their per-diem payment — which accounts for the bulk of the $25,400 cost for each day of the special session. To pass the bill, it would take a minimum three days.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, called critics of the special session “obstructionists.”

“I think there’s a simple fix,” she said in an interview. “We can come back for three days, get it done and be done with it. We can’t forget that, by not taking action, this is having a negative impact on Coloradans.”

The apparent impasse and political gamesmanship threaten to tarnish the bipartisanship that defined 2017 session when it adjourned in May and touted the legislation in question — Senate Bill 267 — as the term’s crowning achievement.

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