DENVER – Considering the number of bills signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper this year that later needed to be revamped or legally evaluated, critics wondered aloud whether the governor read the legislation or forgot his veto power.
Hickenlooper’s recent ramblings about legalized marijuana and associated taxes lit more questions about his knowledge of ballot issues facing voters in November.
Coloradans passed Amendment 64 to legalize recreational marijuana last year – a fact that disconcerted Hickenlooper. Now, voters are being asked to pass a statewide 10 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on retail pot purchases. Voters also will be asked to approve local pot sales taxes.
So where do the statewide taxes go? Apparently Hickenlooper needs a clue.
“We have a really healthy tax on the ballot this fall to really make sure we can regulate (marijuana) properly,” Hickenlooper said last week during an interview on ABC’s Top Line behind the scenes of The Daily Beast’s “Hero Summit” in Washington, D.C.
“We don’t want to make a profit” off the tax revenue, declared Hickenlooper. “We’re not going to take marijuana taxes and put it towards public education or anything like that.”
Yet, the first $40 million a year in revenue generated from marijuana excise taxes is designated for the public school capital construction assistance fund.
That, in fact, was part of the campaign ad campaign to pass Amendment 64 – and was clearly written in the ballot title and description that was approved by voters in November 2012.
“We all know where the money from nonmedical marijuana sales is currently going,” said the ad’s narrator, hinting at the underground market sales of recreational pot. “It doesn’t need to be that way.”
“If we pass Amendment 64, Colorado businesses would profit, and tax revenues would pay for public services and the reconstruction of our schools,” concluded the ad.
During his interview last Wednesday, Hickenlooper’s comments sounded like a postscript to the ad’s suggestion of legalizing and taxing marijuana is a better outcome than filling the pockets of black market entrepreneurs.
“We’re going to let this, at least in Colorado, legal industry expand and go forward,” said Hickenlooper. “Except that we want to make sure there isn’t corruption, that we’re not getting, you know, racketeering and gang connections coming into this.”
The governor’s remarks, however, sparked questions about his knowledge of legislative bills as well as ballot initiatives, which are clearly described in the Blue Book as a public service for Colorado voters.
“The fact that Governor Hickenlooper, our state’s chief executive, doesn’t even know what’s on the ballot is, frankly, shocking,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “This is simply another facet of his poor leadership. His statement should cause Coloradans to question whether he has a firm grasp of other critical ballot issues.”
On the last day of the legislative session in May, Hickenlooper told reporters that he would “promote” the sales and excises taxes to gain voter approval.
“We need to make sure we have the resources to have a good regulatory framework to manage this,” said Hickenlooper of recreational marijuana. He might have been aware of the scathing audits of state agencies under his leadership that failed to account for green energy projects as well as regulate medical marijuana since it became legal in 2001.
Hickenlooper hasn’t taken a high profile role in promoting the pot tax – but after unions’ prodding he did jump on the bandwagon to push Amendment 66, a statewide two-tier income tax to generate $1 billion a year to fund public schools with no sunset in sight.
“Does the governor fully understand the negative impact that Amendment 66, the billion dollar tax increase, will have on Coloradans?” asked Maher.