COFFMAN: A hike in marijuana tax can save critical Aurora services

1260

I respect the will of the voters in rejecting the photo red light program and ending it early last year.   However, the $1 million in lost revenue has created a significant problem for the programs that the photo red light fines have been dedicated to support.

The mental health-related services, that received grant funding, are called “Nexus” programs because most of the grants have a direct “nexus” to law enforcement.  Some of the lost funding has been partially restored by diverting fines, which would otherwise go into the general fund, to support Nexus funding.  However, diverting this revenue produces stress on the overall budget and can only be done temporarily before the Nexus programs all must end.

An example of one of the programs that receives grant funding is the Gateway Domestic Violence Services that plays a critical role in removing domestic violence victims, and often their children, from an abusive situation often after the police have intervened.  Examples of other Nexus programs are the Comitis Crisis Center that provides emergency adult and family shelters, and Aurora’s Gang Reduction Impact Program (A-GRIP) that works to reduce gang-related youth violence.  The Gateway Domestic Violence Services and the Comitis Crisis Center have seen their funding reduced while the A-GRIP program has been completely eliminated.

The State of Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational marijuana in 2012.  Under the two voter-passed ballot initiatives, and the enabling legislation by the General Assembly that followed, local governments were given the authority to decide whether they wanted to permit the sale of medical and/or recreational marijuana and the decision at what level to tax them.

In Aurora, the decision was only to allow recreational marijuana and to ask the voters for permission, under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), to tax the sale of marijuana at rate of up to 10%.  The voters in Aurora passed the TABOR referred ballot measure.  However, despite the permission from the voters to tax marijuana at 10%, the City Council voted in favor of taxing recreational marijuana only at 4%.  Raising the tax on recreational marijuana, under TABOR, would not require a vote of the people again so long as the increase would be below the previously approved 10%.

Last week, Council Member Angela Lawson presented a proposal to the Amendment 64 Committee, whose jurisdiction is over the policies regarding the sale of recreational marijuana in the City of Aurora, to increase the tax on recreational marijuana and dedicate the increased revenue to restoring funding for Nexus programs.

Under Lawson’s proposal, there would be a 25% tax increase on the local sales tax rate on recreational marijuana raising the tax rate from 4% to 5%.  This increase would still allow our 24 recreational marijuana stores to keep a competitive tax rate.  For example, even with the increase, Denver would still be half a percent higher than Aurora at 5.5%.

The proceeds from the marijuana tax increase is estimated to be around $1 million in the first year replacing the $1 million lost revenue from the photo red light program to fully restore the funding shortfall for these critical Nexus programs.

As Aurora’s new Mayor, I strongly support Council Member Lawson’s proposal and I will encourage our City Council to pass it.

Mike Coffman is mayor of Aurora.