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Taxpayers could see refunds

State economists expect to exceed TABOR revenue limits

DENVER – State economists agree that Colorado taxpayers likely are owed a refund next year. But just how much taxpayers would receive remains uncertain.

The governor’s budget office predicts that revenue subject to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, is expected to exceed $216 million.

Meanwhile, economists with Legislative Council said the Legislature should set aside nearly $70 million for the refund.

The Joint Budget Committee, which crafts the state budget, will meet to decide what number to budget to.

Taxpayers would see a refund of anywhere between $28 and $89. But families earning less money might see a higher refund.

“Now that we are in a TABOR surplus era ... if our economy grows faster than we expect, and we bring in more revenue than we expected because of that, that is not new money for the budget,” said Natalie Mullis, chief economist for Legislative Council. “That is new money to be set aside to be refunded to the taxpayers under TABOR.”

Economists agreed that Colorado’s economy remains strong, with gains in jobs, consumer demand, credit and housing markets.

But a volatile natural-gas and oil market leaves aspects of the state’s future economy unknown.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, there’s lots of reasonable arguments to be made – reasonable expectations – and it could go a lot of different ways,” said state economist Larson Silbaugh.

Economists also projected that lawmakers will have just $49 million in General Fund revenue to spend on outstanding legislation for the year, meaning several bills with a fat price tag are not likely to cross the finish line.

One bill of particular interest to Southwest Colorado is a measure that asks for $10 million to implement technology that predicts the movement of wildfires and floods. That bill is co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango. The bill’s other sponsor, Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, said sponsors are still searching for money.

Meanwhile, JBC members said money won’t be available for every request.

“I know there were a lot of members of other committees here looking for money for their pet projects, and I hope they don’t leave this meeting thinking that they found it, because it’s not there,” said Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, a member of the Joint Budget Committee.

Further complicating the budget process is a separate marijuana tax refund that is subject to TABOR. Lawmakers are considering whether to ask voters to keep the money. State economists estimated the refund at $58 million.

Overall, however, Henry Sobanet, the governor’s budget director, said Colorado is in good shape to address the budget issues ahead.

“Some substantial unknown budget events could occur with very, very small changes to the forecast,” he said.


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