House sends pot tax to Senate

DENVER - Now that marijuana possession is legal in Colorado, the decision over how to tax it is falling into familiar patterns.

The House on Tuesday voted along party lines, 37 Democrats to 27 Republicans, to apply steep taxes to recreational marijuana.

House Bill 1318 asks voters for an excise tax on wholesale sales of 15 percent, and a retail sales tax of 10 percent. If voters approve, the Legislature would have the power to alter both rates, up to 15 percent.

Republicans argued that if the tax is too high, voters will reject it, and the state will be stuck with paying for a new bureaucracy to regulate pot sales.

"Many of us feel that taxation of marijuana is right, just and proper, but what we have to do is make sure it passes," said House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

Democrats were unfazed.

"When's the last time a sin tax actually failed? It's been a while. I can't remember the last time a sin tax failed," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

The bill now goes to the Senate.

Capping credits

Also Tuesday, the Legislature approved a limit on enterprise zone tax credits for big businesses.

Businesses that move to or expand in an enterprise zones can claim a number of tax credits. Democrats have argued that the biggest credits go to companies that would be there with or without the incentives - mostly gas and oil pipeline companies and utilities.

HB 1142 limits credits to $750,000 per taxpayer, and it expands credits for smaller businesses.

The Senate voted 21-14 to pass the bill, HB 1142. Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was the lone Republican joining all 20 Democrats to support it.

Roberts said she saw the writing on the wall that changes were coming to the enterprise zone program, and she voted for HB 1142 because she thinks it will help preserve the tax credits in the long term for businesses that need them.

"I don't want to see them go away," Roberts said.

The bill now goes back to the House for agreement with Senate amendments.

Wildfire prevention

Colorado would supply $10 million for wildfire prevention grants to local groups under a bill the Senate approved Monday.

Roberts is a sponsor, along with Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk.

The money underscores that Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Legislature are making a priority of wildfire prevention, Roberts said.

"We need to use local resources to make that happen," she said.

Grant recipients could include Firewise programs and homeowners associations, she said.

The bill, Senate Bill 269, passed 35-0 and is on its way to the House.