“Amazon tax” moves forward on party line vote
HB 1269 is an attempt to level the playing field between online retailers who are currently not required to charge any state sales tax and brick and mortar establishments which are. The bill stops short of charging sales tax for all online purchases and instead creates a definition for how much physical presence an online retailer must have in the state — in the way of warehouses and such — in order to charge sales tax.
“We are putting all local businesses at 2.9 percent disadvantage … I’ve been in businesses large and small and the very essence of entrepreneurship is being able to compete on a level playing field,” said Senate Majority Leader Rollie Heath of Boulder in support of the bill.
Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, agreed that a level playing field is crucial for Colorado businesses but disagreed that raising taxes for large online retailers was the way to achieve it.
“This is a tax increase and you know we’re not supposed to be voting on such things,” he noted, referring to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which forbids lawmakers from raising taxes without putting the question to a vote of the people. He suggested that instead lawmakers consider cutting back sales tax for brick and mortar businesses so that they could enjoy the same freedoms as online retailers.
Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, agreed, saying that initial estimates have the bill pulling in $68 million more in tax revenue — money he felt certain Coloradans would be spending on Main Street if they weren’t paying online sales tax.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, emphasized that the bill would not impact small online retailers and would only serve to give, for example, local bookshops a better chance of competing with massive online retailers.
Ultimately the measure was given initial approval on a narrow, party line vote. It will likely come up for a final vote this week.
Senate moves to store more water
HB 1333 puts a grand total of more than $300 million into expanding Colorado’s water storage capacity, especially on the front range.
The bill’s largest project includes funding a 25,000 acre feet expansion of the Chatfield Reservoir, located in the district of sponsor Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
“In 1970 we had about 6.5 million acre feet of storage and about 2.2 million people. Today we’re looking at 7.5 million acre feet of storage for about about 5 million people,” noted Republican Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray. He said that adding just 15 percent to the state’s water storage capacity even as the population has doubled puts Colorado in an extremely precarious position.
“We need to double and triple our efforts to build water storage in Colorado. If we don’t, we’ll end up drying up ag and the economies of the rural parts of the state and that would be a tremendous mistake,” Brophy concluded, in strong support of the bill.
The measure was given unanimous initial approval today and will likely come up for a final vote this week.
Radioactive cleanup bill half-lifes on Senate floor
SB 192, sponsored by Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, was initially conceived as a three-part bill. The first, and most crucial, part of the legislation would mandate the 30-year overdue cleanup of radioactive groundwater around the Cotter uranium mill site just outside Cañon City.
While that aspect of the bill has remained intact, its second provision — to put regulatory guardrails on new uranium milling technology that creates a pump-able, radioactive slurry underground and has never been used at industrial scale before — was stripped from the bill by a series of amendments put forward by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.
The third portion of the bill, which mandates that state uranium mining license procedures mirror federal requirements regarding public hearings remains intact.
Crowder argued that distinctions should be made between above and below ground activity since below ground activity is already regulated by the state’s mining laws.
Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, contended that when it comes to radioactive contamination it can be hard to discern whether it’s a byproduct of above or below ground activity, and that since the bill is most concerned with the health impacts of contamination, that distinction is hardly the central concern.
Even so, Crowder’s concern that the bill would discourage mining and thus jobs in the state was enough to bet the second provision of the bill essentially scrubbed. The amended version got near unanimous initial approval today and will likely come up for a final vote this week as well.
Lawmakers go back to the future with regulation of “autocycles”
Autocycles are enclosed three-wheel vehicles with a motorcycle engine that get 75-100 miles to the gallon while providing riders with all the safety of a car. They’ve been around since at least the early 1980’s. In an effort to promote these affordable and efficient car-cycle crossbreeds, Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, brought forward HB 1367, which exempts owners of autocycles from having to get a motorcycle license and wear a helmet. This, because autocycles have a hard body, airbags and seat belts.
“For less than $10,000 you can now buy a vehicle that gets 80 miles a gallon,” Tyler noted.
The measure, co-sponsored by Prius-driving Republican Greg Brophy in the Senate, got initial approval today.
Tax credit for farmers that share
HB 1119, sponsored by Sens. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, gives a tax credit to farmers and ranchers who donate their extra produce to food pantries. The credit is good for 25 percent of the value of the crop up to $5,000.
Wray Republican Sen. Greg Brophy strongly supported the bill saying that a tax credit was an appropriate way to offset the high cost of harvesting crops that won’t be sold. Without that incentive, producers running on a slim profit margin may have to make the tough choice of letting un-purchased excess crop rot in the field.
The measure got hearty bipartisan approval today in the Senate.