TABOR refund checks now likely to exceed $400, Colorado officials project

Colorado was already poised to refund a historically high amount of tax revenue collected in this fiscal year, but now officials project the number will be even higher.

The projected figure as of March was more than $2 billion. The official figure won’t be out until the 2021-22 fiscal year concludes at the end of June, but the Department of Revenue is “almost certain” the number will come in above the March projection, spokeswoman Meghan Tanis told The Denver Post.

That means that taxpayers can expect more refunded money — potentially above $500 per person.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, better known as TABOR, requires the state to refund money that comes in above a cap that is calculated based on whether revenue collection exceeds population growth plus inflation. The state usually doesn’t eclipse the threshold set by the cap, but in this fiscal year — and last fiscal year, and very likely next fiscal year — it does, so Colorado must give revenue back to the people.

Democrats, as a general rule, feel they could do much more good for the state by using the above-cap money in the state budget than by sending back individual checks. But TABOR is in the state constitution, approved by voters, so Democrats for now can do no more than play by the rules.

But those rules do give lawmakers broad discretion over how, though not if, to refund the money. Democrats control every level of state government, and they’ve decided to refund the money through flat checks set to go out in late summer. That is a change to the existing program, which would have sent the vast majority of above-cap revenues from the 2021-22 fiscal year out through a six-tiered schedule that sees higher-income earners get the most money back.

Last month, Democrats and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis announced that instead of sending the bulk out through the six tiers, they’d do it by sending everybody $400, or $800 for joint filers. And instead of waiting until next tax season to do it, they said, they’d send the money out by early September, in mailed checks signed by the state treasurer.

This will be enacted by a Democrat-led bill, SB22-233, that just passed the legislature and will soon be signed into law. Expecting even more than $2 billion above the TABOR cap, lawmakers amended the bill before passing it to allow for the checks to exceed $400 and $800 if revenues are indeed greater than previously planned for.

In a press conference Friday at the Capitol, Gov. Jared Polis stated as a matter of fact, not estimation, that Coloradans would receive “at least” $500 individually and $1,000 for joint filers.

In this election year, Democrats are trying something new by sending the checks out months before next year’s tax season, and by publicizing projected increases in refunds before nonpartisan staff formally delivers its June forecast.

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