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After a year of budget cuts and restructuring during the COVID-19 pandemic, Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program is on track to reclaim these funds from an important source of income: pot taxes.
Senate Bill 207 passed Colorado state law April 19, calling for $ 100 million from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Fund to be transferred to the BEST program to restore funds cut last year. According to Senator Dominick Moreno, main sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, the cuts for 2020 were made to top up the state’s general fund during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the money will come back next year.
The successful bill is awaiting signing by Governor Jared Polis, but requires the state treasurer to return marijuana tax revenues of $ 100 million to the BEST program in June 2022. The Marijuana Tax Cash Fund was created in 2014 after the Colorado recreational pots began selling money for state education, health, youth prevention, law enforcement, health education, and substance abuse programs.
The BEST program was launched in 2008 to fund public schools to rebuild, repair, or replace primary school facilities. As of 2014, the BEST program has been funded primarily by the State Land Board and marijuana excise taxes, with a small portion of the funds coming from lottery proceeds and interest income. According to Andy Stine, director of capital construction for the Colorado Department of Education, the BEST program has received over $ 325 million in marijuana excise taxes since 2014. However, BEST is calling for around $ 650 million for projects in 2021 alone, he adds.
“Any amount helps with the re-fund bill for the program,” Stine says, noting that local governments are getting a 50 percent match on BEST funding from state grants.
“With approximately 50 percent local consistency with our grants, $ 100 million in government funding will result in approximately $ 150 million in projects,” he said.
Under the new law and regular 2021-22 revenue contributions from marijuana excise taxes, the Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, along with other revenue streams, will provide approximately $ 210 million to the BEST program in 2022.
“We were in a position where, fortunately, we were able to restore many of the cuts we made last year,” says Moreno.
Moreno said BEST’s financial projections tend to be skewed because the program is funded from multiple sources across the state. This can result in a bigger balance than predicted – especially in marijuana tax revenue, which hit record highs in 2020, despite early expectations that pot sales would decline during the pandemic.
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Hilal is a Metropolitan State University of Denver alumni with a degree in political science. She has written for Denver Life Magazine and 303 Magazine, and is the current cannabis intern for Westword.