Get More Smarter on Thursday (October 5)

The Colorado Rockies made the playoffs this year, but you missed it if you didn’t catch Wednesday’s game in Arizona. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Tens of thousands of Colorado children are in serious trouble if Congress does not renew funding for CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program that expired at the end of September. The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday took the first step toward renewing CHIP funding with a bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma).

 

► Today is the last day for DACA recipients to renew permits before the process is closed under a policy shift announced last month by the Trump administration.

 

► Colorado Senate Republican leaders pledged not to do their jobs when the legislature convened for a brief session to fix an unintentional legislative error this week, and they succeeded in doing nothing once again. But the decisions of Republican leaders such as Senate President Kevin Grantham are looking even worse with the news that legislation to fix SB-267 would have passed in the Senate had a floor vote been permitted.

State Sen. Chris Holbert is among those Republican leaders whose reputations took a hit this week. Holbert was quoted by the Denver Post saying that he “did not swear an oath to uphold the opinion of a court” and preferred to follow his constituents’ interpretation of the State Constitution rather than, you know, facts.

 

► Former Judge Roy Moore, who easily defeated Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican Primary in Alabama last month, showed up unexpectedly in Washington D.C. on Wednesday and caused quite a stir. As the Washington Post reports, Moore apparently met with NRSC head Cory Gardner, despite the best efforts of both men to pretend othewise:

Rather than meeting with McConnell, Moore was on the House side of the Capitol on Wednesday. In a brief interview as he left the office of Rep. Robert B. Aderholt in the afternoon, Moore said he had no meetings set up with McConnell or members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate majority’s campaign arm, which spent millions trying to defeat Moore in the primary.

“Nothing confirmed,” he said casually, as an aide tried to head off questions. Asked why he decided to come to Washington, Moore simply replied: “Beautiful place.”

In the evening, Moore met with the NRSC chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), according to a Republican close to Gardner and a second Republican familiar with the talk who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door session. Moore’s campaign declined to comment.

The meeting appeared to be hastily arranged, given Moore’s afternoon remark and Gardner’s uncertainty earlier in the day, as he and other Republicans struggled to save face.

“I haven’t looked at the schedule — I don’t know that yet,” Gardner said around midday, when asked whether he planned to meet with Moore.

The entire story is worth a read; Republicans who feared Moore and his right-wing supporters seem to have plenty of reason to be nervous. Moore’s Senate campaign was also a referendum on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom the Alabama nominee has openly criticized.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Winners and Losers from Special Session are Obvious…and Troubling

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham does the bidding of AFP

The special legislative session ended on Tuesday when Senate Republicans killed the second of two bills aimed at fixing an unintended glitch from the 2017 session that is costing special tax districts millions of dollars.

As Ernest Luning writes for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, the “winners and losers” from the special session help tell an all-too-familiar tale of an era where right-wing special interest groups have a stranglehold on Republican lawmakers. The big winner this week, as Luning explains, is the Koch brother-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP):

The conservative organization hit the special session early and hit it hard, mobilizing hundreds of members and supporters to contact legislators to make their opposition clear, and it worked. Not every Republican was on board with the strictest reading of TABOR’s requirements when the call went out, but by the time lawmakers filled the Capitol, AFP’s approach was widely shared and set the tone for the GOP. A deluge of digital ads over the weekend ahead of the session — five figures’ worth, state director Jesse Mallory said — helped reinforce the party line. The session also gave AFP a second chance to whack at Senate Bill 267, which has come under heavy fire from conservatives for lifting the state’s revenue ceiling allowed under TABOR, as well as flouting a constitutional requirement that a bill have a single subject.

Luning lists Senate Democrats as the only other “winner” of the special session, arguing that Senate Republicans put themselves in a tough spot with the voting public as they try to maintain their one-vote majority in the state Senate.

The big losers of the special session are easy to find: Colorado’s middle and working class. Buses, hospitals, museums and zoos will all suffer because Senate Republicans were more interested in proving their fealty to AFP than in doing right by hard-working Coloradans:

Nine special districts across the state — from the Denver metro area’s Regional Transportation District and Scientific and Cultural Facilities District to regional transportation authorities in El Paso County and some mountain towns and a hospital district in Montezuma — won’t be banking a total of roughly $590,000  in recreational marijuana sales tax each month the law remains as it is…

…the governor said he was calling the session because special districts insisted they faced a funding emergency — and couldn’t wait until January for a regular-session fix — and they came up empty-handed.

Republican lawmakers will tell themselves that they did the right thing because groups like AFP are happy, but as the Denver Post opined on Monday, “none of that background noise justifies blocking the simple-fix legislation.”

BREAKING: GOP Kills Pot Tax Funding Fix, Special Session Fails

UPDATE: Colorado House Democrats aren’t happy with this outcome:

“We presented a constitutionally sound measure to fix a mistake that will impact Coloradans across the state,” said Majority Leader KC Becker, House sponsor of HB17B-1001. “Unfortunately, after we assembled for the special session, the other party chose to waste this opportunity to get this right. It’s very disappointing that they chose partisan politics over Coloradans who have repeatedly asked for these services.”

HB17B-1001 would have corrected what all parties agree was a drafting error in SB17-267, a bipartisan bill passed during the 2017 regular session that averted more than half a billion dollars in cuts to hospitals across the state. Among the earlier bill’s many provisions was a change to the collection of revenues on retail marijuana. The drafting mistake unintentionally prevented some special districts – the Regional Transportation District and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in the Denver metro area, as well as rural transportation districts across the state, a housing district in Summit County and a hospital district in Montezuma County – from collecting revenues on retail marijuana sales.

“We’re talking impacts to real Coloradans,” Speaker Duran said. “The Summit County worker who’ll have a harder time finding an affordable apartment. The Lakewood retiree who needs the bus to get to the grocery store and the doctor. The voters have asked for these services and it’s unfortunate that this unintended omission will continue to have impacts for Coloradans.”

Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman:

“The Colorado General Assembly was not at its best over these past two days, and that is profoundly disappointing. This error is costing counties like Pitkin, Eagle, and San Miguel thousands in transportation dollars, and could result in services like rides for the disabled being cut, or perhaps bus fares being increased,” said Senator Guzman.

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That’s the word from the Colorado Capitol moments ago: the special session of the Colorado General Assembly called by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a drafting error in legislation that has cut off special tax districts around the state from marijuana tax revenues will end in failure after the GOP-controlled Senate Transportation Committee killed the House’s bill:

This outcome wasn’t a surprise, of course, having been signaled clearly last week by GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham when he called for the governor to rescind his order for the special session. There will be much more to say about the failure of Senate Republicans to cooperate with fixing what everyone agrees was an unintentional mistake that is costing special tax districts from Denver RTD to the Montezuma Hospital District millions in lost revenues. And when the legislature reconvenes in January, GOP good faith is by no means assured–apparently now being divided into camps that agree the legislature can address the problem, versus those who claim that any such error no matter how silly in tax policy legislation is constitutionally required to go to the voters. If the latter camp prevails, the special districts are looking at much greater losses in the coming year, and no guarantees even then.

Which amounts to a completely ridiculous outcome. Anyone who thinks this makes the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) or the law’s dogmatic defenders look good has got rocks in their heads.

For the “business community” and others who have supported Republicans and paid lip service to the benefits of split control of the legislature–but also supported fiscal policies like the hospital provider fee, the FASTER vehicle registration fees, and fixing the error in SB17-267–this outcome is a slap in the face. Or at least it should be, if the constructive and moderate image these interests want to project has any meaning at all. Once again, we have Republican leadership over the narrow Senate majority killing what basically everyone else in the state wanted to see happen. If Republican Senate leadership had wanted this bill to make it to the floor, it would have, and it would have passed with bipartisan support just like it passed the House.

Could Democrats have managed the politics of this special session better? Of course–but in the context of obstruction and bad faith from one-third of the elected government of the state, you can’t blame Hickenlooper or Democrats for what happened. This was not even one side of the aisle, but one faction of that one side, who was more interested in pleasing ideologues than doing the right thing. It will be an election issue in 2018.

Stand by for updates.

Special Session Kicks Off With (Wait For It) GOP Bad Faith

UPDATE #4: The editorial board of the Denver Post tears into Republicans for their actions today:

Colorado’s Republican lawmakers blew off responsibility on the first day of a special legislative session Monday, when three GOP lawmakers cast a spiteful, obstructionist vote to score political points and punish innocent government entities with small but significant erroneous budget cuts.

Clearly, the three Republican senators who cast that very vote on Monday, signaling the end to the October special session just as it began, don’t have an answer for their scorn-worthy actions.

As we wrote in this space on Friday, refusing to do their job isn’t going to have a happy ending for Colorado Republicans.

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UPDATE #3: Meanwhile, a more hopeful picture in the Colorado House as the SB17-267 fix passes its first committee with bipartisan support:

Good job, Rep. Dan Thurlow, but make sure somebody else taste-tests your dinner tonight.
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UPDATE #2: The first attempt in the Colorado Senate to fix SB17-267 dies in the Transportation Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

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UPDATE: In the interest of transparency, we’ve posted the full text of the draft bill from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg to fix the SB17-267 glitch after the jump. Perhaps it will inspire more interested parties to question why exactly we can’t do this now…?

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Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

As Joey Bunch of the news outlet formerly known as the Colorado Statesman reports, the Colorado House and Senate have gaveled in and are now starting the process of debating legislation to fix a drafting error in Senate Bill 17-267: an error costing special tax districts millions of dollars in uncollected tax revenue.

How far they get in that process, though, is anybody’s guess:

Colorado Senate Republicans said Monday morning, at the dawn of special session, they needed the extra three and half months before the next regular session to find a solution to fix a bill they helped mess up in the last regular session.

“There’s been a lot of controversy and firestorm about what’s getting ready to happen here today, and a lot of back of forth with the first floor, the governor’s office, whether we’re going to have a special session or not have one and what’s going to happen,” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said Monday morning.

As of this writing the Senate Transportation Committee is hearing legislation to fix the error, so we’d say the question of whether “to have a special session or not” is moot. But the question remains wide open as to what the one-seat GOP Senate majority will allow to get through their chamber, if anything. Following up on our first report about a bill already in the works from GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg for the 2018 regular session in January, reporter Marianne Goodland has Sonnenberg ignominiously walking back the whole thing:

Sonnenberg had been working on a draft bill intended to address the problem, but a bill he didn’t plan to introduce until next January. And Sonnenberg indicated Sunday the bill doesn’t address a growing concern over the constitutionality of the fix. The measure’s intent to restore revenue to special districts that were inadvertently stripped of those dollars is now raising questions whether voters will ultimately have to decide that issue…

But since he began working on that draft, Sonnenberg’s views on the constitutionality of the fix have changed. He told Colorado Politics that once the draft started circulating, legislative leaders started raising questions about whether the fix, which would restore tax revenue to those special districts, might be something voters will have to decide.

After Republicans came under pressure from activist groups like the Independence Institute and Americans for Prosperity-Colorado announced their displeasure with Gov. John Hickenlooper for calling the special session, Sen. Sonnenberg’s bill explicitly acknowledging the problem and showing the roadmap to a relatively easy fix became a serious political liability–not just for Sonnenberg, but every Republican groping for a reason to oppose the special session. So the screws got turned, and Sonnenberg appears to have lost his nerve.

The argument that voter approval is required to fix this error simply doesn’t hold water. On the matter of marijuana taxes, Colorado voters have weighed in three times in recent years–in 2012 with the passage of Amendment 64, and then twice more with Propositions AA and BB clarifying that yes, despite whatever faulty language in the original proposal that may not have fully complied with the byzantine 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), the people do want marijuana to be taxed.

Once you understand the details here, forcing special tax districts to wait for the legislature to convene in January–or worse yet, making them wait for a referred measure that likely wouldn’t come before next November–is a completely needless breakdown of functional government. In any practical messaging sense, this is a terrible predicament for Republicans to launch a defense of TABOR from. In this case, they are using an interpretation of TABOR so stilted that basically no one agrees with them except perhaps for TABOR’s convicted felon tax evader author Doug Bruce. And they are using it to do real harm, over what everyone agrees was an unintentional mistake.

Most observers we’ve talked to do believe legislation to fix this error would pass the Colorado Senate if it makes it to the floor. So as of now, the choice of whether the special session will be a further waste of money in an effort to fix an error that’s costing much more money rests with GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham.

Stay tuned for updates as they come in.

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Republicans Compound Bad Ideas with Bad Decisions

“Privacy Scarf,” Senate President Kevin Grantham

“There are no bad ideas, just bad decisions.”

You’ve probably heard a variation of that quote at some point in your life, and there are plenty of examples to back it up. The “Privacy Scarf” was an actual (bad) idea that someone once had for a new product. Fortunately, nobody ever made the equally-bad decision to invest money in the mass production of this product.

Where you really get into trouble in life is when you follow up a bad idea with a bad decision…which brings us to Colorado Republican lawmakers and next week’s “special session.” Two weeks ago, Governor John Hickenlooper called for a “special legislative session” so that lawmakers could make a quick fix to an inadvertent error from the 2017 legislative session, and Republicans are now pledging to not do their jobs.

To briefly recap the situation, a key bipartisan fiscal stabilization bill (SB17-267) was passed this year and signed into law to protect rural hospitals from possible closure. Unknown to either its Democratic or Republican sponsors, the bill contained a drafting error that has had the effect of eliminating marijuana sales tax revenues collected by special tax districts around the state – two of the better examples being Denver RTD and the Denver metro’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SFCD), which includes the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Natural History; RTD alone stands to lose millions of dollars in uncollected revenue between now and when the legislature reconvenes in January. Rural hospitals and transportation districts also face significant revenue losses.

As John Frank writes for the Denver Post, these revenue shortfalls necessitate a quick fix to the problem that can’t wait for the legislature to reconvene in January:

The sense of urgency in certain parts of the state is what prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to call state lawmakers back into a special session to fix legislation that mistakenly exempted retail marijuana from sales taxes in nine special districts around the state.

But not all share the same outlook. The leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate made clear they plan to adjourn the special session without passing legislation to fix the glitch. [Pols emphasis]

Republican lawmakers, led by Senate President Kevin Grantham, are all bent out of shape over the idea of the special session. The GOP’s opposition here is more about hurt feelings than anything else, with Republican leaders complaining that Hickenlooper didn’t do enough to consult them before calling the special session.

What Republicans cannot do with a straight face is pretend that this is a problem that doesn’t need fixing; state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg was already preparing legislation on the matterOn Friday, Hickenlooper called out Republican lawmakers over their stubborn refusal to work with Democrats to address the problem, as Brian Eason reports for the Denver Post:

“What do they benefit? (How) does the conservative principles of the Republican Party benefit?” Hickenlooper said. “The only people who really benefit are the marijuana smokers and fundraising support of the Republicans.

“This is turning into a political circus,” he added. “It defies logic, from my perspective.”

Are Republicans really going to show up for the special session on Monday and essentially just refuse to do their jobs? Approval ratings for the Republican Party recently hit an all-time low, in large part because people are fed up with the GOP’s inability to get anything done; yet here again Republicans are preparing to hand Democrats another stick to beat them with in 2018? This kind of boneheaded decision could prove fatal for the re-election hopes of someone like state Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, who is already on record opposing the original legislation.

This debacle for Grantham and friends is similar to how someone like Sen. Cory Gardner ends up paralyzed on healthcare reform because he is terrified about what a couple of big donors are saying. Republicans seem to be so completely beholden to a handful of interest groups that they can no longer even register the tar pit right in front of them.

Get More Smarter on Monday (September 25)

Coloradans are not going to back President Trump over the Denver Broncos. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Arizona Sen. John McCain may have torpedoed Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare, but the rhetoric out of Washington D.C. suggests that the Senate might still try to force a vote this week. Senate Republicans made some changes to the Graham-Cassidy legislation that is the topic of debate this week, but as the Washington Post reports, it’s probably not enough to get the bill across the finish line:

The Republican senators at the forefront of the latest effort to undo the Affordable Care Act proposed Monday sending more health-care dollars to the states of key holdouts, hoping to keep their bill viable as it faced a wall of resistance on Capitol Hill.

Republican Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) have given Alaska and Maine — two of whose GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), respectively — have expressed concerns but not yet declared how they would vote on the measure.

But there was little evidence Monday that the changes would secure enough votes for the legislation’s passage. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who is one of two GOP senators against the bill, reiterated his opposition to the updated measure, and the other lawmaker, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), has objected to it on the grounds that there has been no bipartisan outreach…

…A vote by Collins or any other senator would be enough to defeat the bill, since no Democrats are expected to support it. Republicans hold a 52-to-48 advantage in the Senate and can lose only two votes from their party and still pass legislation with the help of a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Pence.

 

► Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) was quoted by the New York Times on Friday telling his fellow caucus members that Republican “donors are furious” over the GOP’s inability to move healthcare legislation forward; Gardner was a guest on the CBS show “Face the Nation” on Sunday, where he was asked twice to comment about the idea that repealing Obamacare was more about appeasing major donors than anything else. Gardner did as Gardner does by ducking both questions.

 

► State Treasurer Walker Stapleton finally made his announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for Governor in 2018.

 

► Governor John Hickenlooper responds to Republican legislators who have been voicing their opposition to a “special session” called for next week. In short: We’ll see you on Monday.

 

► Check out the latest episode of “The Get More Smarter Show,” featuring an in-depth interview with Joe Neguse, Democratic candidate for Congress in CD-2.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Get More Smarter on Friday (September 22)

Welcome to the first day of Autumn. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have torpedoed the last best hope for Republicans hoping to repeal Obamacare before a budget reconciliation deadline of Sept. 30. From the Huffington Post:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Friday that he doesn’t support the latest Obamacare repeal bill, all but ensuring Republicans’ last-ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act is dead in the water.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” McCain said in a statement.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” he said. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full [Congressional Budget Office] score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”

As multiple news outlets are reporting, McCain’s statement of opposition to the Graham-Lindsey healthcare bill all but ensures the legislation’s demise. The major flaws in Graham-Cassidy were too much for McCain to ignore. While this is another blow to Senate Republican leadership, it also provides a convenient exit strategy for Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), who had absurdly claimed that he was “undecided” on the legislation when he is more worried about angering major Republican donors.

Coloradans such as Sarah Metsch can also exhale — for the moment, anyway.

 

► Colorado Republican opposition to a “special session” called by Gov. John Hickenlooper is getting more and more ridiculous by the day.

 

► The Washington Post reports on escalating rhetoric between President Trump and North Korea. If you’re looking for a silver lining here, at least Americans are learning a new word.

 

► The Trump administration is making changes to its “Don’t Call it a Muslim Travel Ban. From the New York Times:

President Trump’s ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans said on Friday.

The new restrictions, aimed at preventing security threats from entering the United States, could go into effect on Sunday after the conclusion of a 90-day policy review undertaken as part of the administration’s original travel ban. Though the restrictions would differ for each country, people living in the targeted nations could be prevented from traveling to the United States or could face increased scrutiny as they seek to obtain a visa.

As part of the review, administration officials said that the Department of Homeland Security initially identified more than six nations that were failing to comply with security standards that could block terrorists from entering the United States. Officials notified the governments in those nations that travel to the United States could be severely restricted if they did not increase those standards. It was not clear which countries would be targeted under the new restrictions or exactly how many would be affected.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Special Session: This Is Completely Ridiculous, Kevin Grantham

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reports on one of the most bizarre and outrageous spectacles we’ve seen from the one-seat Republican Colorado Senate Majority–and that is no small statement:

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City) has a message for the governor about the special session scheduled to start in less than two weeks: call it off.

“In this case, the toothpaste can be put back in the tube,” Grantham said in an interview Thursday for Balance of Power. “He should rescind the order.”

…Asked if he need to take Grantham’s suggestion seriously and consider calling off the special session, Hickenlooper said he wants to talk it over with the parties involved.

To briefly recap the situation, a key bipartisan fiscal stabilization bill (SB17-267) was passed this year and signed into law to protect rural hospitals from possible closure. Unknown to either its Democratic or Republican sponsors, the bill contained a drafting error that has had the effect of eliminating marijuana sales tax revenues collected by special tax districts around the state–two of the better examples being Denver RTD and the Denver metro’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SFCD). RTD alone stands to lose millions of dollars in uncollected revenue between now and when the legislature reconvenes in January, which is why Gov. John Hickenlooper called the special session to deal with the problem now.

And that’s where this all gets, well, rather infuriating:

“We’ll certainly talk to the special districts of course,” Hickenlooper said, adding that he wants to discuss Grantham’s concerns in depth. “I don’t understand where this is coming from, but obviously there must be some reason, so I’ll obviously want to sit down and talk to him.” [Pols emphasis]

…As for the special session, no one meant to cut off special districts from marijuana taxes—a fact Grantham freely admits.

However, he and his fellow Republicans do argue the special session is unnecessary and that the fix can wait until the next regular session of the legislature in January.

As we first reported late last week just as Republican objections to the special session were starting to make the news, GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (a prime sponsor of SB267) has already filed draft legislation for the 2018 session that would fix the error created by leaving special tax districts out of SB267. There’s no disputing the nature of the problem, and Sonnenberg’s bill shows how simple the fix would be. A special session of the legislature costs approximately $25,000 a day, so accounting for the minimum time required for legislation to pass the General Assembly means a total cost of under $100,000.

To save special districts from millions in lost revenue. How is this not a no-brainer, you ask?

…But it does inconvenience the 100 members of Colorado’s part-time legislature. Members are back at their day jobs or traveling in the off period.

“Certainly it bugs me,” Grantham said. “It bugs a lot of folks that are in the legislature, Democrat and Republicans, that we had to do this right here and right now.”

That’s right, folks! Senate President Kevin Grantham is annoyed about doing his job. The only thing that Grantham can hope for here is bigger political news driving this story down the page, because it is hugely embarrassing for Grantham and the one-seat Senate majority. Under the hood, political insiders understand that Republicans were divided on the passage of SB267, with outside agitators like the Independence Institute basically calling the deal a crime against the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights up against rural lawmakers like Sen. Sonnenberg who couldn’t stand by while hospitals closed. Sonnenberg himself has been mentioned as a possible congressional candidate in the event Rep. Ken Buck doesn’t run again, and aggrieving the TABOR purists in the Colorado GOP isn’t an auspicious way to enter a Republican primary.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that lawmakers on both sides made a simple mistake–and rather than take the equally simple action needed to rectify that mistake before it costs millions, Senate Republicans are refusing to do their jobs. Their ulterior motives are irrelevant, because there’s just no excuse for this based on their stated rationale–or lack thereof. It is absolutely, irredeemably contemptible.

And for the tenuous Republican majority in the Colorado Senate, it could be political suicide.

Special Session Shenanigans Nearing Point of Absurdity

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

As the countdown to the October 2nd kickoff of a special session of the Colorado General Assembly to address a drafting error in legislation this year that’s costing special tax districts like RTD Denver millions in uncollected marijuana tax revenue, 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman tried to sort out earlier this week the whys and wherefores:

Colorado’s 100 state lawmakers will trudge up the capitol steps for at least three days of extra work in October—all because of a technical error in a bill they passed earlier this year.

The major political parties don’t agree on whether this is an emergency that warrants calling a special session—the next regular session in only months away in January—but they do at least agree on what the problem is…

By removing marijuana from the group of things subject to regular sales taxes, special districts and other limited purpose governmental entities could no longer collect sales tax on retail marijuana.

“Consequently, those entities have experienced, and will continue to experience, reductions in revenue that jeopardize their ability to provide services to their constituents… a correction is needed to ensure services are not unintentionally diminished,” said Hickenlooper in the executive order.

As we discovered late last week, Republicans not only are aware of the error in this legislation that’s costing special districts millions, GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg had already filed a draft bill for the 2018 legislative session to fix the error. In their initial angry response to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s executive order calling the special session, Republicans never once mentioned this critical detail.

After we exposed the existence of a Republican bill to accomplish the goal of the special session last Friday, Sen. Sonnenberg responded:

The problem? That statement is ridiculous. Every month that goes by is costing money to these special districts, something that everyone agrees was not intended. Waiting until January would cost RTD alone an estimated $3 million–far more than the cost of a special session. If the problem is worth fixing at all, why would you not avert the loss of millions of dollars to these districts by acting now? It just doesn’t make sense.

Here’s the real problem: Sen. Sonnenberg, the prime Republican sponsor of this year’s grand bargain legislation that included the drafting error cutting off special districts from marijuana tax revenue and a possible future congressional candidate, has taken heavy fire from far-right activists at the Independence Institute and Americans for Prosperity for what they see as an apostasy against the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Their position, that a statewide campaign and vote was needed to make the changes in this year’s bill, wasn’t agreed with by Gov. Hickenlooper, the state’s Republican attorney general, or the majority of legislators–and in the end AFP lost the fight and SB267 was signed into law.

Now that this mistake has been discovered that is costing special tax districts millions of dollars, these same activist groups are pressuring Republicans to not fix the problem at all:

As you can see, AFP-Colorado has leapt right past the question of whether to fix the problem now or wait until January–by declaring that any such fix requires a statewide vote of the people. That’s not a position either directly or indirectly supported by legal opinions from the AG or rulings by the Supreme Court, who have consistently interpreted TABOR in favor of allowing the state to carry out basic functions–and yes, to get around TABOR’s obtrusive yet narrow wording where necessary in order to do so.

Look, we get that TABOR’s defenders view it as obligative to defend the 1992 law’s provisions to to the smallest semantic detail, but in this case they are rapidly descending into self-reinforcing nonsense. No reasonable observer of this process would conclude it’s justified to demand a multimillion-dollar statewide election campaign to fix a drafting error in legislation that is doing immediate harm. If anything, this dogmatic insistence on manufacturing an unworkable situation from a simple drafting error exposes the underlying motivations of the law’s defenders: to make it harder to govern. To blame the system instead of fixing the error. To use the hurdles TABOR imposes to break government, not to fix it.

This kind of intransigent nonsense may be what TABOR’s convicted felon tax cheat author intended, but the 52% of Colorado voters in 1992 who voted for TABOR should be horrified by the destructive nonsense their vote 25 years ago is being used to justify today.

BREAKING: GOP Special Session Shenanigans Confirmed

UPDATE: You may have noticed that the deadline dates listed in the draft bill in question (below) erroneously state 2017 as the coming legislative year. Since this legislation was filed last week, it’s obviously intended for the 2018 legislative session.

Thus illustrating again that errors, you know, happen. And then we fix them.

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As we reported earlier today, Gov. John Hickenlooper has called a special session of the Colorado General Assembly to convene early next month for the purpose of remedying a drafting error in Senate Bill 17-267: the large-scale bipartisan fiscal bill that averted large cuts to the budget this year, and in particular protected rural hospitals from possible closure. Although this language fix would save Denver RTD and the metro Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SFCD) from millions of dollars in unexpected cuts due to marijuana tax revenue they would not receive, Republicans appear to be rallying against making the fix–preferring instead to blast Hickenlooper for the “waste” of calling a special session to deal with the problem.

But we just found out something very important. Republicans already know about the problem.

This is an excerpt from a draft bill filed by GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg on September 5th. This draft legislation appears to accomplish the aim of the special session–ensuring that special taxing districts like RTD and SFCD can continue to levy their marijuana sales taxes even after the legislature exempted marijuana from the state’s regular sales tax:

Because state law specifies that the regional transportation district (RTD), the scientific and cultural facilities district (SCFD), and a health services district (HSD) may levy sales tax only on transactions upon which the state levies sales tax “pursuant to the provisions of article 26 of title 29. C.R.S.”, the exemption of retail marijuana sales from the general state sales tax had the unintended consequence of exempting such sales from RTD, SCFD, and HSD sales taxes even though the state continues to levy the retail marijuana sales tax pursuant to article 28.8. of title 39, C.R.S. In addition, other statutes that authorize certain special districts and authorities to levy sales taxes only upon transactions upon which the state levies sales tax but do not specifically reference article 26 are sufficiently ambiguous that they could also be interpreted to no longer authorize those special districts to levy sales tax on retail marijuana sales.

The bill clarifies that retail marijuana sales are subject to RTD, SCFD, and HSD sales taxes as well as other potentially affected special district and authority sales taxes.

Folks, this is the objective of the special session–to correct this exact error, and ensure these monies continue to flow to these special tax districts. To fail to pass this fix bill as quickly as possible will mean lost revenue for these entities. That’s why Gov. Hickenlooper called the special session.

Obviously, the fact that Republicans not only knew about this problem, but had already filed a draft bill for the 2018 legislation to address the problem, severely undercuts their feigned outrage over being called back to address it sooner–and it means they should have no problem supporting the bill whenever they get it. We have no idea how they intend to respond to the charge of blatant hypocrisy and political posturing here, but it’s one of the more egregious cases we’ve seen in recent memory.

In fact, this is exactly the kind of nonsense that makes the voting public hate politics.

AFP: All Over The Map On Hospital Provider Fee Follies

As the Denver Post’s Brian Eason reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is calling state lawmakers back next month for a narrowly-focused special session of the legislature–the purpose being to fix an error in a key piece of legislation passed this year that is resulting in unexpected budget cuts to specific programs:

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday called lawmakers back to the Capitol to fix a bill-drafting error that has been costing Denver-based institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in marijuana revenue.

The special session set to start Oct. 2 will be the first in five years for Hickenlooper and the General Assembly, an extraordinary step for a governor who typically has deferred to lawmakers on legislative matters during his two terms.

“After hearing about the potential impact on citizens around the state, it is clear that this problem is best solved as soon as possible,” Hickenlooper said in a statement announcing his executive order, capping a day of speculation about his plans.

The error in question affects the bipartisan hospital provider fee and budget fix legislation Senate Bill 17-267, this year’s hard-won compromise bill hammered out between Democrats and Republicans led by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg that averted much larger and more painful budget cuts. Specifically, the mistake eliminated marijuana tax funding for Denver RTD and the metro area’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), along with a few other organizations, while intending to increase marijuana tax revenue–meaning an error completely counter to the bill’s intentions.

But as you might have expected, Republicans and conservative activists are howling over the special session and threatening to not cooperate–including Sen. Sonnenberg and Rep. Jon Becker, the two primary GOP sponsors of SB-267:

Intransigence that is outraging Democrats who worked with them:


As for the state’s biggest conservative advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado? Don’t bother. They’re all over the map. During the legislative session, AFP claimed to be “working with” Sen. Sonnenberg on SB-267, ostensibly to ensure it wasn’t too offensive to them. The organization was listed in lobbying disclosure forms as “monitoring” SB-267, not opposing, while then-AFP state director Michael Fields taunted Democrats about supposed GOP willingness to move forward:

And the group’s 2017 Colorado legislative scorecard–the first version, anyway–was a little confusing, but appeared to consider a “yes” SB-267 vote a good thing:

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Hickenlooper Upstages Cynthia Coffman on DACA Lawsuit

UPDATE: Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman picks a side–and it’s not the DREAMers:

“In Colorado, my office has the independent authority to take legal action on behalf of the state when I believe doing so is in the state’s best interest,” Coffman said in the statement. “In this case, I do not. Nor do I support the legal arguments in the Democrats’ lawsuit.”

In the choice between DREAMers and positioning herself for a GOP primary, Coffman chose the primary.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper and AG Cynthia Coffman.

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking action to challenge President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, standing up for some 17,000 undocumented immigrants in Colorado who came to this country as children–and could face deportation if the high-stakes game of chicken over their fate in Washington doesn’t go well:

Colorado announced Wednesday that it plans to join more than a dozen other states in a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young immigrants living in the U.S. illegally from deportation.

“President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program is outrageous and risks the futures of more than 17,000 Coloradans,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Colorado benefits when (DACA recipients) have the opportunity to thrive in our communities and the only country they’ve ever known. These young people should not have to suffer because of our broken immigration system.”

Hickenlooper added that while the legal action is “no substitute for the sort of comprehensive immigration reform that can only come from Congress, it sends a necessary message that the rule of law and basic notions of fairness still matter in this country.”

Hickenlooper is taking this extraordinary action without support from Colorado’s Republican attorney general Cynthia Coffman, a prospective GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2018:

An outside attorney will act as a special attorney general and represent Colorado in the legal action, she said. The move requires Coffman’s consent because she is the only one who can file legal challenges on behalf of the state.

Coffman, a Republican, last week suggested she wouldn’t join the other state attorneys general in suing to block Trump from dismantling DACA, saying the immigration debate “belongs in Congress.”

So-called “DREAMer” students and young people, who are the most sympathy-inspiring class of undocumented immigrants being childhood arrivals in this country who in many cases know no other culture, are supported by a large majority of the public–either for a path to American citizenship, or at the very least legal permission to remain in the country. There are really not many people in America outright opposed to protecting DACA recipients in some form–but unfortunately for Cynthia Coffman, who is trying to figure out a path to the GOP nomination for governor of Colorado next year, a lot of those opponents are GOP primary voters.

And that, dear reader, is why Coffman is reluctant to go to bat for the DREAMers.

Get More Smarter on Friday (September 8)

In these times of escalating partisan rancor, it’s nice to know that we can all come together in a shared dislike of Tom Brady. It’s time to Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Congress this morning gave final approval to a $15 billion disaster relief package in the wake of Hurricane Harvey…just as Hurricane Irma prepares to throttle Florida. President Trump is apparently quite excited that his show of “bipartisanship” this week has attracted so much positive media coverage. As NBC News reports:

Trump expressed that he was thrilled with the positive news coverage the debt limit deal had received, a senior Democratic aide told NBC News.

“The people of the United States want to see a coming together, at least to an extent. We’re different parties, we have different thoughts, different feelings, different ideas. But I think you’re coming to see a much stronger coming together,” Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday.

Earlier in the day he said he looks forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats.

You’re a good wittle President, aren’t you? Yes, you are! 

 

► Anyway, back to the hurricane news…As the New York Times reports, nearly the entire state of Florida is in danger from one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded:

One of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes ever recorded crescendoed over the Caribbean on Thursday, crumpling islands better known as beach paradises into half-habitable emergency zones and sideswiping Puerto Rico before churning north. It is expected to hit the Florida Keys and South Florida by Saturday night…

…Gov. Rick Scott of Florida urged extreme caution in the face of a powerful storm that could quickly change course. “Every Florida family must prepare to evacuate regardless of the coast you live on,” he said.

Hurricane Irma is the size of France — like, the entire country. Miami could take a near-direct hit by Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, a third potentially major hurricane, Jose, is right on the heels of Irma. And a major 8.1 magnitude earthquake was recorded off the southern coast of Mexico.

 

► Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) has already dropped his plans to push a discharge petition for a House vote on DACA. As The Hill reports:

Coffman said he made an agreement with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to hold off on gathering support for his discharge petition for the bill, which would extend protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for three years.

Coffman filed the discharge petition on Tuesday, which would need 218 signatures to trigger a House floor vote. Discharge petitions are typically used by the House minority party to bring attention to legislation ignored by the majority-party leadership — but are rarely successful.

For a member of the House majority like Coffman to file a discharge petition was an exceedingly rare move.

If you were cynical about Coffman’s newfound commitment to DACA, well, go ahead and say, “I told you so.”

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — Mike Coffman’s former spouse — doesn’t want any part of the controversy surrounding President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program for children of undocumented immigrants. Elsewhere, a group of 11 Democratic Governors are urging Congress to take swift action to assist DREAMERS.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Health Insurance: What’s Jacking Those Rates Again?

Denver7’s Blair Miller reports on approved health insurance premium increases announced today for the individual market in Colorado–plans that are more expensive for 2018 than they were this year, though not quite as bad as originally feared:

Health insurance premiums for individual medical plans in Colorado will go up by an average of 26.7 percent in 2018, and small group plan premiums will rise by an average of 6.6 percent—both slightly lower than was originally estimated earlier this summer.

The Colorado Division of Insurance released the finalized premium hikes for next year’s health insurance plans on Wednesday, nearly two months after it released the requests made by the various companies operating in Colorado…

Individual plans make up between 7 and 8 percent (around 450,000 people) of the state’s population with health insurance coverage, and more than half of Coloradans are insured by their employer.

The 26.7 percent average hike is an increase from the average 20 percent increase in individual plan premiums in 2017. In 2016, individual policy premiums went up by 9.8 percent.

The premiums don’t account for the federal tax credits offered on the state health exchange that help offset costs for people based on their income, age and location in Colorado.

As we’ve discussed many times in the past, the most sensationalized top-line increases in insurance premiums don’t reflect what most Coloradans and businesses located in the state actually pay. Increases for employer provided group insurance have been much smaller on average than for individual and small-group plans, and accounts for far more insured people. And on the individual market, premium increases are continuously offset by tax credit subsidies for premium support.

Every year since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, news of premium hikes for insurance plans has turned into a political hot potato–with Republican opponents of the law blaming reform for premium increases and freely fudging the details to make the problem seem worse than it actually was. That’s not to say premium hikes are okay–it just needs to be remembered that premiums were spiking before the ACA was passed. But this year, as a release today from the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative explains, premium hikes can no longer be laid at the foot of a now-former President:

The Congressional Republicans’ failed efforts to repeal the ACA combined with the Administration’s wavering on issues like whether to pay out cost-sharing reduction payments has created uncertainty in the insurance market. [Pols emphasis] This uncertainty, combined with claims experience, high prescription drug prices, and less competition in some areas of the state, drove up the insurance companies’ rate filings. Today, the DOI granted most of the insurers’ requested rate increases, meaning consumers who cannot access financial assistance will pay higher prices for their health care.

“The irresponsibility of this Administration and Republicans in attacking the stability of our health coverage systems is simply astounding,” said Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. “While one party looked for ways to roll back access and affordability rather than making constructive efforts to fix the private insurance market, rates have gone up and consumers will bear the cost.”

…Fox continued, “Republicans in D.C. have already cost consumers in these substantial increases to next year’s premiums, and the Trump Administration continues to sabotage the individual market by slashing funding for marketing and outreach. This change alone will lead to lower enrollments, a sicker insurance pool, and higher premiums next year. Our elected officials need to look at common-sense, bipartisan ideas like those presented by Colorado’s Governor to stabilize the individual market.”

Whether or not this translates into support for the plan from Govs. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and John Kasich of Ohio to stabilize the insurance marketplace is tough to say right now, but politically it really should. Every day that Republicans preside in the majority while these problems persist and worsen leaves them responsible in the eyes of voters for the harm being done. Arguably that’s been true for all the years Republicans refused to do anything to address issues that cropped up under President Obama–but now it’s undeniable. There’s nowhere left to pass the buck.

Donna Lynne Seeks Third Term for Hickenlooper

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne’s shadow looks a lot like John Hickenlooper.

After months of threatening to actually run for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne has apparently decided that she is really, seriously, truly going to be a candidate in 2018. As John Frank reports for the Denver Post, Lynne will formally launch her campaign for John Hickenlooper’s third term in office on Thursday:

Asked about the campaign, Hickenlooper seeks to appear impartial, but his enthusiasm for Lynne is most evident. At a recent Politico event in Denver, he gave positive marks to all the top candidates, but he gushed about Lynne, a former Kaiser Permanente executive who serves as his chief operating officer and point person on health care issues.

“I do think she is a remarkably talented person, and if she were to run and to win, she would be a great governor,” he said.

And Hickenlooper is cognizant about what his words mean. “The last thing she needs is for everyone to say, ‘The governor is trying to get her elected’ or ‘pushing her out there to do this.’ ”

But Lynne embraces the connection. She’s essentially framing her bid as “Hickenlooper, Part II.”

“I think the transition from Gov. Hickenlooper, who has a great legacy, to someone who has been at his side, who has dealt every single day with a variety of issues, is a distinguishing characteristic,” Lynne said in a recent interview. “We need a steady hand on the wheel.” [Pols emphasis]

Hickenlooper seems pretty well-ensconced behind Lynne’s candidacy, which is a noticeable shift from his position two years ago. When Lynne was selected as LG in March 2016, she insisted that she would not be a candidate for Governor in 2018. This was in line with Hickenlooper’s public position as he assessed potential successors to Lieutenant Gov. Joe Garcia, who left in late 2015 to take a job with an education nonprofit; Hickenlooper had been clear that he didn’t want to nominate someone with ambitions to seek the top job later.

While it is obvious that Hickenlooper will not be shy about backing Lynne in 2018, it’s far from clear that this will be a significant advantage for the Lite Gov. in a Democratic Primary. As Frank notes in his story for the Post:

What Lynne needs most is help raising money, particularly from small donors and a boost in name recognition among Democrats. But this is where Hickenlooper’s clout may have limits.

Unlike other elected officials, he, while in office, has not maintained an extensive email list of supporters that he can pass to Lynne, nor did he cultivate party activists, given he twice ran unopposed for the party nomination. Now, the bipartisan coalition of business leaders that he created in his successful campaigns is fracturing.

Hickenlooper’s campaign fundraiser, Rick Sapkin, and two close associates and GOP donors, Greg Maffei and Larry Mizel, are major contributors to a Republican super PAC that is expected to support state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

When Hickenlooper ran for Governor in 2010, his positioning as a centrist businessman — along with a train wreck of a Republican ticket — allowed him to maintain the support of folks like Maffei and Mizel and helped him coast to an easy victory (Hick kept that coalition largely intact in his 2014 re-election bid). While he never shied away from the “D” that followed his name on the ballot, it wasn’t until the 2016 election cycle that Hickenlooper started to act more like the top elected Democrat in the state. Hick was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and actively campaigned on behalf of many Democratic candidates running for seats in the state legislature.

The reason Hickenlooper’s backing of Lynne may not be much of a factor in 2018 is the same reason why we’ve never really believed any of the rumors that Hick might run for President some day: He doesn’t have a robust Democratic base of support. Prior to 2016, Hickenlooper showed little interest in party politics, and as Frank points out above, his political operation never made much of an effort to establish a connection with active Democrats.

Lynne’s apparent plan to position herself as a continuation of the Hickenlooper era won’t likely resonate with Democrats who don’t know much about her and don’t have a real connection to the Governor. If Lynne is going to scrape out a following that can carry her through the Primary next June, she’s going to have to forge her own path.