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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Get More Smarter on Friday (September 29)

The next time you read this, it will be October. 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…

► Governor John Hickenlooper is blasting Republican lawmakers over their tantrum about a special session called by the Governor to fix an error in the “Hospital Provider Fee” legislation. As Brian Eason reports for the Denver Post:

In a fiery press briefing, an agitated Gov. John Hickenlooper took swipes at GOP leaders, saying Republican lawmakers had turned next week’s special session into a “political circus.”

Hickenlooper earlier this month took the extraordinary step of calling lawmakers back to Denver for their first special session in five years — a move he said was needed to fix a bill-drafting error that has cost special taxing districts such as the Regional Transportation District millions of dollars in marijuana revenue.

But Republicans, who control the state Senate, have balked at the need for a special session, saying there’s no emergency and the error can be fixed when lawmakers return to the Capitol in January.

Despite the GOP opposition, Hickenlooper on Friday pledged to press forward with the special session, announcing that the affected taxing districts have offered to pay for the $25,000-a-day session out of their pot sales taxes once the revenue stream is restored — a move apparently aimed at sidestepping one of the political arguments against it.

Republican lawmakers apparently had their feelings hurt because they say Hickenlooper didn’t do enough “outreach” with them before calling the special session. As we’ve written before in this space, this temper tantrum from Senate President Kevin Grantham and friends is a really bad look heading into a 2018 election cycle that already looks difficult for Republicans.

 

► Former Congressman Tom Tancredo is inching closer and closer toward running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018. Tancredo revealed on Thursday that he met this week with former Trump advisor and current Breitbart boss Steve Bannon about entering the race. Bannon is leading a national effort to push back against establishment Republicans; his cause picked up a big win this week when Roy Moore won a Republican Primary for U.S. Senate in Alabama.

For more on Tancredo, check out this interview with Stan Bush at CBS4. Tancredo tells Bush that there is polling data showing him at the top of the Republican field for Governor.

 

► Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the Air Force Academy, deserves a standing ovation for his response to racist messages found at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School this week. As CNN reports:

When someone left racist slurs on the message boards of five black cadet candidates at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School, the academy’s superintendent didn’t even try to suppress his outrage.

In a video making the rounds on social media and posted to the Air Force Academy’s Facebook page, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria ordered his cadets to line up and pull out their phones.

“If you can’t treat someone from another gender, whether that’s a man or a woman, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out,” he said. “If you demean someone in any way, then you need to get out. And if you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

“If you’re outraged by those words, then you’re in the right place. That kind of behavior has no place at the Prep School,” Silveria said…

…”It’s the power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, that we come from all backgrounds, gender, all make-up, all upbringing,” he said. “The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

Well done, sir. Well done.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Sen. Ray Scott’s Legal Battle Isn’t Going Super Well

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, the ongoing legal exchanges of fire between GOP Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and a wholesale supplier of his fireplace business continue–and it’s not going well for Sen. Scott:

In a ruling issued last week, U.S. District Judge Michael E. Hegarty said Scott’s company, Gas Products Corp., was in breach of contract with fireplace manufacturer Montigo Del Ray Corp. and owes Montigo $9,583.

Hegarty also dismissed Scott’s claim that Montigo interfered with prospective customers by telling GPC clients that GPC was having problems paying its bills, saying that in 2009, Scott’s past-due balances were as high as $110,000.

The judge, however, deferred execution of the monetary judgment against Scott until a final judgment is rendered on other claims against Montigo that Hegarty ruled should go to trial, which include misappropriation of trade secrets, civil conspiracy and interference with existing contractual relationships.

Basically, the court ruled that the case against Sen. Scott is valid–but counterclaims from Scott against the company need to be resolved before money changes hands. But despite the fact that a trial is scheduled for December on the matter, the Sentinel continues:

“We are in the heat of negotiations,” Scott said. “I can’t disclose it, but it’s probably going to be wrapped up in a few days.”

The story of Sen. Scott’s acrimonious legal battle with a wholesaler in his private business dealings blew up into much wider exposure than the Grand Valley after court documents were published alleging that Scott had made a threat to the company using his status as an elected state legislator. The Sentinel reported in late August:

Scott filed his lawsuit after Montigo made several attempts to collect payments it claims Scott’s company owed. Not long after those collection attempts, Scott sent an email threatening to use his position in the Legislature against the manufacturer.

“I would think that someone who could protect your interest in this market and who serves on the energy commission would be a huge benefit, or I guess could be a huge problem under the right circumstances,” [Pols emphasis] Scott wrote to Montigo executive Scott Baron in September 2012, a month after his distributor contract was terminated. “Wow. Now politics enters the picture, didn’t expect that one.”

Interestingly there is no mention of those remarks in today’s story, but that seems to certain to stay relevant going into that December civil trial.

Unless, of course, the trial doesn’t happen! We can certainly see Scott having an incentive to settle the case quickly now, preferably with no further mention of the allegation that Scott threatened to use his elected position for private gain. Civil settlements usually enjoin the parties against saying nasty things about each other, which would work out smashingly well for Ray Scott–especially since his betters in Colorado Senate leadership say they’re waiting to see how the case is resolved before they do anything.

Do you see how it could all get convenient? Because we can. Stay tuned though, because there’s at least one more procedural hurdle fro Scott to get through before this can get swept under the rug.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (September 28)

You can read this standing or kneeling. Or even sitting. 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…

President Trump and Congressional Republicans unveiled their new tax plan on Wednesday, and while the rollout was short on details, some of the major potential impacts are not hard to understand. As Vox.com reports:

Here is what you need to know about the Republican tax plan released Wednesday: It’s not a tax reform plan at all.

It is a sketch of an outline of a preliminary notion of a tax cut for some — and a tax hike for others. The components read like the jumble of ideas you might expect a table of slightly inebriated Chamber of Commerce types to shout out when polled for their tax reform suggestions…

…We can identify at least one taxpayer who will hugely benefit from the proposal: President Donald Trump. We still haven’t seen his tax returns, but thanks to leaked documents we know that at least at some point in the past, the only income tax he paid was the alternative minimum tax (the AMT). We also know that his businesses operate through “pass-through” vehicles (partnerships, LLCs and S corporations). A regular corporation pays tax on its income; shareholders in turn pay tax on the dividends they receive. In pass-through vehicles, by contrast, business income is taxed only in the hands of the owners of the business, rather than at the entity level.

The Republican tax plan eliminates the AMT, which would be a significant benefit to one Donald J. Trump.

Republican rhetoric about their tax plan is oddly reminiscent of Congressional attempts to repeal Obamacare, as NBC News explains. For more of a Colorado-based perspective, check out this analysis from 9News.

 

► Earlier this week, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) challenged former Rep. Tom Tancredo to run against him in a Republican primary in CD-6. Tancredo threw down a different gauntlet in prodding Coffman to run against him in a Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018.

 

► The big election-related news this week was Tuesday’s Republican Senate Primary in Alabama, where Roy Moore ousted establishment favorite Luther Strange by a sizable margin. Moore’s victory is causing much hand-wringing among Republican leaders who worry that right-wing candidates will be emboldened to challenge incumbent Republicans in 2018. But as CNN notes, there were two other important election results this week that portend bad news for the GOP in a General Election:

In Florida, Democrat Annette Tadeo won a Republican-held state Senate district 51% to 47%. In New Hampshire, Democrat Kari Lerner beat a former Republican state representative to fill a state House district that Donald Trump won by 23 points last November.

Those twin wins make it eight Republican-controlled state legislative seats that Democrats have flipped in 2017 alone. (Republicans flipped a Democratic state House seat in Louisiana earlier this year although Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in that race.)

That means that of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them — a remarkable number in anycircumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.

Approval ratings for Republicans overall reached a record low this week, and the generic “Democrat or Republican” ballot question now has Democrats with a +9 advantage. If these trends hold, Republicans are in danger of losing both chambers in Congress next November.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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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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Governor To Senate Republicans: Clock Your Sorry Asses In

Senate President Kevin Grantham (R).

9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper has declined the “request” from Senate President Kevin Grantham to call off next week’s special session of the legislature to fix a drafting error in a fiscal stabilization bill pass this year that’s costing special tax districts millions of dollars–in more polite terms than we would:

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) is unwilling to call off the special session of the state legislature he scheduled to begin on October 2, his office tells 9NEWS.

In an interview Thursday for Balance of Power, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham asked the governor to call off the special session, arguing that Republicans weren’t brought on board.

The special session is aimed at fixing a mistake lawmakers made in a tax bill earlier this year, which accidentally blocked so-called “special districts” like RTD from collecting sales tax on recreational marijuana.

“The governor has circled back with stakeholders who have reiterated the need for a special session,” the governor’s press secretary Jacque Montgomery wrote in a statement. “He certainly appreciates that a special session may be inconvenient for some legislators, [Pols emphasis] but special districts and their residents trying to get to work on a bus or visit a beloved cultural institution should not have to pay for an inadvertent mistake. The right thing to do is come together, fix it quickly, and be done with it.”

The bottom line here is that the governor has the power to order the Colorado General Assembly to convene, but once that happens the General Assembly can do what it wants–including adjourn if that’s what they choose. The Democratic-controlled House will of course take the action requested by the governor, but the obvious question is whether GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham will allow the fix legislation–in all likelihood the same bill introduced by fellow GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg for the 2018 session–through his chamber. In the next few days, we expect affected stakeholders and editorial boards across the state to make it plain to Grantham that this is not an acceptable pretext to “starve the beast.” The argument that fixing this mistake “can wait” until January is not supported by special districts who asked the governor to intervene–and the cost of the special session is a tiny fraction of the revenue those districts would lose in that time.

What will break this logjam? Republicans realizing that the political cost of digging in their heels over a drafting error going into a tough midterm election exceeds any potential benefit. The attack this sets up against Republicans, that they are once again choosing political games over elementary responsibility, could be quite damaging in close Senate races next year.

And have we mentioned recently that Senate Republicans have no margin for error in 2018? Stay tuned.

No Nibiru, just rural Democrats causing trouble.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

So the world didn’t end today (yet). I  bet a 6th grader a chocolate bar that we’d still have class Monday.  His older brother had told him for sure that September 23 was it. Young students are all on Facebook, gobbling up and sharing every bit of fake news and conspiracy theory out there.

The eclipse, the hurricanes, and the earthquakes proved that doomsday was at hand.

This didn’t happen. Nibiru hitting earth, debunked on Snopes.com

My more sciencey students rushed to debunk this: “If there was a planet about to hit the earth, we would have seen it coming! Planets don’t just jump out of their orbits and go wherever they want! NASA says it’s not true. ”

I love that they’re paying attention in science class, and using evidence-based arguments.

But, no Nibiru in sight. Just another day, living the dream in northeast Colorado. Something else surprising is happening, though….Democrats are organizing in Northeast Colorado, and in rural counties all over the state.

At Octoberfest, it was chilly and drizzly. Felt like fall.  The Morgan County Democrats were boothed next to the American Legion, so we had lots of opportunities to chat while we waited for people to stop by.

I quickly found that we could talk about anything as long as I didn’t directly criticize the President. They could criticize him, though, and did. “Needs to take a Speech 101 class,” said a spry old gentleman who later showed off his world-class polka moves. “He’s embarrassing us with all the tweeting,” confided a lifelong Republican.

Democrats were zeroing in on us, too. “You have a booth? Here? How many Democrats are in Morgan County?” Turns out, about 3,000 registered Dems to about 6,000 registered Republicans, with ~4,500 unaffiliated. Dems have kept rather quiet until now, what with that 2:1 disadvantage.

But those days are gone. Dems had big, loud, crowded floats in all of the recent town parades.

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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.

Get More Smarter on Monday (September 18)

A lot of stuff happened in the political world over the weekend; let’s get you caught up. 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…

► Senate Republicans are making a last effort at repealing Obamacare before the September 30th deadline to move the legislation under budget reconciliation. But as the Washington Post reports, the GOP still hasn’t solved its biggest issue:

Senators pushing a last-ditch Obamacare repeal effort this week are up against the same old problem: math.

This small group of Republicans — led by Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — appear convinced they can rework the equation to secure  that ever-elusive 50th vote for their measure, finally passing a bill overhauling the Affordable Care Act with a tiebreaking vote from Vice President Pence and moving closer to their goal of repealing and replacing President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

There will be a lot of moving parts to watch this week. Republicans have asked the Congressional Budget Office to rush a score of the Graham-Cassidy bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) office confirmed yesterday. McConnell plans to take the temperature of his leadership team and his entire conference over the next few days. They have only two weeks left to scrape together enough support, since the budget reconciliation bill they’re using expires at the end of the month.

But despite all the noise being generated on Capitol Hill, Cassidy and Co. still appear to be shy of the vote total they’d need to succeed. Cassidy says he’s certain they have 48 or 49 Republican votes for his bill. But getting that final, 50th vote is the crucial — and the hardest — part.

 

► Colorado Republican lawmakers have been making plenty of noise lately in response to news that Gov. John Hickenlooper is calling a special legislative session for October 2. The legislature needs to fix an unintended problem related to SB-267 (Hospital Provider Fee) that is costing organizations such as RTD and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (i.e., the Denver Zoo and Museum of Natural History) millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Republicans have been all over the place on their messaging but have generally expressed manufactured outrage at the idea of a brief special session. As Colorado Pols reported late Friday, however, GOP lawmakers already knew about this problem and had even filed draft legislation to fix the error — which pretty well destroys any argument that the special session isn’t necessary.

 

► Corey Hutchins does a nice job explaining the redistricting/reapportionment controversy for the Colorado Independent.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Must-Read: Dive Deep Into Redistricting Smoke and Mirrors

Earlier this month, a renewed effort to “reform” the state’s process for redistricting and reapportionment of Colorado’s congressional and state legislative districts respectively–a reboot of a redistricting ballot measure that the courts threw off the 2016 ballot. The group of former legislators and other public officials behind the effort haven’t changed much from last year, being led by former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty and including others like former Rep. Kathleen Curry–who disaffiliated from the Democratic Party before losing a bid re-election as an unaffiliated candidate.

One of the major reasons the last initiative failed was a perceived failure on the part of organizers, while claiming the effort was “bipartisan” and aimed at including all stakeholders, to include large portions of the community in the process of developing the initiative. Voting and civil rights organizations complained that the plan would limit minority representation in the redistricting process. In the end the initiative for 2016 was disqualified because the Colorado Supreme Court determined its scope to be to broad for the state’s “single subject” requirement.

Yesterday, the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins posted a must-read recap of last year’s failed effort, and how it morphed into the so-called “Fair Districts Colorado” campaign currently taking shape. And although the packaging has been updated, it doesn’t seem like the product has gotten any better. We can’t excerpt the whole story, so make sure you click through and read the whole thing:

A coalition that launched a revamped plan it says would take partisanship out of how state and federal political districts are drawn is facing suspicions about its motives in a state with a bitter history that has left its district maps stained with bad blood…

In Colorado, this redistricting plan isn’t new— but readers could be forgiven for thinking so.

Initial write-ups on the proposal in mainstream newspapers and the alternative press did not point out that the effort isn’t new. The plan is similar to one put forward in 2015 and 2016 by some of the same people involved in this latest effort.

…Knocked down last year, the group — then called End Gerrymandering Now — vowed it would try again. It included former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty and former GOP Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, as well as former Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, PR pro Rich Coolidge, and ex-lawmaker Kathleen Curry, a Democrat who later became unaffiliated.

All of them are working on this new proposal in a campaign they are now calling Fair Districts Colorado. They launched a new website last week…

Across the nation there is a plausible case to be made that congressional and state legislative districts in many states have been skewed to favor the party in charge of the process. Because Republicans made big gains in state legislative races across the nation in 2010, adding to control they already enjoyed in many state houses, this has frequently meant districts drawn to favor the Republican Party–with attendant consequences that include suppression of traditionally Democratic communities of color.

But not in Colorado. In our state, an era of Democratic dominance in state legislative politics that began with 2004’s “Colorado Model” takeover of the General Assembly put Democrats in charge. In the 2011 redistricting/reapportionment process, two different drafting and approval processes tried to balance the statutory and constitutional requirements of new district maps with an unwritten priority of keeping districts as competitive as possible. If you followed the high-drama but ultimately successful 2011 process in Colorado, and witnessed the results in subsequent elections carried in the redrawn districts–featuring races all over the state hotly contested to the bitter end and decided by hundreds of votes–you can see the wisdom of their approach gainfully at work.

And above all, the maps drawn in 2011 for Colorado haven’t been that bad for the party out of power when they were drawn. The proof of that is as easy to find as Colorado’s majority Republican congressional delegation and control of the state senate. Are we saying the process in Colorado can’t be improved upon? Of course not. But it’s a lot better than the horror-story gerrymandered states people read about. And that’s a point voters in Colorado need to understand.

Which brings us back to End Gerrymandering Now “Fair Districts Colorado,” and the usual suspects fronting the renewed effort to “fix” our system:

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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.

—–

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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