Construction Defects Compromise Redux: Oh Lordy, Kumbaya

Denver’s Beauvallon, a construction-defects horror story.

As the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover reports, a hammed-up drama that most ordinary people couldn’t care less about, the years-long campaign by condominium builders to shield themselves as much as possible from legal liability over defects in their construction, is nearing a possible solution after numerous fits and starts this session:

After four years of failed negotiations, business leaders and Democratic Colorado legislators finally have reached an agreement to move forward a bill that will reform construction-defects law with the aim of jump-starting what is largely a non-existent condominium construction market…

Just three weeks ago, Rep. Alec Garnett, the Denver Democrat leading negotiations with reform backers, announced that talks had hit a major impasse over demands from business leaders that the statute of limitations on discovering purported defects not be extended by as much as six months while condo owners vote on whether to proceed with a lawsuit.

However, a variety of interest groups agreed late Tuesday to reduce the time frame for extending the statute of limitations by just 90 days while narrowing the types of homeowners that could not vote in the election and defining more specifically how that election will occur, said Mike Kopp, the president and CEO of Colorado Concern who had a lead role in the negotiations…

Condominiums now make up less than 3 percent of the new housing stock in Colorado, and builders say they are unwilling to build because current law makes it too easy for just a small group of homeowners association board members to file multi-million-dollar defects lawsuits.

The change that brought parties back to the table on House Bill 17-1279 isn’t a dealbreaker for either side, and this bill preserves the right of condo owners to file suit instead of being forced into binding arbitration to resolve their claims. The position of homeowners’ groups and attorneys who represent homeowners in construction defects claims was always that preserving legal rights for homeowners is their hard limit. What this bill does do is put the decision in the hands of homeowners directly via an election instead of HOA boards, and requires notification of homeowners that a lawsuit might affect their ability to quickly sell their property.

Everyone agrees that Colorado needs more affordable housing, and suburban cities want to make the most of new trends like transit-oriented development. Although builders want to place the blame solely on being made to stand behind their work, there are more complicated market forces in play–as well as politics, since in recent years it’s arguable that builders had a straightforward political motive for not pursuing condo projects.

If the final bill passes with this latest compromise, all parties seem prepared to live with it–and in theory, new condo starts should pick up. Democrats led by Rep. Alec Garnett deserve credit for not abandoning their principles while working hard to get a deal that will finally put this inside-baseball issue to rest.

As for the public, they couldn’t care less–but if their condo’s roof starts leaking, they expect it to be fixed.

Bennet Bites Back Over “Auto IRA” Plans

Sens. Cory Gardner (left) and Michael Bennet.

A behind-the-scenes battles in Washington that could have impacts on upcoming legislative debates in Colorado–not to mention existing policy in several other states–flared up today. The U.S. Senate voted to overturn an Obama-era easing of regulations to allow local governments to set up retirement savings plans for workers that don’t otherwise have coverage. Politico wrote about this under-reported fight this week:

As soon as this week, the Senate is poised to overturn two Department of Labor rules that concern retirement savings. But instead of tying firms in red tape, the rules actually reduce the burden of regulations on states and businesses trying to help people save for retirement. So repealing them would put the obstructive regulations right back in place.

The disagreement stems from laws passed in five states—California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland and Oregon—that require employers without 401(k)-style retirement plans to automatically enroll their workers in state-run retirement accounts. The idea is to create a new, automatic retirement-saving option for themillions of workers who don’t have access to any kind of retirement plan that deducts from their paycheck. (Though auto-enrolled, workers could opt out.)

Those laws might not seem like they’d involve the federal government at all, except that a 1974 law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), ties employers up in a number of rules if they establish or maintain a worker’s retirement account. ERISA is intended to protect workers, but it also makes retirement plans more costly to run, and is a big part of why many smaller employers don’t offer 401(k) plans. When the five states passed the new savings law, firms started to worry they’d be held liable to ERISA standards, making the new laws just as expensive as running their own 401(k)s, even though they only function as middlemen.

So last fall, the Department of Labor issued two rules—one for states and one for municipalities—providing a “safe harbor” so that auto-IRA plans will not fall under burdensome ERISA requirements. These “safe harbor” rules are the ones the GOP wants to roll back.

Today, the Senate voted to re-impose the old rules on local governments who operate these kinds of savings plans–and Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado took to social media to condemn the move:

Colorado’s other U.S. Senator Cory Gardner voted the other way–but there’s reportedly some hope he might be brought around to support state-based retirement plans on a separate but related measure the Senate hasn’t yet voted on. This could all become first-person relevant to Colorado with legislation introduced in the state legislature, House Bill 17-1290, which would create a Colorado Secure Savings Plan. It’s our understanding that the bill does have a provision for dealing with changes from Washington, but obviously it wouldn’t be desirable.

These locally-administered “auto IRA” programs have support from progressive economics and fiscal policy groups, since they give workers without other long-term retirement savings options a low-overhead way to participate–which pays major dividends later in life both for workers and governments who would otherwise pay to support them in retirement. Bennet is on the right side with his Democratic base here, and we’ll be watching to see if he can peel Sen. Gardner off before the next vote.

Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

Developers Torpedo Best Construction-Defects Deal They’re Likely To Get–Again

Beauvallon, a Denver construction-defect horror story.

As the Durango Herald’s Luke Perkins reports, a once-heralded deal between Republicans and Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly to address the perennially fraught issue of making it harder for homeowners in multifamily developments to sue builders over defects in construction is coming apart:

The Homeownership Opportunity Alliance, which is a group of community leaders backing efforts to reform construction defects litigation, has pulled its support on two bipartisan measures aimed at easing the problem.

Assistant House Minority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said the alliance voted Tuesday night to pull its support from House Bill 1279, which would require a homeowners association gather a simple majority of votes from unit owners in order to pursue litigation for defects.

A dispute concerning the period of time available for HOAs to gather votes and how it would affect the time frame when litigation could be brought forward by homeowners caused the alliance to pull its support.

The bill had been scheduled for committee hearing Wednesday, but it was postponed after the alliance’s decision. The measure would pause legal maneuvers for 120 day while votes for moving forward with litigation were gathered from homeowners.

This would extend the period when contractors would be liable for defects by an additional four months, Garnett said. “You’re willing to say: ‘We don’t want anything; this is worse than having significant reform moving forward because of 120 days.’ That makes me suspect.”

As the Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning reports, nothing seems to be good enough for builders short of forcing homeowners into binding arbitration–a nonstarter with homeowners’ association groups and activists on the issue:

“I’m frustrated that the folks who seem to care most about this issue continue to move the goal posts,” Garnett told reporters at a media briefing. [Pols emphasis] “I’m just frustrated that we got to that point and there’s unanimous opposition from this huge coalition that represents everyone who wants to work in this space,” he added.

The [Homeownership Opportunity Alliance], allied with the 40-member Metro Mayors Caucus, has pushed hard without success in recent years for legislation to rewrite the rules governing how homeowners can pursue complaints against condominium builders for construction defects. Earlier this session, the groups backed a Republican-sponsored Senate bill that would have set many of the same steps as House Bill 1279 while also requiring homeowners to submit to binding arbitration or mediation before filing a lawsuit, a provision Democrats reject, saying it denies homeowners the right to pursue claims in court.

This latest compromise between Democratic Rep. Alec Garnett and GOP Reps. Cole Wist and Lori Saine was hailed by House Speaker Crisanta Duran as the long-awaited solution to a problem that the legislature has been unable to “solve” for years running. The Build Our Homes Right coalition, which has consistently fought attempts to fully take away homeowners’ rights to sue while working in good faith, were prepared to accept it as a compromise that didn’t go too far against homeowners.

But just as we’ve seen in years past, nothing short of shunting all construction defect claims into arbitration will suffice for the builder industry. It’s important to keep in mind that the “shortage” of affordable condos in the Denver metro area cannot be conclusively traced back to any individual policy, like laws that allows homebuyers to sue over defects. The correlation vs. causation at the heart of this debate is in no way settled, and opponents of these bills say the situation is being manipulated–at best–by builders to gut basic protection for consumers from shoddy workmanship.

With builders showing the same lack of good faith they’ve demonstrated for years now on this issue, we think it’s time for the legislature to step back and think about what the whole point of this exercise is. As honest attempts at compromise are shot down by the industry’s lobbyists, maybe we should revisit who is benefiting–and what problem we’re really solving.

Voters? Screw The Voters, Says Sen. Kevin Lundberg

Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R).

A story from the Denver Post’s John Frank today that will make your blood boil–at least 65% of you, anyway:

Months after Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved a medical Aid-in-Dying ballot initiative, three conservative lawmakers blocked money to implement the new law on moral grounds.

The objection is one of a handful of examples in which Republican lawmakers used their clout to reject spending in the $26.8 billion budget bill that violated their social conservative beliefs.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration requested permission to spend $44,041 from existing fee collections to meet a requirement in the new law to compile data about the use of life-ending, doctor-prescribed medication…

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 106 last year, after all–by the highest margin of any initiative that passed in 2016 in fact–a far greater margin than many other ballot initiatives that have passed in Colorado and are now considered uncontroversial settled law. As part of implementing the new law, appropriating a modest amount to cover data about how the law is being used seems like a no-brainer.

Unless you’re a Republican on the Joint Budget Committee of the Colorado General Assembly, that is:

“I find that (law) so morally offensive I cannot in any good conscience be voting for using taxpayer dollars for any part of this process,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican budget writer. “There might be a requirement in the law, but there’s no requirement in the Constitution” to vote for this money. [Pols emphasis]

And carrying out their responsibilities to implement voter-approved Proposition 106 isn’t the only area in which JBC Republicans are playing political games with the budget:

Other budget requests this year negated by Republican budget writers for largely ideological reasons included $5.1 million in federal dollars for the state’s health care exchange; $745,000 for a biennial student health survey that asks about sex and drugs; $18 million for housing programs for the homeless; and an expansion of a program to provide driver’s licenses to immigrants living in the country illegally.

It’s not unheard of for lawmakers on the powerful JBC to use their position to take potshots on pet political issues, but the number and significance of these moves this year is raising eyebrows. It’s possible that Republicans are taking more aggressive action locally to keep pace with acrimonious national politics, but that’s not supposed to be the way we do business in Colorado. In Colorado, we’re supposed to take pride in a bipartisan budget process that’s kept free–or at least freer–of partisan political games.

But this year, not even the overwhelming will of the voters is above the fray.

Why The Hell Would Republicans Oppose This Bill?

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D).

The Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover reports on the curious story of Colorado House Bill 17-1270–bipartisan legislation that would accomplish a long-stated goal of Republicans in the state legislature, easing the “regulatory burden” on small businesses by allowing the state some flexibility on fines and a window to fix problems without penalty for minor first-time rule violators:

After helping to kill a Republican effort in the Colorado Legislature earlier this month to offer regulatory reform to small businesses, Democratic state Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp on Tuesday put her own regulatory-reform effort before a House committee, pushing the measure through its first test but running into partisan opposition that eventually could spell its doom.

House Bill 1270, which the Arvada Democrat is co-sponsoring with Roxborough Park GOP Rep. Polly Lawrence, requires that state agencies offer businesses of 50 or fewer employees 30 days to cure violations of new rules that don’t involve the public health or safety, and it gives them discretion to allow those companies even more time to seek remedies without getting fined…

The new effort differs from Senate Bill 1 in that it lowers from 500 workers to 50 the threshold for businesses that can be given the extra leniency by the state, and it gives agencies discretion to work more cooperatively with companies rather than forces them to do so.

SB 1 passed out of the Senate on a somewhat bipartisan 24-11 vote but died on a Democratic-led party-line vote on March 2 in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee — the same committee that passed HB 1270 by a tally of 9-4.

Republicans in this committee hearing yesterday were generally hostile towards the bill, despite the fact that it has bipartisan sponsorship and aims to accomplish a long-sought Republican policy goal. That appears to be because the bill only protects “small businesses” under 50 employees–a number that we think might honestly be a little flexible if Republicans were to join the process constructively, though the GOP’s goal of defining “small business” under the bill as 500 employees or fewer seems too excessive.

Regardless, this is a bill that would do something Republicans say they want–regulatory relief for small business. Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp has a reputation for being pro-business in the ways that matter most to her suburban district, and that means helping out small businesses. To be perfectly honest, we don’t really care much for this kind of regulation defanging for-its-own-sake exercise. The best regulatory relief we can think of for any business is, sorry to be rude about this, compliance.

But if the GOP isn’t willing to get on board with a significant concession to their framing on the issue of government regulations, more or less handed to them on a plate by pro-business Democrats, you have to ask whether they’ve lost sight of their priorities.

And maybe what their priorities really are.

The Trump Budget: 15 Threats to Opportunity in Colorado

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

President Trump released his “Skinny Budget” March 16, a broad outline of his priorities for the federal budget.  He proposes to increase spending on defense by $54 billion and pay for it with cuts to other areas.

Based on our initial review of the data provided, we find his budget to be shortsighted.  It chokes off investments that promote opportunity for moderate- and low-income Americans and shifts the costs from the federal government to the states and families. It hurts many of the people who Trump claims to represent and, when coupled with his other proposals on health care and tax reform, will exacerbate income inequality.

While there’s not much data in the skinny budget – he put more details in some of his tweets –Trump’s vision for America is clear.

About $8 billion or 30 percent of Colorado’s $27 billion total operating budget for this year comes from the federal government, most of it going to health care, human services, education and transportation.

While important, federal funding to the states has been declining for decades when measured as a percentage of the overall economy. Nationwide, federal spending on grants to the states is lower today than it was over three decades ago in 1980.  It is substantially lower than it was in 2010, with discretionary spending down by about one-third since then.

Here are some of more egregious proposed cuts and how they make it difficult for Coloradans to get ahead economically.

(more…)

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (March 21)

Colorado State University lost its game Monday, so you can stop pretending to care about the NIT. Please settle in as we 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…

► House Republicans are still working toward a Thursday vote on Trumpcare, and the President himself is on Capitol Hill making threats and demands. As the Washington Post reports, President Trump’s tough talk may not be enough to sway skeptical Republicans:

President Trump went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning to sell the House GOP leadership’s plan to overhaul the health-care system as the legislation races toward an expected vote on the House floor by the end of the week. Assuring Republicans that they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’ ” Trump said, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured and that conservative holdouts would continue to press for a tougher bill.

“I’m still a ‘no,’ ” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”

After meeting with Republicans, Trump predicted “a real winner” following Thursday’s planned vote, though Politico also reports that members of the Freedom Caucus were not swayed by Trump’s appearance. Colorado Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) also says that he has not yet decided whether to support Trumpcare.

 

► Denver Judge Neil Gorsuch continues to take tough questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the first part of his confirmation hearing to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch was asked repeatedly this morning about how he might rule on cases relating to abortion, as Politico explains:

Gorsuch declined to say whether Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, was correctly decided more than four decades ago.

The comments came in an exchange about legal precedent with Grassley, who appeared eager to stave off Democratic attempts to pin Gorsuch down on controversial issues.

Roe “is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch testified.

“I’m not in a position to tell you whether I’d personally like or dislike any precedent. That’s not relevant to my job,” Gorsuch in the discussion with Grassley. “Precedent … deserves our respect. And to come in and think that just because I’m new or the latest thing I’d know better than everybody who comes before me would be an act of hubris.”

When asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) whether he viewed Roe as a “super precedent,” Gorsuch responded: “It has been reaffirmed many times, I can say that.”

Last weekend, the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University confidently proclaimed that Gorsuch would help to overturn Roe v. Wade. These are the same geniuses that think you should boycott the new Beauty and the Beast movie.

 

► Senate Republican leaders in the Colorado legislature killed a bipartisan measure intended to make adjustments to TABOR in order to free more money for education and infrastructure needs. Republican leadership instead offered up its own solution for dealing with Colorado’s budget woes…nah, just kidding.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump… (more…)

Nyet, Comrade: Senate GOP Leadership Kills GOP TABOR Fix

Sen. Larry Crowder.

As the AP’s James Anderson reports:

A Senate committee led by Republicans who oppose tampering with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights on Monday defeated a measure to ask Colorado voters if they want to keep more tax revenue for roads, education and health care.

GOP Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa wanted to ask voters to change the way limits on state revenue are calculated under TABOR, the constitutional amendment adopted in 1992.

But the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee voted 3-2 along party lines to reject the bill.

Colorado Senate GOP leadership made no attempt to conceal their opposition to House Bill 1187, which would have changed the revenue limit under the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights from being indexed against inflation and population growth to personal income growth:

Peter Marcus of the Colorado Springs Gazette adds:

What was unique about House Bill 1187 was that the bill was sponsored by two Republicans: Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa. It picked up one additional Republican vote in the House when Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, supported it.

The bill had the support of two other Republicans in committee – Reps. Polly Lawrence of Littleton and Phil Covarrubias of Brighton – but they pulled their support when the bill was up for a final vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

Right-leaning advocacy groups at the capitol led by the Independence Institute reportedly put intense pressure on the few “backsliding” Republicans willing to support asking the voters for this fix–which is supposed to be consistent with the spirit of TABOR, but in practice TABOR’s so-called defenders in the legislature reliably oppose.

This outcome is not unexpected of course, and in light of the transportation deal leadership in both chambers is also struggling to get through the Republican gauntlet, it’s a reasonable question whether the timing was right for this. Either way, certainly this has been one of the most visible bipartisan pushes to relax TABOR’s chokehold on state revenue since 2005’s Referendum C. And the case made by Rep. Dan Thurlow and Sen. Larry Crowder was compelling even while it was ignored by the Senate “kill committee.”

“We have to fix the process in order to make logical decisions on the budget,” Thurlow said recently. “If they want us to prioritize, they have to take away the restrictions.”

Crowder’s rural southern Colorado district has suffered because of budget-balancing tactics that include reducing fees paid by hospitals to secure matching federal funds. Those fees are counted as state revenue under TABOR, and when they are cut to balance the budget, rural hospitals get less.

“If you look at it realistically, what are we doing here if we can’t govern?” Crowder said. “There is no holy grail in government. Period. Including TABOR.” [Pols emphasis]

A commendable effort that deserves better than it got yesterday from the Senate State Affairs committee. Here’s to this small crack in the highest wall in Colorado politics growing bigger next year.

Make America Great (Except for Science, Arts, and Poor People)

President Trump unveiled his federal budget plans today, and HOLYCRAPWHATAREYOUTHINKING? As the Washington Post reports:

President Trump on Thursday will unveil a budget plan that calls for a sharp increase in military spending and stark cuts across much of the rest of the government including the elimination of dozens of long-standing federal programs that assist the poor, fund scientific research and aid America’s allies abroad.

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

The cuts could represent the widest swath of reductions in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II, probably leading to a sizable cutback in the federal non-military workforce, something White House officials said was one of their goals.

“President Trump’s proposed budget will have devastating consequences for our country and for Colorado. I will do my best to fight against the cuts affecting hardworking families, federal employees, businesses and research organizations.”

— Congressman Ed Perlmutter (D-Jefferson County)

Trump probably doesn’t have the support in Congress to enact this budget proposal, which includes dramatic cuts to popular programs that nobody in their right mind would stand behind. Indeed many Congressional Republicans reacted with swift opposition. Again, from the Washington Post:

Congressional Republicans also protested cuts that might hurt their districts and states. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who had been White House budget director under President George W. Bush,  issued a statement “strongly opposing” Trump’s proposed elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Portman vowed to “fight to preserve” the program, which he said had been “an invaluable resource” to Ohio by generating more than $80 billion in benefits in health, tourism and recreation. [Pols emphasis]

Yeah. Good luck finding a lot of Members of Congress who are willing to look the other way while popular local initiatives get whacked. The attack ads for someone like Sen. Portman virtually write themselves (here’s an outline of the specific programs that would be all but eliminated under Trump’s proposal). In fact, congress may be protecting Trump from himself by opposing this plan; as Politico explains, the result of Trump’s budget proposal would be a devastating blow to a good number of Trump voters:

But while Trump’s first stab at budget politics has some eye-popping cuts, if passed it would also hurt many of the voters who supported him as a result of its slashing of after-school programs, job training and disease-fighting research — a line item that both Republicans and Democrats tend to support.

Unless the Department of Defense is ready with an advanced new weapon that can blow up cancer and keep kids from getting in trouble after school, Trump’s $54 billion in extra defense spending isn’t going to mean squat for most Americans.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (March 14)

If you’re having trouble reading today’s edition of Get More Smarter, note that we are also sending it out via microwave ovens. 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…

► Republicans from Capitol Hill to the White House may publicly insist that Monday’s CBO score of Trumpcare is bogus, but reality is likely to intervene. As the Washington Post reports:

The worse-than-expected Congressional Budget Office forecast seems certain to force meaningful changes to the Obamacare repeal bill now under consideration in the House.

An alarm bell for GOP leadership: Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) is exactly the kind of mainstream conservative whose support House Speaker Paul Ryan needs to secure passage of his pending legislation. After reading the CBO report last night, he came out against the plan…

…Senate Republicans are making it increasingly clear that the House bill, as presently constituted, will be dead on arrival in their chamber.

The Congressional Budget Office estimate that Trumpcare would leave 24 million Americans without health insurance might have actually been generous compared to a separate analysis from the White House. As Politico reports:

A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

The preliminary analysis from the Office of Management and Budget forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates. [Pols emphasis] The White House has made efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO.

 

► An increasing number of prominent Republicans are backing away from Trumpcare in the wake of Monday’s news (“Let’s say the CBO is half-right; that should be cause for concern,’’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham), but Congressional leaders are still trying to convince members to choke down this shit sandwich. The Republican-aligned “American Action Network” is running advertisements praising Congressional Republicans — including Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) — for committing to support the Trumpcare disaster. On Monday, Coffman said that he supports the GOP healthcare bill “in its current form.”

 

► Conversations at the State Capitol about a potential sales tax increase for road construction are getting more convoluted as conservative Republicans balk at the idea. From the Denver Post:

How troubled is the much-acclaimed deal at the Capitol to spend $3.5 billion on Colorado roads to relieve traffic congestion?

Here’s the best indication to date: The No. 2 Republican in the state Senate said Monday he is proposing an alternative to the measure unveiled last week by the Senate’s No. 1 Republican.

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg calls his effort “supplemental” but the proposal is a clear alternative to the one put forward by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran.

Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said his draft bill would not increase taxes and would use $100 million in existing state dollars to cover a much smaller $1.3 billion bond, which is only enough to improve small local roads. [Pols emphasis]

Way to get a handle on your caucus, Sen. Grantham.

 

 

Get even more smarter after the jump… (more…)

Trumpcare Would Leave 24 Million Without Health Coverage

Vice President Mike Pence announcing support for Trumpcare last week (Sen. Cory Gardner is on the left of the photo)

The numbers are in! As the Associated Press reports, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reviewed the House Republican healthcare plan, also known as Trumpcare, and the math doesn’t look good:

Fourteen million Americans would lose coverage next year under House Republican legislation remaking the nation’s health care system, and that figure would grow to 24 million by 2026, Congress’ nonpartisan budget analysts projected Monday. [Pols emphasis] The figures dealt a blow to a GOP drive already under fire from both parties and large segments of the medical industry.

The report by the Congressional Budget Office flies in the face of President Donald Trump’s aim of “insurance for everybody,” and he has been assailing the credibility of the CBO in advance of the release. Administration officials quickly took strong issue with it.

Congressional Republicans and The White House had anticipated poor marks from the CBO, which is why they spent much of the last week talking about how little confidence they had in the CBO’s forecasting abilities. But today’s CBO report may be much worse than Republicans could have predicted; remember those claims that Obamacare is unstable and on the verge of collapse? Yeah, not so much:

“Insurance for everybody!”

— President Trump speaking about GOP healthcare plans in January.

 

It also undercuts a central argument that he and other Republicans have cited for swiftly rolling back former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul: that the health insurance markets created under the 2010 law are unstable and about to implode. The congressional experts said that largely would not be the case and the market for individual health insurance policies “would probably be stable in most areas either under current law or the (GOP) legislation.”

“Nobody will be worse off financially…”

— Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, speaking about Trumpcare on Sunday.

Today’s report also undercuts statements made by President Trump just this morning, when he said, “Things are gonna be very bad this year for the people with Obamacare. They’re gonna have tremendous increases.” As it turns out, according to the CBO, Trumpcare would cost Americans much more than Obamacare:

…The budget office found that average premiums for individuals would rise in 2018 and 2019 by 15 percent to 20 percent compared to current law, because Republicans would eliminate the penalties designed to induce people to buy insurance coverage.

Aside from the fact that Trumpcare will leave 24 million people uninsured and will be more expensive for those who can still manage to get coverage, this is a great piece of legislation!

All Eyes on Cory Gardner: Protect Main Street, not Wall Street

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

By Rich Jones

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

A critical vote could come in the U.S. Senate as soon as this week. And Sen. Cory Gardner has the chance to stand up for his constituents instead of appeasing Wall Street interests lobbying him to stymie local and state efforts to tackle our nation’s retirement needs. Nearly 800,000 Coloradans have no access to retirement plans at work and many businesses struggle to offer their employees low-fee options. Colorado is selling itself as a start-up friendly state. But few entrepreneurs can easily offer benefits like retirement programs. Making it easy for everyone to begin building wealth early in their careers helps all Coloradans.

Last month, the U.S. House approved H.J Res. 66 & H.J. Res. 67 and sent these ill-conceived measures to the Senate. They would bar state and local governments from creating low-fee savings plans that help people without options at work to get a jump start on saving.

Our country faces a retirement crisis of epic proportions. The U.S. Census bureau just released data showing that 55 million Americans have no retirement plan at work. Even worse, the average retirement savings is a paltry $5,000.

When individuals save, states do too. Economists in Utah found that if retirees who had the smallest nest eggs had boosted their savings by just 10 percent, or about $14,000 on average during their working years, taxpayers could have spent $194 million less to support them.

Given the gravity of the crisis, it’s perplexing that members of Congress would want to halt innovation in the states, especially Republicans who have long touted states’ rights. These plans have the backing of numerous state officials — including many Republican state treasurers — in Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, and Utah.  The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures urges the Senate to defeat H.J. Res 66 writing, “Passage of this resolution … will result in an unwarranted preemption of state innovation, will restrict the ability of millions of hardworking Americans to save for retirement, and will prove costly to federal and state budgets”.

Dig beneath the surface on the vote in the House and you’ll see that many Congress members are trying to pay back their pals in the finance industry who don’t want average Americans to have low-fee, automatic alternatives. Senators should be more sensible and help workers of all ages save for their later years.

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GOP Lawmakers Say Reform TABOR! GOP Leaders Say, “Meh”

Colorado Senate President Snidely Whiplash Kevin Grantham.

Peter Marcus of the Colorado Springs Gazette reports on the ongoing effort by a pair of Republican lawmakers, Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa, to enact a change to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights that would allow the state to keep more revenue when economic times are good–by changing TABOR’s revenue cap growth index from the rate of inflation plus population to the growth of personal incomes in the state.

Senate Republican leadership on Tuesday described an effort to reform TABOR as “interesting,” though leaders say it is not representative of the majority of the caucus’ priorities.

Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City responded when asked about the proposal, which has sponsorship from two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa.

The lawmakers are proposing that the state’s spending cap under TABOR — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution — be tied to personal income rather than the current formula: inflation plus population change. The idea is that government would be allowed to grow when economic times are good…

Crowder and Thurlow have both ran afoul of conservative advocacy groups at the state capitol over stands that deviated from the hard party line. Crowder in particular angered well-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity with his DOA proposal last year to exempt the state’s hospital provider fee from TABOR’s revenue limit, one of the biggest public breaks for a Republican from the pro-TABOR orthodoxy since 2005’s Referendum C backed by then-Gov. Bill Owens. Like in 2005, what we’re seeing today is TABOR forcing an arbitrary limit on revenue the state can keep–creating the bizarre conundrum of meager tax refund checks going out to citizens while basic functions of government face heavy budget cuts.

So it’s great to see this effort from two Republican lawmakers to make a small but sensible change to TABOR: one that preserves the law’s stated objectives, while not imposing a limit to revenue growth that deprives the state of the ability to carry out essential functions to serve our growing population. But unfortunately, Thurlow’s and Crowder’s good intentions are hitting a wall with the GOP leadership in the Colorado Senate:

“It’s an interesting concept,” [Senate President Kevin] Grantham said. “We have to look at what’s the end result of what this bill will do. The end result will be more money out of taxpayer’s pockets. They like to call that state revenue. When I hear that, I hear money out of taxpayer’s pockets.” [Pols emphasis]

And with that, any chance of an adult discussion of this Republican-authored proposal to help the state to carry out its basic responsibilities…evaporates.

Better luck in 2019, we guess.

Worst Construction Defects Bill Ever?

Denver’s Beauvallon, a construction-defects horror story.

Denver7’s Lance Hernandez reports–the issue of reforming state law as it pertains to homeowner rights to sue builders over defects in the construction of their homes, in particular multifamily residential developments, has been an annual flashpoint in the Colorado General Assembly for several years. Lobbyists for construction companies claim it’s “too easy” to sue over defects, while homeowners say the only “problem” is that builders don’t want to stand behind their work.

After some talk of bipartisanship on the issue early in the session, Republicans in the Colorado Senate “moved beyond” the compromise that had been agreed upon between themselves and the Democratic House, and introduced legislation that would crack down on homeowner’s rights. Among those bills, GOP Sen. Jack Tate’s Senate Bill 155 might be the shortest in length–and the most brazen in terms of screwing homeowners:

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-Weld County, seeks to redefine the term “construction defect” to mean, “a defect in the design or construction of any improvement to real property that causes damage, the loss of use or personal injury.”

“It’s absurd,” said Fort Collins homeowner Michael Pretz. “You have to have a bad outcome before you can consider it a construction [defect].”

Pretz said he and his neighbors sued their developer because some of the attics in their townhomes didn’t have adequate drywall between the firewalls, and because retaining walls were not built with adequate anchors.

“I worked in the fire service for 35 years,” he said. “When you get a fire that goes unchecked from unit to unit, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

Pretz said under this proposed bill, you wouldn’t have any recourse unless there was a fire that caused significant damage. [Pols emphasis]

Requiring homeowners to suffer the consequences from a construction defect before being able to sue to fix it goes against any reasonable policy goal of harm reduction–for the sole purpose of reducing the liability of construction companies to situations where their shoddy workmanship has actually hurt people. We think most people would agree it’s a lot better to get a known construction defect fixed before it hurts people, even if that’s maybe not the most financially advantageous situation for construction companies.

It’s one of those bills that’s so bad you can hardly believe a legislator had the gall to put their name on it.

And yet here we are.