Loan Sharks: An Incredible Political Loser

loanshark2With the Colorado House set to take up Senate Bill 16-185 tomorrow, this year’s bill to allow subprime personal lenders to jack up interest rates on larger loan amounts, the Center for Responsible Lending is out with a poll today of Coloradans’ opinions of the subprime lending industry–and whether they agree these lenders should be able to rake in even more interest on the least qualified borrowers.

No surprise: Coloradans say not just no, but oh hell no:

Raising the cost of these consumer loans is so unpopular with voters that 77% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to vote against a state legislator who voted to increase interest rates. The strongest opposition – 93% – came from voters with household incomes of $30,000 to $50,000 the voters most likely to be affected by a proposal now before the Colorado legislature.

A bill currently before the Colorado legislature would increase the interest rates that lenders could charge on all consumer loans larger than $1,000. Senate Bill 185 would increase the interest rates on most loans by over 2 percentage points. This would result in a 10% increase in the cost of these loans. The bill, pushed by OneMain, a large lender, would cause these rates to rise higher each year. Current borrowers have an average household income of $46,000.

With reference to a prior iteration of the proposal, 89% of those surveyed said they opposed raising interest rates from 28% to 36% on a $3,000 loan. The opposition was similarly strong among Republicans and Democrats and independents. Seventy-five percent of voters “strongly opposed” increasing the rates. Senate Bill 185 woud raise the rates on such loans from 28% to over 30%, and would cause rates to rise automatically over time.

Here’s the details of CRL’s survey. These numbers reveal an industry that, although they are doing a robust business in Colorado, remains deeply unpopular with the public, and garners absolutely no sympathy from their arguments that higher interest is necessary to “remain profitable.” There’s little doubt that the industry is well aware of their dubious reputation with the public, which explains why subprime lender lobbyists have run last-minute bills two years in a row in hope of limiting public awareness of what was happening.

With support somewhere in the Paris Hilton/root canal/Republican Congress abyss, no politician with a sense of self-preservation should be caught anywhere near these loan sharks. We’ll see tomorrow if that lesson is getting through in the Democratic-controlled House, where similar legislation rushed through last year on a 62-2 vote–and left a lot of Democrats making awkward excuses to angry constituents.

Loan Shark Liability: Dems Take Aim at Larry Crowder

Sen. Larry Crowder.

Sen. Larry Crowder.

A press release yesterday from the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund calls out Sen. Larry Crowder, in a hot race against Democratic Las Animas County Sheriff Jim Casias, for his support of Senate Bill 16-185: the bill that passed the Senate this week on a party-line vote to jack up interest rates on subprime personal loans.

“In a session in which helping working people should be the focus, my opponent is co-sponsoring a bill that would enlarge profits for the wealthy at the expense of the working class. We need to be looking at how to reward people who work hard and play by the rules, not giving big breaks to Denver special interests at the expense of working people.” said Jim Casias, Candidate for Senate District 35.

Crowder’s senate district has struggled to regain footing since the Great Recession and many people in his district have taken note. During his first-term, Crowder has voted to gut retirement benefits for teachers, state patrol, correctional officers, and other public employees (SB15-80) while voting to give a pay raise for politicians like himself (HB15-1256). Additionally, he has been under fire for voting down a rural economic bill that would bring broadband Internet to rural districts like his (15’ Cow Budget #34).

District 35 resident Paula Lucero said, “I don’t see how helping loan sharks benefits our district. Who is putting Larry Crowder up to this and what is he getting out of it?”

…Non-partisan experts on local and state economy and finance, including AARP Colorado, Colorado Fiscal Institute, and Colorado Center for Law and Policy, testified that the measure is a solution in search of a problem. The bill would allow interest rates up to 36% for loans.

However ingratiating lobbyists for subprime personal lenders may be, the fact is that the industry does not have a good reputation among voters–especially voters in economically challenged areas like the sprawling southern Colorado district Crowder represents. Especially after every Democrat in the Colorado Senate held firm in voting no on Senate Bill 16-185, this is an issue that can be capitalized on to good effect in the upcoming elections.

sb185sponsors

And it won’t just be Crowder. Ahead of final passage, several Republican Senators added themselves as co-sponsors, including at least two in targeted races this year–Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate.

We expect to see all of them in shark suits this fall.

Senate Dems Vote Unanimously Against Loan Sharks

loanshark2A press release from the Bell Policy Center celebrates…well, it bears some explanation, but they’re celebrating the passage of a bill they strenuously oppose: Senate Bill 16-185, a late bill to allow predatory subprime lenders like OneMain Financial to charge higher interest rates on larger personal loans.

Why would the Bell celebrate the passage of a bill they oppose? Simple: every Democrat in the Colorado Senate voted against it. In the fraught battle to protect Colorado consumers from predatory lenders who are deliberately courting Democratic support, that’s a big, big win:

Today the Colorado Senate passed (18-17) Senate Bill 16-185, meaning some senators chose to support New York hedge funds over hard-working Coloradans.

We appreciate and thank the 17 senators who stood against making Coloradans pay at least $9.5 million in additional interest and finance charges. Now we need help urging the House to reject this bad bill.

The senators who voted yes on this bill did so despite there being NO need to increase interest rates. The number of loans issued and the amount loaned has increased over the past five years.

This bill would increase interest rates on all supervised loans larger than $1,000. The bill would also increase the rates charged to Coloradans who finance the purchase of appliances, furniture and used cars. Many of these loans are more expensive than they appear because of high-cost credit products sold with them.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office testified at the hearing on the bill there is no evidence that borrowers cannot get access to these loans or that lenders are not making them available. The lenders making these loans are highly profitable and their cost of capital has decreased dramatically since 2000. The representative from Springleaf, the major Colorado lender, told the Denver Post that the company is very profitable nationally and confirmed a 30 percent Colorado growth over the past four years.

The majority shareholder in Springleaf is the owner of Fortress Investment Group, a Wall Street Private Equity Group/Hedge Fund. Its investment in Springleaf has grown by 2,700 percent since 2010.

From here the bill moves on to the Democratic-controlled House. Last year, a bill allowing predatory lenders to jack up interest rates started in the House, and with the help of Democratic-friendly lobbyists raced out of that chamber on a 62-2 vote. All indications are as of this writing that House Democrats are not interested in getting burned again, as they were in 2015 when the pushback against the bill took leadership by surprise. We’re watching for this bill to be routed directly to the “kill committee.”

Looking ahead, what we’re seeing here could be the end–at least in Colorado–of the predatory lending industry’s corrosive influence over Democratic lawmakers. For years we have documented this struggle, first against payday lenders who tried to win over Democrats in the name of “access to credit,” and now high-rate personal lenders making almost exactly the same arguments. We don’t expect the debate over predatory lending to end entirely, but we do foresee a clearer partisan split on the issue: thanks to the patient work of the Bell Policy Center to educate Democrats.

For anyone who thinks the harm of predatory lending outweighs any benefit, stripping away its “bipartisan” veneer is a good thing.

How to protect Colorado’s “non-prime population” from being exploited as a “market opportunity?”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Reporters have done a good job informing us that most people who sign up for predatory loans are struggling.

But there’s a media gap in pointing out just how important the “struggling” part is to the business model of OneMain Holdings, the company backing legislation that would allow it to charge 36 percent interest on more and larger loans.

In a presentation a couple months ago, OneMain boasted to investers about its “Market Opportunity” in the personal loan business.

After noting that “Americans have $3.3 trillion in consumer debt,” and then identifying its “target market” as the 100 million Americans with low credit scores, the company pointed out where its pay dirt lies:

OneMain Holdings: “Large non-prime population with limited liquidity–63 percent of American households do not have at least $1,000 in savings, more than 40% have no emergency savings.” [Emphasis added by OneMain Holdings, not by the BigMedia Blog.]

“Non-prime population?” That’s an unfortunate phrase for this company to use, but it spotlights the point.

A lot of poeple are struggling with debt problems, and they need loans. But they obviously need protection from a big company that targets them as a “market opportunity.” How much protection from interest-rate hammering is appropriate?

We’re never going to know exactly how much money OneMain Holdings is really making in Colorado.

We’re just going to get shards of information, like the company representative confirming 30 percent growth in Colorado during the last four years.

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Shark Attack: Who’s Taking Loan Shark Money in Colorado?

sharkattack

As another late bill, Senate Bill 16-185, to allow subprime personal lenders to charge higher interest rates on bigger loans makes its way through the Colorado Senate–debate of the whole chamber on the bill was scheduled for yesterday but punted to Monday–Colorado Ethics Watch released a detailed report on the influence of the subprime personal lending industry over both parties in the Colorado General Assembly. It’s a must-read: if you have the stomach for it, that is.

Because if you’re a liberal Democrat, you’ve got some friends on the list.

While the initial increase that would be permitted if SB 16-185 passes is smaller than the increase House Bill 15-1390 would have authorized, lenders would be able to continually increase loan sizes subject to 36% APR because the cap number would be indexed to inflation. As a result, the effective interest rate for loans greater than $1,000 would continue to increase as inflation increases, trapping greater numbers of Coloradans in the cycle of debt.

Spurred by these incidents, Colorado Ethics Watch investigated lobbying spending and campaign contributions by the major proponents of House Bill 15-1390, Springleaf Finance and Independent Bankers of Colorado, along with other organizations known to be involved in subprime lending from their participation in lobbying on the 2010 payday lending reforms. These lenders and their associated PACs spent more than $730,000 on lobbying from fiscal year 2012 through 2015…

The big sum spent on lobbying is what funded the efforts of Democratic-friendly lobbyists like former Deputy House Communications Director Megan Dubray–who were key to successfully rushing the 2015 bill through the Democratic-controlled House without the scrutiny it deserved. Studies by the Center for Responsible Lending and others have identified a deliberate strategy of courting Democratic support for predatory lending bills, under the pretense of providing “access to credit” for persons who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get a loan.

And be assured, Colorado’s strict campaign finance limits have not cut off the direct flow of campaign cash to lawmakers–just spread it out a little:

In addition to lobbying, subprime and payday lenders gave $126,925.01 in contributions to various candidates and committees between 2012 and 2015. For example, industry participants and associated groups such as political action committees gave $32,526.32 in contributions to legislators in the 2016 Colorado General Assembly. Even though political contribution amounts were not large due to Colorado’s strict campaign contribution limits, they were widely distributed among members of the 2016 legislature. More than two-thirds of the 2016 legislature, including 37 Democrats and 31 Republicans, [Pols emphasis] received contributions from industry participants or their associated PACs…

Here are the top 12 recipients of predatory lender cash in the Colorado General Assembly, listed with their vote on House Bill 15-1390:

loansharkdonations

The underlying point here is that Republicans can be fully expected to receive support from predatory lenders, and to reciprocate freely with votes that support the industry’s legislative agenda. But in Colorado’s divided legislature, support of at least some Democrats is necessary to pass anything. Consequently of the top six recipients of predatory lending cash on this list, four are Democrats. The top recipient just so happens to have been a Democratic “no” vote on last year’s bill.

It’s important to recognize that nothing we’re describing here is out of the ordinary for an industry seeking favorable treatment in the legislature. Lobbyists with good relationships with lawmakers work their connections. People and companies make perfectly legal donations. Lawmakers vote on stuff. There’s no conspiracy.

The problem is that, while legally operating, these lenders are objectively bad actors. Their products do not help people, they hurt them by strapping them with unaffordable and often inescapable debtby design. The extreme and in many cases hidden costs of borrowing money from predatory lenders is a moral as well as an economic problem, and the decision to regulate interest rates and keep loan terms fair is a moral judgment also made with the demonstrable best economic interests of consumers in mind.

So yes, there’s a lot at stake. And legislators–especially self-professed progressive Democratic legislators–who side with these loan sharks over their constituents should pay their own price.

Minimum Wage: Beware Honey Badgers Bearing Gifts

Scott Gessler, a.k.a. the "Honey Badger."

Scott Gessler, a.k.a. the “Honey Badger.”

With the recent “Fight for 15” protests in Denver and other cities around the country ongoing, and a number of cities and state governments opting to raise their local minimum wage, the group Colorado Families for a Fair Wage is working to put a ballot measure on our state’s 2016 ballot to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020.

But in what can best be described as a cynical bit of jujitsu, this week the Colorado Restaurant Association presented four ballot measures to the title board that appear to be intended to derail the $12 by 2020 minimum wage ballot initiative supported by workers and community groups. The key point is that although the Restaurant Association versions would increase the minimum wage, they would only increase it to $10.10 by 2019–a small relative increase to what existing Colorado law would provide for under Amendment 42, and needless to say not nearly as good a deal for minimum-wage workers.

But here’s the kicker: the Colorado Restaurant Association’s attorney on these ballot measures is none other than Scott Gessler, the Republican ex-Secretary of State and failed 2014 gubernatorial candidate our readers came to know as the “Honey Badger!”

Gessler’s Bizarro-world role as the CRA’s “working people’s champion” hasn’t been reported in any press we’ve seen, but ideologically speaking, it should tell people everything they need to know about about this smaller proposed wage increase. To us, this is proof that the campaigns across the nation and in Colorado calling for a livable wage are having an impact. If the restaurateurs are willing to concede any increase in the minimum wage, it can only be because they know an increase is likely to pass–and they want to pass as small an increase as possible, with control over the details.

Of course, it’s possible Gessler is genuinely interested in bettering the lot of Colorado’s lowest-paid workers! After all, while in office he made every reasonable effort to maximize his own income. In fact, some of his “efforts” weren’t so reasonable.

We joke, but you can bet Gessler is getting more than $10.10 an hour.

Post reporter stands out for asking predatory lender about Colorado profits

(Credit where due – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

loanshark2A predatory-lending bill, allowing lenders to make more money on high-interest loans, passed a state senate committee yesterday, with supporters of the bill telling reporters that increased profits are necessary to keep personal-loan lenders in Colorado.

That’s the major argument for the bill. Specifically, backers told the Durango Herald that the one company offering such loans will leave Colorado if it’s not allowed to make millions more here.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch was the only reporter to ask Springleaf Holdings, Colorado’s only lender of personal loans (after a merger last year with its competitor), how the company was doing. I mean, that’s the key question.

Is it struggling to make ends meet, like many of the folks it lends money to are? People who pay the company 36 percent interest on a $1,000 loan as it is?

Bunch reported:

Phil Hitz, who represented Springleaf Holdings, acknowledged that the company is very profitable nationally and confirmed the 30 percent Colorado growth over the past four years.

Bunch apparently didn’t ask Hitz if Springleaf would leave Colorado if the bill didn’t pass, but all indications are that it would not.

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Help us stop the loan sharks in Colorado (again)

(Just say no – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

At the end of the Colorado legislature’s session in 2015, lobbyists for subprime predatory lenders rushed a last-minute bill through with almost no debate allowing lenders to dramatically increase interest rates on personal loans. You might remember this battle: with our members’ help, we fought back against the loan sharks and persuaded Gov. Hickenlooper to veto the bill.

With only weeks left in the 2016 legislative session, the loan sharks are back. Contact your legislators right now and tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 16-185, the “2016 Loan Shark Enrichment Act.”

Politicians like to say they’re for protecting the middle class, but Senate Bill 16-185 would do exactly the opposite. Hiking interest rate caps on personal loans will lead to more unaffordable debt and years of steep payments–or default, which these lenders fully anticipate with some of the most aggressive collection practices in the industry.

Senate Bill 185 will cost Colorado families millions of dollars in higher interest payments, for no good reason other than increasing profits for the out-of-state hedge fund that dominates Colorado’s “supervised lending” market. Contrary to the industry’s claims, there is no evidence to indicate these loans are not accessible to consumers, and certainly no evidence they are unprofitable. Colorado consumers and hard-working families who need access to credit deserve better than predatory terms.

Contact your legislators right now: urge them to vote NO on Senate Bill 185.

Loan shark lobbyists are very good at what they do. Last year, similar legislation almost became law with practically no debate. This year, help us get the message to our lawmakers loud and clear that they work for us–and not the predatory lending industry.

Safeway Beer Buyer: I’d Like to Sell *More* Colorado Craft Beer

(This post was authored by the Your Choice Colorado campaign. – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

I’m Russ Novotny, the Liquor Sales Manager for Safeway. I’ve seen Keep Colorado Local’s signs on liquor stores—the ones that claim the sale of real beer and wine in grocery stores would put Colorado breweries out of business.

I’m not sure what math they did to get those numbers. But here’s what I do know: Colorado grocery stores want to help local brewers grow.

I’d like to be able to stock real craft beer in all of our Safeway locations across the state. Colorado shoppers want to buy it, which makes it a no-brainer for our business.

But under current Colorado law, only one grocery store per chain is allowed to sell real beer and wine in Colorado. That rule means we can only stock local beer and wine in our Littleton location. At that store the demand for real beer and wine is so high that in the next couple of weeks we’re rolling out a new display to put hundreds of Colorado craft brewers front and center.

If every store could fulfill shoppers’ demand for real beer and wine, one study estimates that craft beer sales would grow by $125 million.

But Keep Colorado Local and the liquor lobby are teaming up to block progress. They’re using fear tactics to protect their monopoly on real beer and wine sales in Colorado. Without competition, they can charge nearly 20% more. They’ve continuously convinced legislators to protect this unfair system through backroom deals.

Our opposition might claim they’re on the side of brewers, but their actions tell a different story.

It’s time to stop denying Colorado brewers more access to customers and give consumers real Colorado beer and wine in grocery stores.

Heads Up: The Loan Sharks Are Back at the Colorado Capitol

loanshark2An alert from the Bell Policy Center yesterday warns of a reprise of one of last year’s nastiest and least-expected battles in the Colorado General Assembly: another bill to allow subprime personal lenders, issuers of so-called “supervised” personal loans, to jack up interest rates on borrowers in no condition to afford it:

For the second year in a row, lobbyists for the financial services industry have waited until late in the session to introduce a bill that will benefit their clients at the expense of Colorado consumers and hard-working families.

In a session that’s supposed to be about protecting the middle class, Senate Bill 185 (Consumer Finance Charges Inflation Adjustment) would do exactly the opposite by raising the interest rates on what are called supervised consumer loans. Raising rate caps would lead to more high-cost and unaffordable credit products, hurting consumers and middle-class families.

Other than increasing profits for the out-of-state hedge fund that dominates Colorado’s market, there is no justification for this bill. Coloradans who depend on these types of loans deserve better.

In the coming days, we will be reaching out to explain how this bill will hurt Colorado consumers. Please don’t make things worse for Colorado’s working families and middle class. We urge a “no” vote on this harmful legislation.

At the tail end of the 2015 legislation session, the introduction and lightning-swift passage of House Bill 15-1390 through the Democratic-controlled House took consumer advocacy groups like the Bell Policy Center by surprise. Rallying opposition among Democrats in the Senate, and then fighting off Democrat-friendly lobbyists with a grassroots campaign publicly calling on Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto the bill, a scrappy coalition led by the Bell obtained one of only three vetoes issued by the governor in 2015. As a result of last year’s punishing blue-on-blue fight, we’ve heard that House leadership refused to allow another late bill to run through their chamber–hence the Senate bill introduced this week.

This year’s legislation is somewhat different than House Bill 15-1390, which permitted tiers of higher interest rates to be charged on larger loan amounts than current law. Senate Bill 16-185 would allow a huge increase in interest rates on amounts loaned by adjusting the loan amounts for seventeen years’ worth of inflation–from 2000 when these subprime personal loans were authorized though 2017. Thereafter the loan amounts subject to higher rates would increase annually by inflation.

The mechanism is a little different, but the intent is the same: to jack up interest rates on personal loans made to borrowers at the lower end of creditworthiness.

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Hickenlooper Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot on Legal Weed

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

7NEWS Marshall Zelinger reports, Colorado’s most well-intentioned gaffe machine, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, is at it again:

At a conference in Dallas on Tuesday, on public-private partnerships — like the U.S 36 expansion and toll lanes — Gov. John Hickenlooper warned the decision makers about legalizing marijuana.

While showing a slide that said millennials will outnumber baby boomers by 22 million in the year 2030, he said the following:

“You get all those young people who do certain things that some of us oppose and aren’t crazy about, like legalizing marijuana. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to encourage businesses to move to your state, some of the larger businesses, think twice about legalizing marijuana.”

The weed biz.

The weed biz.

Back in Colorado, folks puzzled to figure out what Hickenlooper meant, since:

At his State of the State address in January, the Governor made reference to booming business.

“Since July 2014, we’ve secured 9,000 new jobs created by companies relocating to Colorado, and existing businesses expanding here. Companies like DaVita, Intel, Reed Group, FiveStars, Gusto and Proximity Malt,” said Hickenlooper.

So, you know, what gives?

“The governor knows marijuana is part of the conversation in recruiting companies to Colorado, but it has not had any measurable impact to the economy,” his office said in a statement to Denver7.

Bottom line: we really don’t know what Hickenlooper was thinking here, but it’s not the first time he has come out of left field to disparage marijuana legalization without any evidence–indeed contradicting other statements about marijuana, or at least about its economic effects. It’s possible Hickenlooper feels obliged to talk down marijuana in front of certain audiences so as not to offend their sensibilities.

The problem is that there’s no factual basis, and it doesn’t in any way help Colorado to say this stuff. Hickenlooper’s comments needlessly imperil the objective of attracting investment to our state, and runs counter to all the news reporting on the issue voters in other states considering marijuana legalization are reading. They run counter to the experience of Coloradans since marijuana was legalized in 2012.

So please, Governor, knock this crap off.

Rep. Lawrence: Offshore Havens a “Legitimate Tax Loophole”

Rep. Polly Lawrence (R).

Rep. Polly Lawrence (R).

Yesterday, the Colorado House passed House Bill 16-1275, “Concerning the taxation of a corporation’s state income that is sheltered in a foreign jurisdiction for the purposes of tax avoidance,” on a 34-30 party-line vote. The Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports on the debate over the bill:

Democrats say it’s a matter of fairness that all companies earning profits in Colorado should pay taxes. Republicans say this isn’t a good time to force that issue…

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said Republicans’ opposition of the measure only goes to show why voters have such a mistrust of government. It’s the Colorado voters, and not big corporations, who lawmakers represent, and it’s for them the bill is intended to bring fairness, she said.

“We’re sending a message to the hard-working people of Colorado that we stand behind them,” she said. “We stand behind leveling the playing field for them. This is taking one small piece of our tax code and saying to big corporations, ‘You will no longer have the opportunity to pick a tax haven and not pay taxes.’ We all pay our income taxes. They should have to pay, too.” [Pols emphasis]

House Republicans were, needless to say, unreceptive to these arguments–but in the course of opposing this bill, at least one Republican legislator went a little too far in standing up for the rights of corporations to stash their cash overseas to avoid taxes:

LAWRENCE: This isn’t about leveling the playing field. This is about getting more money because we mismanage funds down here and we need to spend more. So we’re looking for pockets everywhere we can find them.

And because companies are using a legitimate tax loophole, [Pols emphasis] that we all take advantage of in one way or another, whether it’s our home mortgage deduction, whether it’s a home office deduction, there are benefits that each of us take advantage of when we file our taxes every year. This is one that corporations take advantage of. And it’s legal.

Got that, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer? Your mortgage deduction is just like what corporations do when they shelter their profits in the Cayman Islands! Never mind the polling that shows 73% of Americans want loopholes allowing U.S. taxes to be avoided by shifting income to overseas tax havens closed.

We’re going to go out on a limb and assume that 73% of Americans do not feel that way about their mortgage deduction.

We recognize that the debate about tax policy and tax avoidance by corporations and wealthy individuals is complex, and that sincere individuals can argue both sides of the question. With that said, Rep. Lawrence’s equating offshore tax havens with the mortgage deduction so many of her constituents rely on to afford their homes betrays a serious lack of judgment, empathy, or both.

Dems Get Tons of Pay Equity Press–Will Republicans Get Smart?

Photo by Colorado House Democrats.

Photo by Colorado House Democrats.

Yesterday, Democrats in the Colorado legislature held a press conference to announce legislation aimed at closing the persistent gap in earnings between men and women in the workplace–a problem that is actually worse in Colorado than many other states, even after Republicans in the Colorado Senate killed the state’s pay equity commission working on solutions for the problem. 9NEWS’ Allison Sylte:

Democrats in Colorado’s legislature introduced a package of bills Thursday aimed at ensuring women are paid equally when they’re doing the same jobs as men…

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado estimates that women in the state make less than 80-cents for every dollar a man makes for the same work.

“We know in recent years the pay gap has closed a bit,” Louise Myrland with the Women’s Foundation of Colorado said. “But at the rate the gap is closing, women won’t achieve equal pay with men until 2057.”

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch:

As press conferences go, this one was rock solid: A group of House Democrats were joined by women’s groups and small children Thursday to drive home the point that the equal pay issue isn’t going away as long as wages for women lag. The children wore red T-shirts that gave their ages in the 2057, the year advocates say pay for women, at the current rate of gains, will catch up to what men earn…

The Equal Pay in State Contracts Act would require state contractors to comply with equal-pay laws. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge and Janet Buckner of Aurora.

The Pay Transparency Protection Act bill, sponsored by Danielson and Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, would protect workers who share wage information. Reps. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Faith Winter of Westminster are sponsoring the Fair Pay from the Start Act, which would block employers from asking job applicants about their salary history.

7NEWS’ Marshall Zelinger:

“It’s unacceptable that, in 2016, Colorado women of color and our families still have not only less to make ends meet today, but also less for a secure retirement tomorrow,” said 9to5 Colorado State Director Neha Mahajan, in a statement provided to Denver7…

Two of the new bills regarding equal pay don’t actually refer increasing salaries for women. One of the bills, “Extending Pay Transparency Protection To All Employees” protects workers from retribution if they share salary information with each other.

The other new bill, “Fair Pay From The Start” would prevent potential employers from asking your previous salary history. It would require prospective employers to only ask what your salary requirements would be.

You can also read coverage in the Grand Junction Sentinel, Denver’s Fox and CBS affiliates, and the Colorado Independent. Yesterday’s presser at the Colorado capitol was coordinated with the launch of similar legislation promoting pay equity in 20 states–a coordinated initiative organized by the national State Innovation Exchange.

The heavy press coverage of yesterday’s announcement definitely raises the stakes for Republicans in the legislature to give these bills a fair hearing. In the likely event that the bills die, it will fit seamlessly into the narrative on this issue Democrats have been gainfully pushing since the death of the pay equity commission last year. Pay equity joins parental leave, last year’s battle over a highly successful IUD contraception program, and perennial frontal attacks on abortion rights to create a compelling message for women voters–a story that transcends the names down the ballot, and clarifies for voters the bright line that divides the parties.

The best case scenario would be some kind of compromise by Republicans that passes at least some of this legislation. There’s no material downside, and politically it would be a smart way to harm-reduce on issues that hurt them with swing voters in just about every election.

Fat chance, we know. But for the record.

And Finally, The Superfund Comes To Silverton

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River after the August minewater spill.

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports this afternoon, bringing a decades-long controversy in Colorado’s high country full circle:

Attorneys for Silverton and San Juan County are in the process of drafting a letter to Colorado’s governor in support of Superfund cleanup for its leaching, abandoned mines.

While the request still must be approved by the town’s elected officials next week, the action represents the most significant move since the Gold King Mine spill in August prompted cries for a large-scale federal intervention.

“It’s a giant step,” said Bill Gardner, Silverton’s town administrator.

For two decades, Silverton rebuffed federal Superfund dollars, fearing negative economic impacts, bureaucratic red tape and stigma. But now the town is signaling that it’s working to obtain a national hazard priority listing as soon as possible.

As the Durango Herald’s Mary Shinn reports, the much bigger population centers down the Animas River from Silverton need no convincing:

The Durango City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday supporting a Superfund designation for mines above Silverton.

“I think everyone in Durango and Animas River watershed has been concerned,”said Councilor Dick White, referring to ongoing water quality issues…

States are responsible for funding 10 percent of the construction of a Superfund remediation project, EPA officials told the county in September.

If ongoing water treatment is necessary, Colorado could be responsible for covering those costs, unless a responsible party, such as a company, is found.

The shift from steadfast opposition to acceptance of the large-scale resources that the Environmental Protection Agency can bring to bear with a Superfund designation by the local governments in Silverton and San Juan County completely changes the long-term outlook for cleaning up the Animas River watershed, into which mines have been discharging wastewater contaminated with heavy metals for many years before and after the end of mining operations in the area. Previously, a combination of resistance to the “stigma” of a Superfund designation combined with a latent desire by small-time and corporate mining interests to resume production resulted in decades of stonewalling against effective remediation–stonewalling while the mines above them steadily filled with polluted water.

The EPA’s remediation crew that punched through the entrance to the Gold King Mine in August, unleashing a torrent of millions of gallons of polluted water into the Animas River, was not trying to force the issue of cleaning up these mines, and it has been determined pretty conclusively that mistakes were made by this crew that directly caused the spill. But without the kind of comprehensive cleanup operation that only the full resources of the federal government can undertake, that spill was bound to happen sooner or later. In the aftermath, even as Republican politicians jumped at the chance to gratuitously bash the EPA for this spill, everybody on the ground knew that the bigger problem wasn’t with the EPA.

Today, the long list of EPA detractors, from the area’s Congressman Scott Tipton to Durango grandstanding Ben Carson (and let’s not forget the Utah lawmakers who hatched a full-blown conspiracy theory) are not available for comment.

Questions about the hospital provider fee? Read this

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Reporters have struggled to find a short-hand description for the “hospital provider fee,” because  it’s impossible to describe briefly. And lengthy descriptions of it often require multiple readings. And that’s without trying to understand the intracacies of why it’s such a big deal.

So the Colorado Independent did us all a favor by dedicating a full article to: “What you need to know about Colorado’s biggest political battle. It’s called the hospital provider fee, and it’s complicated. Let’s break it down.”

You should take a few minutes to read the entire piece, by the Independent’s Corey Hutchins, but here are a few paragraphs:

The hospital provider fee is a state program requiring hospitals to pay money each year depending on how many patients stayed in hospital beds overnight and how much outpatient services they provided. That money is then used, among other things, to help Coloradans who can’t afford insurance plans get care, and to help the state pay for people who are on Medicaid, which is a government healthcare program for low-income Coloradans and their families.

Each hospital pays a different amount — some pay a lot, some pay nothing — and the fee hauled in nearly $700 million last year. This money is then matched almost dollar for dollar by the federal government to expand Medicaid, provide health coverage for Coloradans who are using emergency rooms for non-emergency treatment, and reimburse hospitals for care. The more money the fee brings in the more money the feds give Colorado to make sure people who can’t afford healthcare get it. Since 2009, the program has helped more than 300,000 people get insurance coverage….

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who sits on the state’s budget committee, explains it like this: Picture a bucket with water pouring in. The incoming water is state revenues, and when the bucket fills to the top (or hits its TABOR limits) water starts pouring over the edge— and that overflowing water (money) goes back to taxpayers in the form of rebates. Now, picture rocks in the bottom of the bucket. One of those big rocks is money from the hospital provider fee. It’s money that takes up space in the bucket, and those who want to take a big rock out can do so by reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise…

The context of AFP’s [Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the measure] involvement is that it’s a big-time, strategic pressure group with loads of resources and activists that will keep certain lawmakers holding the line on this issue, especially at a time when they need backing to run for re-election.

Meanwhile, the business lobby in Colorado is speaking in a near-monolithic voice for reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise, as have editorial boards at some of the state’s regional newspapers.