Trump’s Budget Basically Calls For Killing Poor People

UPDATE #3: If you’re doing the math at home, 2+2=7.

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UPDATE #2: Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez is all smiles, kill the poor to stop terrorism:

As the House develops the budget resolution that will guide the FY18 appropriations process, I welcome the president’s input on federal spending priorities. Our country is at a critical junction, and the federal government cannot continue to spend money it doesn’t have. As terrorist groups continue to perpetrate evil acts and spread fear around the world, we must prioritize funding for national defense and diplomacy. It is also critical that we focus federal resources on programs that deliver results for Americans and create jobs, and we must ensure our social safety nets are sustainable for those who truly need them. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the budget and appropriations committees to ensure the priorities of the Third Congressional District are reflected in our budget blueprint and upcoming appropriations bills.

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UPDATE: Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver rips into Trump’s budget:

“The President’s heartless budget proposal amply shows his lack of concern for Americans’ health, financial struggles and hopes for a better life for their kids,” DeGette said. “It punishes the most vulnerable while propping up the wealthy and making preposterous assumptions about the country’s economic growth. And it guts funding for diplomacy and development at a time when we should be investing more in our country’s leadership in an unstable world – a short-sighted approach that will leave us weaker.”

Among the President Trump’s health-related changes that will harm the middle class and the poor are a $610 billion cut to Medicaid over 10 years, a steep reduction in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and a $7 billion decrease in the budget of the National Institutes of Health. The President’s proposal would slash the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency by 31.4 percent and the State Department and related programs by 29 percent. It also eliminates Health and Human Services support for Planned Parenthood and funds for international family planning.

Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder:

This is a reckless budget that would weaken America.

President Trump’s budget not only goes against his campaign promise to protect Medicare and Social Security and ensure that no American would lose their health insurance, it does so while increasing deficit military spending even though we spend more than the next seven nations combined on our military already.

The budget is a clear statement of the President’s values. In it, special interests win over the middle-class, multi-national corporations win over small businesses, and millionaires and billionaires are afforded a huge interests win over the middle-class, multi-national corporations win over small businesses, and millionaires and billionaires are afforded a huge small businesses, and millionaires and billionaires are afforded a huge tax cut at the expense of children, science, and our future.

In the 21st century, we need solutions that lift Americans up rather than knocking them down, and the President’s budget would knock down the knocking them down, and the President’s budget would knock down the very foundations that make our country great.

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The New York Times reports on President Donald Trump’s budget proposal being released formally today in Washington–a budget nothing short of jaw-dropping for its massive cuts to basic safety net programs Americans have been backstopped by for generations, setting up the next battle royale and moral crisis for the Republican-controlled Congress:

The document, grandly titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” encapsulates much of the “America first” message that powered Mr. Trump’s campaign. It calls for an increase in military spending of 10 percent and spending more than $2.6 billion for border security — including $1.6 billion to begin work on a wall on the border with Mexico — as well as huge tax reductions and an improbable promise of 3 percent economic growth.

The wildly optimistic projections balance Mr. Trump’s budget, at least on paper, even though the proposal makes no changes to Social Security’s retirement program or Medicare, the two largest drivers of the nation’s debt.

To compensate, the package contains deep cuts in entitlement programs that would hit hardest many of the economically strained voters who propelled the president into office. Over the next decade, it calls for slashing more than $800 billion from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, while slicing $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs. And domestic programs outside of military and homeland security whose budgets are determined annually by Congress would also take a hit, their funding falling by $57 billion, or 10.6 percent.

The plan would cut by more than $72 billion the disability benefits upon which millions of Americans rely. It would eliminate loan programs that subsidize college education for the poor and those who take jobs in government or nonprofit organizations.

Of course, the president does not actually write the budget–that’s the job of Congress, just like it’s the job of the state legislature in Colorado every year. To pass Trump’s budget as-is would be a very straightforward kind of political suicide for Republicans, locking in huge losses in 2018 that are already broadly feared. At the same time, the ideological far right is clamoring for such sweeping change, with no regard for the political consequences.

Although it sets up Trump to be loathed even more than his dismal approval ratings indicate today, we assume this budget is meant to be a negotiating position as opposed to a final proposal. By chipping away around the margins of these draconian proposed cuts, congressional Republicans get to “play savior” while still making cuts that will hurt a lot of people. It’s cynical politics, to be sure, but it’s also a clever way to obscure the blame.

Because there is going to be blame. Even a fraction of these cuts are doing to do harm that will a prove a major political liability for every lawmaker who votes yes. Much like the dogma-driven campaign to repeal Obamacare, a campaign that has outlived its political usefulness but can’t be stopped now for political reasons, the nation is now forced to examine the consequences of what Republicans have advocated for years.

And it’s scary stuff.

FOX News Just Makes Stuff Up About Durango, Colorado

FOX News reporter Joseph Kolb.

Locals in the picturesque southwest Colorado town of Durango wondered what “Durango” FOX News was talking about, as the Herald’s Shane Benjamin reports:

The story, headlined “Legalized marijuana turns Colorado resort town into homeless magnet,” was the most-read U.S. story Wednesday on www.FoxNews.com.

It was written by Joseph J. Kolb, a Fox contributor who was in town for a soccer shootout last weekend, according to those he interviewed. For his 850-word piece, Kolb quoted five sources: a man holding a cardboard sign; a gift shop manager; an anonymous hotel clerk; Durango Police Chief Kamran Afzal; and Tim Walsworth, executive director of Durango Business Improvement District,

In an interview Wednesday, Walsworth took exception with Kolb and his story, saying the reporter barely identified himself, omitted comments that didn’t fit his angle and based the article on a few opinions. The result was a superficial glance at an issue in a community the writer was passing through, those who talked to him said.

“I question the credibility of the reporter,” Walsworth said.

And he wasn’t the only one:

“Just this year there has been a major influx of people between 20 to 30 who are just hanging out on the streets,” [gift shop owner Caleb] Preston was quoted as saying. “The problem is while many are pretty mellow, there are many more who are violent.”

Preston said he didn’t say those exact words, and his comments centered around the idea that panhandling has risen to the forefront of public discourse; not that the problem has become worse. [Pols emphasis]

The consensus seems to be that FOX News reporter Joseph Kolb was determined to write a story about how legal marijuana had turned Durango into a “haven for recreational pot users” regardless of what local sources actually told him. And sure enough, Kolb’s portrayal of Durango is nothing any of us who have been there would recognize:

The picturesque town near the New Mexico border, once a vibrant, upscale community dotted with luxury hotels, is being overrun by panhandlers – thanks, in part, to the legalization of marijuana.

The town suddenly became a haven for recreational pot users, drawing in transients, panhandlers and a large number of homeless drug addicts, according to officials and business owners. Many are coming from New Mexico, Arizona and even New York.

So folks, let us reassure from personal experience that Durango is very much still a “vibrant, upscale community,” and the luxury hotels are busy in all four seasons. We recommend the historic Strater Hotel downtown, though it’s far from the only choice. There is absolutely no appearance along Durango’s Main Avenue that the place is being “overrun” by homeless folks in town for pot or anything else.

In short, the entire story is textbook FOX News cockamamie bullshit. We sincerely hope this misinformation doesn’t do anything to harm Durango’s tourism economy–and to help make sure it doesn’t, we’re booking a weekend at the Strater. We encourage you all to do the same.

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 5)

Remember, kids: Don’t put the guacamole in your tortilla-chip hat until just before you are ready to leave the house. 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…

► As you may have heard, Congressional Republicans finally passed a bill on Thursday related to the repeal and destruction of Obamacare. Republicans toasted to the (poor) health of Americans at the White House last evening, but the political blowback is already underway. From CNN:

The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan campaign handicapping service, changed the ratings on 20 GOP-held districts Friday morning — all of them moving in Democrats’ favor in advance of the 2018 midterm election…

…Two of the 20 changes affected members who actually opposed the AHCA: Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Mike Coffman of Colorado. Of Coffman, Wasserman wrote: “Coffman ended up voting against the AHCA, but his hesitation to announce his position likely won’t assuage voters who want to send a message to President Trump next year.” [Pols emphasis]

Think about the changes the Cook Report made this way: To win back the House majority, Democrats need to gain 24 GOP seats. Twenty Republican seats just moved toward Democrats — in less than a day and with a single congressional vote.

That’s a big deal.

Aurora Republican Mike Coffman did indeed vote “NO” on Trumpcare 2.0 on Thursday, but it doesn’t appear as though Coffman is going to get any real political cover from the decision. Coffman’s vote on Thursday won’t extinguish the memory of his longstanding support for repealing Obamacare, including the fact that he was one of the biggest cheerleaders of the failed Trumpcare bill in March of this year.

 

► The healthcare legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate, and its future is as uncertain as ever. Republican Senate leaders are already questioning the wisdom of the House passing a bill that many members never even had a chance to read first.

Check out this video of a reporter asking Republican Members of Congress if they had read the healthcare legislation — that’s Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) who walks quickly away from the question near the end of the clip.

 

► Other than Mike Coffman, Colorado’s Congressional delegation voted along party lines on Trumpcare 2.0. Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) had been coy about his support for the latest healthcare bill, but as the Grand Junction Sentinel reports, Tipton is drinking all of the GOP Kool-Aid:

The most recent version of the American Health Care Act passed the House on Thursday with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., saying it met his test of making insurance more affordable.

“As the House developed the American Health Care Act, I was adamant that the replacement plan needed to ensure people with pre-existing conditions would have access to affordable health insurance,” Tipton said in a statement after the vote. “The bill provides these assurances.”…

…Critics took immediate issue with Tipton, among them ProgressNow Colorado, whose executive director noted Tipton’s comment to The Daily Sentinel in February that, “Every policy is still going to be in effect. People are not going to be left without coverage.” Tipton broke his promise to constituents with his vote, said Ian Silverii.

Tipton’s comments are complete and utter nonsense. It has been widely reported that the GOP healthcare bill would all but eliminate the requirement that insurance companies don’t penalize people with pre-existing conditions.

 

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

So Basically, You’re Never Going To Be Happy

Beauvallon, a Denver construction-defect horror story.

The Denver Post’s John Aguilar reports on final passage of House Bill 17-1279, the hard-fought bipartisan compromise legislation to address developer concerns about liability for defects in the construction of new condominium developments.

A compromise that builders are already declaring insufficient:

Now that state lawmakers have passed the first measure in years to abate construction-related lawsuits against condo builders, new developments should start sprouting across the metro area like so many spring flowers.

Right?

Not so fast, says Home Builders Association of Denver CEO Jeff Whiton.

House Bill 1279, which stipulates that legal action against a builder for alleged construction flaws can only proceed when more than half of all homeowners in a condominium complex agree to it, is “not the cure-all” for what has become an anemic number of condo starts in Colorado.

More needs to be done to reduce the number of lawsuits filed against condo builders, which he said drive up insurance rates and chase developers from the state.

“The job’s not done yet,” Whiton said. “There’s still plenty of heavy lifting to do to give builders confidence to build condominiums and not be harassed by lawsuits.”

As anyone who has followed legislative politics in Colorado in recent years knows, the builder industry has been clamoring for “reform” of construction defects laws in our state for a long time. The industry’s lobbyists insist that a downturn in new condo development projects in the state is the direct result of the ease with which builders can be sued for defects in construction–and have demanded sweeping changes in the law to force homeowners in condo developments into binding arbitration over defect claims, and taking away power from homeowner’s associations to file suit.

The compromise legislation approved this year requires a majority of homeowners to initiate legal action, not the HOA board–and requires homeowners be informed about the potential effect of litigation on the ability to sell their properties. For homeowner groups and lawyers who represent them, that’s as far as they see the need to go. Opponents of the homebuilders in this fight argue that the real solution is for developers and builders to stand by their work–avoiding construction defects to begin with, and fixing problems in good faith quickly when they occur.

With all of this in mind, it’s revealing that builder lobbyists are already declaring their intention to return next year to push the same bills that died this year. It’s long been suspected that builders are misusing Colorado’s hot housing market to extract concessions from lawmakers, and blaming liability over construction defects for many other factors that have led to a shortage of affordable housing in this state. After years of complaining, now even after a bipartisan compromise has passed, it’s time to ask the question: is anything short of stripping homeowners of their legal rights to protect their biggest investment going to make the developers happy?

Because if not, maybe it’s time to tell them enough is enough.

Lawmakers Announce For-Reals Hospital Provider Fee Fix

Sausage factory. Don’t look inside unless you want to lose your appetite.

As the Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland reports, the long-sought bipartisan deal to fix a vexing budgetary problem in Colorado that would free up hundreds of millions of dollars, reclassifying the state’s Hospital Provider Fee program to no longer count against revenue limits under the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), is apparently close to fruition.

This week, negotiations between the bill’s sponsors became very tense over a provision hiking Medicaid co-pays for prescriptions and both inpatient and outpatient visits. Democrats led by House Majority Leader K.C. Becker and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman insisted they never agreed to that, and would not–while co-sponsoring Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg demanded that the copays increase as part of the deal.

As of today, as Goodland reports, Republicans appear to have successfully extracted their pound of flesh:

Two House lawmakers and two Senate leaders have reached bipartisan agreement on a high-stakes and hard-fought state finance deal that fell apart as many times as it came together.

The bill, which centers around reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a government-owned enterprise, seeks to reverse a $264 million cut to hospitals statewide, which was part of the $26.8 billion budget sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday. With just five working days left in the 2017 session, lawmakers fear what would happen to hospitals if an agreement couldn’t be reached.

If approved, the measure, “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” would save close to a dozen rural hospitals, fund rural schools, give small businesses a break on business personal property taxes, and set aside money for long overdue transportation projects. But perhaps its most sought-after achievement — at least by Democrats — lies in reclassifying the hospital provider fee. The fee helps cover the cost of medical care for low-income Coloradans and is matched by federal dollars. Reclassifying it moves roughly $600 million to $700 million out from beneath state constitutionally-mandated revenue limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

So that’s the good news–a long-sought fix for the Hospital Provider Fee that prevents its growth from impacting other areas of the budget. But here’s what Republicans got in return:

The last major sticking point was whether to require Medicaid recipients to pay a little more for prescriptions and outpatient care. Democratic Rep. Becker of Boulder indicated that was a non-starter for her caucus, while Republican Sonnenberg of Sterling said it was not something he would back away from.

Under the agreement, the cost for prescriptions for Medicaid recipients would double from $1 to $2; outpatient copays would also double from $2 to $4. Both may vary slightly based on family income. A previous agreement also called for patients to pay more for daily inpatient hospital stays, but to appease Democrats, that provision was nixed…

What remains unchanged: The $200 million reduction in the state’s TABOR limits, currently set at about $13.3 billion. The reduction is meant to counterbalance the removal of provider fee revenues – about $656 million in 2017-18 – from the state’s revenue limit into a government-owned enterprise. TABOR allows for enterprises. Among the largest: college tuition , which pays for college costs, and fees paid at state parks, which pay for the operations of those parks.

Also unchanged: State agencies would be required for the 2018-19 fiscal year to submit budgets to the governor’s budget office showing a 2 percent across-the-board cut.

In addition, the deal includes a small business property tax cut that Republicans have wanted for some time. The added burden on Medicaid patients is the highest-profile “victory” that Republicans can claim in this deal–and given Sonnenberg’s unwillingness to compromise over costs that sound trivial to, well, everyone but poor folks on Medicaid, they can’t claim anything like the moral high ground. Other purely ideological “victories” like across-the-board cuts do nothing good politically for Republicans outside their own base voters.

As for Democrats, they accomplished significantly more of their own long-standing objectives despite some painful concessions. Whatever the momentary sticking points were in the negotiations, Republican backs were against the wall. The peril of rural conservative Republican lawmakers with hospitals in their districts that may have closed without this deal, more than any other factor, is what kept Sen. Sonnenberg and Rep. Jon Becker at the bargaining table.

In short, this deal is probably as good as you’re going to get with right-wing activist group Americans For Prosperity calling the shots in the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate. With everything weighed in the balance, Democrats got some long-sought things accomplished–and the hospitals in Jerry Sonnenberg’s district that will stay open constitute an objectively good outcome.

If you want a better deal, your next step is the 2018 elections.

New Poll Shows Tough 2018 Road for Colorado Republicans

Magellan Strategies, a Colorado-based polling firm that is known to lean-Republican, released a fresh new batch of polling numbers in Colorado today. For Republicans hoping to see better results after an awful Keating Research poll in March…

Well, let’s just say that things are looking up — but only because Republican numbers are essentially upside-down.

Magellan Strategies polled 502 “likely 2018 General Election voters in Colorado” on April 26 and 27, and the results are pretty dismal for Republicans. Take a look at some of the “key findings” as presented by Magellan:

♦ Among likely 2018 voters, 47% approve and 49% disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as President. Among unaffiliated voters, 40% approve and 53% disapprove of the job he is doing.

♦ The generic Congressional ballot shows voters prefer the Democrat candidate to the Republican candidate by a 5-point margin, 39% to 34% respectively. Among unaffiliated voters, the generic Democrat candidate leads the generic Republican candidate by a 13-point margin, 34% to 21% respectively.

♦ Among all respondents, 34% approve of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing and 58% disapprove.

♦ Among likely 2018 voters, 40% approve of the job Senator Cory Gardner is doing, 37% disapprove, and 23% do not have an opinion. Among unaffiliated voters 37% approve of the job Senator Gardner is doing and 35% disapprove.

President Trump’s approval ratings are definitely upside-down in Colorado. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is right on the precipice of being flipped on his head, but remember here that Magellan Strategies generally tilts rightward in its poll results.

Gardner should also be worried that he continues to poll far below Trump among likely Republican voters. In the Keating Research poll from March, Gardner had a 63% approval rating among Republicans compared to 83% for Trump. According to Magellan Strategies, Gardner has a 59% approval rating among Republicans compared to 85% for Trump. In short, Gardner is losing support among Colorado Republicans at the same time that Trump is slowly gaining favor.

There are a lot of reasons why Gardner is losing favor among voters, including Republicans, and it starts with his disinterest in speaking with constituents. It doesn’t help that Gardner is getting splinters in his pants from regularly riding the fence on issues while he bends over backward to show deference to Trump on subjects that are supposed to be right in his wheelhouse.

The only good news for Trump and Gardner is that they won’t have to appear again on a Colorado ballot until 2020. But for Republicans campaigning in 2018, these numbers must be absolutely terrifying.

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.