Get More Smarter on Wednesday (November 15)

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

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Senate Republicans have decided to push ahead with legislation to cut taxes for rich people that also now includes a repeal of the individual mandate connected to Obamacare. As the Washington Post reports, this kitchen sink tax bill is a big gamble:

Congressional Republicans are reaching for a booby-trapped bag of cash as they scramble to try to pay for their tax overhaul. 

House and Senate Republicans are moving to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate — a surprise turn that would yield more than $300 billion in much-needed revenue even as it revives the toxic politics of the GOP’s summertime drive to gut the landmark law.

Senate GOP tax writers incorporated the high-stakes maneuver into the latest version of their plan (see full text here), released late Tuesday night. They applied the new revenue to making permanent the deeply-slashed 20 percent corporate rate at the heart of the tax plan; doubling the child tax credit to $2,000; and expanding access to a deduction for pass-through businesses. But the updated bill sunsets individual rate cuts at the end of 2025 to help the package comply with strict budget rules — a move that Democrats seized on to blast the GOP for prioritizing corporate interests over working people. 

The Post notes that House Republicans are not nearly as excited about the idea of trying to repeal the individual mandate within a tax reform bill that has already been taking on water for weeks. Earlier this month Republicans were hammered for trying to insert “Personhood” language into the tax bill as well. Chris Cillizza of CNN writes that Republicans are risking the entire 2018 election on this new maneuver.

 

► “Tax reform” legislation in the House of Representatives remains on track to potentially get a floor vote as soon as Thursday, which could theoretically allow the House and Senate enough time to reconcile both versions before the end of the year. From CNBC:

The GOP aims to pass a plan to chop tax rates for businesses and individuals by the end of the year to fulfill a key campaign promise. Lawmakers argue that changing the tax code will spark economic growth and boost job creation and wages.

This week, the Senate is marking up, or debating and amending, its version. The chamber wants to approve the bill after Thanksgiving.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday described the current plans as a “work in progress.” He said he expects the two chambers to pass separate legislation before going to a conference committee to craft a joint plan.

In an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, McCarthy contended that the House and Senate can quickly reconcile the differences and get a final bill to Trump’s desk by the end of the year.

President Trump is expected to visit Capitol Hill on Thursday to drum up support for cutting taxes for rich people.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) has an idea for a real reform to the tax code that makes a lot of sense and therefore probably has no chance of succeeding.

 

► Just when you thought the saga of Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore couldn’t get any weirder…it does. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now suggesting that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be a Republican write-in candidate in next month’s special election in Alabama. Of course, the entire reason that this special election is even taking place is because Sessions left his Senate office earlier this year to become Attorney General.

Moore continues to resist pressure to withdraw from the race, and Sessions has given no public indication that he would want to return to his old job. There’s a word for what’s happening in Alabama right now (hint: it rhymes with “Blusterfuck”).

Also, Colorado Republicans have a lot of explaining to do about embracing Moore during a visit to Denver last Spring.

 

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Get More Smarter on Election Day (November 7)

Go vote already. 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…

► Election Day is here! Remember, friends, if you still have a ballot at home, DO NOT put it in the mail. Click here for a list of locations where you can drop your ballot off before Tuesday’s 7:00 p.m. deadline. Jesse Paul of the Denver Post catches you up on everything you need to know about Election Day in Colorado.

While there are plenty of local races that are generating a modicum of interest, the big Election Day news will come from several other states around the country. CNN details some of the biggest questions awaiting answers, while NPR breaks down some of the more important contests worth watching:

The marquee races of 2017 are in Virginia and New Jersey where term limits mean that voters are picking new governors. While both races may have begun with an emphasis on statewide issues such as property taxes and education policy, in the closing weeks both have morphed into the latest test of President Trump’s influence down the ballot…

…While Democrat Phil Murphy is highly favored to win in New Jersey, the contest between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam has grown increasingly narrow. The outcome in Virginia could play a big role in shaping each party’s message in the 2018 midterms. For Republicans, a victory by Gillespie could encourage congressional GOP candidates to fully embrace Trump’s style of populism next year. Should Northam prevail, it could quell the ongoing debate in Democratic ranks about the extent to which the party should nominate more liberal versus centrist candidates.

Several interesting ballot measures will also be decided tonight. In Maine, voters are being asked to approve a Medicaid expansion plan; a measure in Ohio seeks to level prescription drug prices with those offered by the Veterans Affairs medical system; and voters in New York will decide on whether to hold a constitutional convention to rewrite or amend the state’s constitution.

Big cities such as New York, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Seattle will also elect new Mayors on Tuesday.

 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton has some strong words for elected officials dealing with PERA reforms. As Ernest Luning explains for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:

Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a GOP candidate for governor, is criticizing fellow Republicans who participate in the state’s public employee pension plan, saying some are blocking reform because they’re “on the take” and unwilling to vote against their own financial interest…

…Contrary to how the media has portrayed it, Stapleton maintained, it isn’t a matter of a Republican bashing unions or public employees. Instead, he said, it’s often those benefiting from PERA who won’t make the hard choices.

“The reason that reform has been so intractable is because it’s the haves vs. the have-nots,” he said. “Those who are on the take vs. those who aren’t. The message that I’ve come face-to-face with in statewide office is, there are a lot of Republicans who are on the take as well. There are a lot of Republicans who are a member of PERA’s defined-benefit plan. And when you ask them to take a vote against their economic self-interest, there are some principled Republicans, like (former Senate President) Bill Cadman and (Senate President) Kevin Grantham, that are willing to take that vote. But there are many Republicans who are not willing to take that vote, and that is why reform has been so slow in coming.”

You don’t need to be a fortune teller to know that Stapleton’s “on the take” comments are likely to come up again and again in the 2018 campaign.

 

President Trump is using Sunday’s mass shooting at a church in Texas to call for tighter restrictions on immigration…which has absolutely nothing to do with what happened near San Antonio. Trump does say that tougher gun laws would not have stopped the Texas massacre, however. As the Washington Post reports:

“If you did what you’re suggesting, there would have been no difference three days ago. And you might not have had that very brave person who happened to have a gun or a rifle in his truck go out and shoot him and hit him and neutralize him. If he didn’t have a gun, instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead.”

We can’t help you sort out this logic.

Meanwhile, it appears that a gun background check might have helped prevent the Texas shooter from purchasing weapons.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Get More Smarter on Monday (November 6)

If your Internet tubes were clogged this morning, you weren’t alone; Comcast experienced a nationwide outage today. 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…

Election Day is tomorrow! If you still have a ballot at home, DO NOT put it in the mail. Click here for a list of locations where you can drop your ballot off before Tuesday’s 7:00 p.m. deadline. Here are the latest ballot return numbers for Colorado.

While Election Day in Colorado isn’t quite as interesting in 2017 as it has been in years past, several national races are making up for that lull. As Politico explains, Democrats are keeping a close eye on key races in Virginia for signs of hope in 2018.

 

President Trump continues to reshape polling records — and not in a good way. From CNN:

As he approaches the first anniversary of his election victory over Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have hit historic lows.

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 59% disapprove of Trump’s handling of the presidency — the worst of any president at nine months in office since modern polling began. Of those who disapprove, 50% say they do so strongly. Only 37% of those polled approve of Trump’s performance in office.

Trump is the first president since Harry Truman to see a net-negative approval at this point in his term, according to The Washington Post. Former President Bill Clinton had the next worst, with a net positive of 11 points.

A record percentage of respondents (65%) do not think that Trump is “honest and trustworthy,” up from 58% in April 2017, while a third say he does have these characteristics. Two-thirds say they do not think Trump “has the kind of personality and temperament it takes to serve effectively as president.”

 

President Trump says that Sunday’s mass shooting at a church in Texas is a “mental health problem” and not a guns issue. From the Washington Post:

Trump’s comments came at a news conference in Tokyo, when he was asked about the shooting at a South Texas church and if stricter gun laws were the answer.

“I think that mental health is your problem here,” Trump said. “Based on preliminary reports, a very deranged individual, a lot of problems for a long period of time.”

“But,” Trump added, “this isn’t a guns situation.”

Early indications from investigators are that the shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas is likely related to a “domestic situation” involving the gunman and relatives who attended First Baptist Church near San Antonio. An 18-month-old child was among the 26 people killed by Devin Kelley’s “mental health problem.”

Here’s a chilling statistic on mass shootings in the United States: The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School is no longer one of the 10 deadliest shootings in modern American history

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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“Every Dollar Counts”—Special District Pain Stories Begin

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

After last week’s failure of a special session of the Colorado General Assembly to correct a drafting error in a fiscal policy bill passed earlier this year, an error costing special tax districts millions of dollars combined in lost revenue from marijuana sales taxes, the next phase of reporting is starting to come out—documenting the harm being done to some of these districts due to lost revenue that everyone agrees was not intended.

CBS4 reported this weekend on one such case, the Summit County Combined Housing Authority:

Summit County is a place where affordable housing is nearly impossible to find and every dollar to subsidize housing counts.

“Every dollar does count,” said said Summit County Combined Housing Authority spokesman Jason Dietz. “We are moving forward, we have a lot of projects in the works with our jurisdictions.”

…In July, those pot taxes slated for Summit County added up to about $11,000. That means new housing projects and resources for people desperate to find a home will have to be reevaluated.

Before and during the special session, Republicans tried all kinds of rhetorical ways to minimize the harm that would be done from failing to correct the error in Senate Bill 17-267 responsible for special district marijuana tax revenues going uncollected. RTD Denver could take the hit, they said. The booming economy compensates, they said. Everyone knows that the $500,000 hit RTD is taking every month these taxes go uncollected is not going to shut RTD down. It’s a question of services lost or improvements delayed around the margins. An incremental hardship.

But for the Summit County Combined Housing Authority, $11,000 a month means some people might not get the help they need with affordable housing. The incremental loss counts for much more. For reasons we expect could fill a blog post all by themselves, many special tax districts affected by the loss of marijuana tax revenue seem to be heavily in Democratic-represented areas of the state, one notable exception being the Colorado Springs transportation district. For ideological and perhaps also geographic reasons, Senate Republicans decided that making these special districts feel the pain of a bipartisan drafting error was good politics for them.

Every story like this one, aired in Republican and Democratic legislative districts alike, makes that calculation harder to justify. The only thing that has prevented the failure of the special session from becoming a serious liability for Colorado Republicans is the onslaught of national political news squelching everything else. With that said, the common themes of political treachery and incompetence from Colorado’s special session mesh seamlessly with public perception of Republicans in Washington.

And it’s not a good look.

CONFIRMED: Special Session Bill Had The Votes To Pass

State Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa).

A worthy story from KUNC’s Bente Birkeland up today recapping the failure of the special session of the Colorado General Assembly to fix a drafting error in legislation passed this year that’s costing special tax districts like Denver RTD millions of dollars in uncollected marijuana tax revenue. Birkeland appears to be first to report an important fact already well-known inside the state capitol–the legislation accomplishing the goal would have passed the GOP-controlled Senate if it had been allowed a vote by the full chamber.

“The legislature doesn’t make tax policy changes inadvertently by mistake,” said Democratic Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder.

And some Republicans sided with Democrats. Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa said he would’ve backed the Democratic bill to restore the pot tax money to the special districts. [Pols emphasis]

“I think you’ve had three established cases similar to this and the courts found it legitimate,” Crowder said.

Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs even drafted a bill that several members of his party were backing. But when he found out Republican leaders would not let it reach the Senate floor for a full vote, he didn’t introduce it…

We can’t be completely certain about Sen. Bob Gardner, but his help drafting legislation to resolve the problem strongly indicates he would have supported the House’s bill that died in the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday. Likewise Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, whose bill to fix the problem became such a political liability for Republicans that he was forced to embarrassingly disown it, would almost certainly have votes “yes” if Republican leadership had seen fit to allow the bill to the floor. Even without those two votes, Sen. Larry Crowder’s much more explicit support means the bill would have passed the Colorado Senate. Crowder is of course no stranger to sparring with hard-right interest groups like Americans for Prosperity, who he once referred to memorably as “honyocks.”

In retrospect, the fact that there were Republicans ready to support the objective of the special session in the Colorado Senate was significantly underreported by news media, who erroneously characterized the impasse as entirely along party lines. The truth is in fact more complicated in both chambers, from Rep. Dan Thurlow’s defection in the House to several potential such votes in the Senate. But in the Senate, it does appear that the powerful influence AFP exerts over the leadership in that chamber carried the day over the wishes of enough Republican lawmakers to have reversed the outcome. After all, only one was needed.

Here lies a potent argument for Democrats in the 2018 elections, even against Senators who never had a chance to vote either way in the special session: majorities matter. Who is in charge of the chamber–that matters. Just like it matters in Congress, where Mike Coffman pays lip service to liberal objectives while his leadership makes sure they never happen. In this way, the embarrassing collapse of the special session could directly contribute to total loss of GOP influence over lawmaking in Colorado in 2018.

As they say in this business, the attack ads write themselves.

History Will Not Be Kind To Sen. Chris Holbert

Sen. Chris Holbert (R) on a DIY “border patrol” in Arizona.

In today’s in-depth post-mortem from John Frank and Jesse Paul of the Denver Post, a remark from Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert that’s provoking a lot of discussion today on both sides of the aisle–and not the good kind:

Democratic legislative leaders called Republicans “obstructionists” and pointed to a Colorado Supreme Court decision that affirms lawmakers’ ability to pass legislation to correct the mistake without going to voters for approval under TABOR. But Republicans didn’t buy it.

Senate Republican leader Chris Holbert, of Parker, dismissed the court’s ruling in an eye-opening statement. “I did not swear an oath to uphold the opinion of a court,” he said, adding that his constituents’ interpretation of the constitution is more important. [Pols emphasis]

Let’s take a moment to unpack this jaw-dropping statement. When Sen. Holbert says he “did not swear to uphold the opinion of a court,” that’s in reference to the Colorado Supreme Court. The problem with this is that under the Colorado Constitution, like the federal constitution it is frequently muddled with in these arguments, the courts interpret the law. That means Holbert did swear an oath to uphold the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court where they have interpreted the meaning of the Colorado Constitution.

Which means that Holbert is clueless about the oath he took as a lawmaker. That’s bad.

But as bad as that is, Holbert’s next statement that ‘his constituents’ interpretation of the constitution is more important’ could be even more outrageous. Is the reason not immediately evident to you? Perhaps this will jog your memory:

These are also “constituents” who had a different “interpretation of the constitution.”

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

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

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

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

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

Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman:

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

Stand by for updates.

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

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

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

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

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

—–

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

Good job, Rep. Dan Thurlow, but make sure somebody else taste-tests your dinner tonight.
—–

UPDATE #2: The first attempt in the Colorado Senate to fix SB17-267 dies in the Transportation Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

—–

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

—–

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for updates as they come in.

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Get More Smarter on Monday (September 25)

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

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Governor To Senate Republicans: Clock Your Sorry Asses In

Senate President Kevin Grantham (R).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Session: This Is Completely Ridiculous, Kevin Grantham

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Session Shenanigans Nearing Point of Absurdity

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAKING: GOP Special Session Shenanigans Confirmed

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

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFP: All Over The Map On Hospital Provider Fee Follies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intransigence that is outraging Democrats who worked with them:


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

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

(more…)

Biz Lobby Talks Transportation Initiative, Hard Right Freaks

As Denver Post business correspondent Aldo Svaldi reports, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce is moving to resurrect of the major failed priorities from this year’s legislative session–a measure asking voters for more revenue to deal with the growing backlog of badly needed transportation projects all over the state of Colorado:

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce will pursue a ballot initiative next year to boost state transportation funding after the state legislature failed to send voters a measure to raise $3.5 billion for roads and transit this year…

Brough, in an interview after the announcement, said specifics are still being worked on with several other groups, but she hinted that the size and scope of the hard-fought but failed House Bill 1242 offers a starting point.

…The bill, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham, sought to increase the statewide sales tax to 3.52 percent from 2.9 percent for 20 years to raise $3.5 billion for transportation funding.

But Senate conservatives, opposed in principle to tax increases and state spending priorities, contributed to the bill’s demise late in the session, ending what backers had hailed as a grand bargain between Republicans and Democrats to address a critical need.

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

The state’s two principal right-wing ideological hard line groups, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado and the Independence Institute–who were chiefly responsible for killing the bipartisan “grand bargain” between Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham–reacted with predictable anger:

But we’ll be very interested in seeing what happens with this initiative, since it could take a major argument from local conservatives–that Medicaid and other “social spending” must be cut to pay for infrastructure upgrades everyone agrees are needed–off the table. The zero-sum paradigm forced on the state by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) is an end unto itself for the ideological “starve the beast” right, and they have no interest in upholding the part of the law that allows voters to grow the proverbial pie if they choose.

But when even conservative Republicans like Kevin Grantham agree that something has to be done–and not on the backs of the sick and poor–there is legitimate reason to keep trying.