“Whacktivist” TABOR Diehards Lose Again

Gregory Golyansky.

AP reports via Denver7:

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a 20-cent surcharge on grocery bags in the city of Aspen.

Monday’s ruling represents the second time in the last month that the court has rejected a constitutional challenge brought under the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights. TABOR requires voter approval for all taxes.

The government can raise fees without asking voters as long as the proceeds pay for a related service. Park fees, for instance, can pay for park maintenance.

Here’s the summary of the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, reaffirming the reasoning that has guided many past decisions interpreting the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)–properly interpreting TABOR’s narrowing language to, despite the wishes of the law’s “starve the beast” proponents, allow governments in the state of Colorado to carry out essential functions:

In this case, the supreme court considers whether a $0.20 charge on paper bags is a tax subject to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (“TABOR”). The supreme court holds that if the primary purpose of a charge is to raise revenue for the general expenses of government, then the charge is a tax. Conversely, the supreme court concludes that a charge is not a tax if the primary purpose of a charge is to defray the reasonable direct and indirect costs of providing a service or regulating an activity, because such a charge does not raise revenue for the general expense of government.

After analyzing the charge in this case, the supreme court holds that this charge is not a tax. Aspen imposed this charge as part of a regulatory program aimed at waste management, and the $0.20 charge for the right to use a paper bag bears a reasonable relationship to Aspen’s cost of permitting that use. Because this charge is a not a tax it is exempt from TABOR’s requirements. Accordingly, the supreme court affirms the court of appeals.

The suit was brought by the right-wing advocacy group the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, headed by infamous former gun peddler Gregory Golyansky. The principals at CUT include in addition to Golyansky include Steve Curtis, the former Republican state chairman recently convicted of voter fraud, Dan Kopelman, who ran into scandal selling voter data on the side while working for then-Secretary of State Mike Coffman, and far-right failed state senate candidate Tony Sanchez. Add in Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute and you’ve pretty much got the complete roster of Scooby-Doo villains of Colorado politics.

The well-litigated issue in this case is whether the strict verbiage of TABOR considers purpose-specific fees to be a “tax” requiring voter approval, or whether such fees fall outside the proper scope of the law. The Colorado Supreme Court has consistently found that such fees do not fall within the scope of TABOR, which has led to a the proliferation of such fees as a way to keep essential functions of government operating.

It’s not a perfect solution, but at the end of the day the only people who sue over this are the ones least concerned with a functional government. The most ideological, least responsible voices in Colorado politics. And not only do they always lose, it’s very important that they continue to always lose.

The Real PERA Problem is Getting Ignored

State lawmakers are rushing to finish up a number of bills before Wednesday’s final day of the 2018 legislative session. At the top of the list is legislation to make changes to PERA (the Public Employees Retirement Association), the state pension system that includes more than 500,000 Coloradans among its members. Legislators from the House and Senate are currently trying to work out a compromise on SB-200, but there are serious differences of opinion on issues such as raising contributions and limiting cost-of-living adjustments for beneficiaries.

The weakening of retirement benefits has been a significant pain point for teachers across the country, from Kentucky to Arizona and here in Colorado. Reforming PERA is also emerging as a major issue in the 2018 race for Governor, particularly on the Republican side; State Treasurer Walker Stapleton has long made PERA reform a signature issue (when he bothers to show up, of course).

“Many institutions pay substantial sums to consultants who, in turn, recommend high-fee managers. And that is a fool’s game…

…Most advisors, however, are far better at generating high fees than they are at generating high returns.”

— Warren Buffet

Most of the discussions around PERA funding have revolved around whether to increase contributions from employees and/or the state, but as David Sirota reports for Westword, there is a gigantic elephant in the room that has yet to be addressed: PERA is paying Wall Street investing firms more than a billion dollars in fees for managing portfolios that are consistently underperforming their benchmarks — which means PERA hasn’t even been keeping up with the stock market.

Sirota’s story is thick with detail but well worth the read:

Ask legislators at the Colorado State Capitol if they’ve even heard about the $1 billion of investment fees that the state’s pension system paid out to external money managers between 2009 and 2016, and you will get blank stares. Ask them if they realize those are only the fees that are disclosed — and that there are likely hundreds of millions of dollars of additional fees being paid — and they will express disbelief. Ask them if they know that state officials passed legislation — written by the financial industry — barring the details of the fee terms from being revealed to the public, and you will elicit outrage.

This is a little-discussed reality at PERA — just as it is at many retirement systems across the country. And lately PERA has moved to funnel even more money into an opaque fund that is a mishmash of exotic investments from timberland to hedge funds — and has generated ever-higher fees while trailing the broader stock market…

…In nearly every state with revenue shortfalls, the political debate over pension reform primarily revolves around proposals to cut workers’ benefits — while ever-larger payouts to financial firms are considered sacrosanct and kept hidden from view.

As Sirota explains, PERA’s problem isn’t just that it holds underperforming “alternative” investments (including private equity, real estate, and hedge funds), but that hundreds of millions of dollars are being paid in “fees” to Wall Street brokers to manage these middling returns. We don’t know exact numbers on how much money is being paid in fees because an obscure piece of legislation from 2004k keeps everything hidden:

Colorado’s two-paragraph legislation gave PERA the right to hide all information about private equity, debt and timber investments if pension trustees determined that “disclosure of such information would jeopardize the value of the investment.”

Detailed financial information on management fees is not, and cannot, be disclosed by PERA. What we know about these fees is based only on a snapshot of data provided by PERA. For example:

Between 2009 and 2016, PERA disclosed spending roughly $1.2 billion to manage all of its investments. More than two-thirds of those expenses were fees paid to firms managing money in the private equity, hedge fund and Opportunity Fund portfolios, even though those managers only oversaw roughly 20 percent of the state’s overall investments. 

… In its 2016 annual report, PERA reported an 8.5 percent return over the most recent five years — but even that has trailed a traditional Vanguard fund, and it also trailed at least one of its peers in the Intermountain West. Nevada’s public pension system, which is 12 percent smaller than PERA and has far less exposure to private equity and real estate, earned a 9.1 percent return during the same five-year period. That outperformance came at a cheaper cost: Nevada paid 75 percent less in fees than did Colorado, paying half a billion dollars less to Wall Street than PERA did.

The numbers that are available from PERA don’t provide a lot of confidence. For example, take a look at PERA’s Annualized Rate of Return over the last decade (outlined in PERA’s 2016 annual report): PERA shows a return of 5.2%, while the median public pension system in the U.S. saw a return of 5.5%. During that same time period, Vanguard’s low-fee Balanced Index Fund (60% stocks and 40% bonds) generated annualized returns of 6.4%.

Again, you really should read the entire Westword story in order to understand the full depth of the problem here. It would appear that PERA can make great strides in its bottom line by changing its investments andaddressing the hundreds of millions in fees being paid out to Wall Street for what seems to be pretty terrible advice. This probably won’t be enough to fix PERA’s financial problems entirely, but the burden for reform shouldn’t be felt by PERA members alone.

“Full Frontal” on TABOR and Doug Bruce

Colorado was a big topic of discussion on the TBS comedy show “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on Wednesday. If you haven’t already seen it, you need to stop whatever you are doing and watch the full six-minute bit below.

The segment features Mike Rubens exploring Colorado’s fiscal problems thanks to TABOR titled “Doug Bruce Ruined Colorado.” The video includes Governor John Hickenlooper in a plum-colored shirt, as well as the following verbatim quotes from Doug Bruce himself:

“People would be very foolish to say that civil rights just has to do with benefits to black people…hispanics, blacks, orientals, whatever.”

“Martin Luther King and I are both…” [pause while Bruce burps — literally] “…freedom fighters.”

“‘Communal’ is a word…the derivation of which is ‘commune,’ which is…’communism.'”

“I wasn’t aware that this proceeding was going to turn into a homosexual encounter.”

 

The absolute last thing Colorado needs

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

While nearly everyone in Colorado is working on how to solve our challenges, the Koch-funded extremists at Americans for Prosperity are actually suggesting we reduce — or completely eradicate — our income tax at a time when General Fund expenditures are at nearly recessionary levels as a share of our economy.

Among their recently released priorities, we find this nugget: “Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) is a crown jewel of state policy and has been one of the primary reasons the state’s economy is among the strongest in the country, despite lacking other advantages like a right-to-work law or no income tax.”

Wait a minute. Play that back: “Despite lacking other advantages like…no income tax”?

This has to be one of the most irresponsible ideas we’ve ever seen proposed in Colorado, but its one that AFP seems to be recklessly importing here. Just this week, Sens. Grantham and Sonnenberg passed their proposal to reduce state income tax out of committee.

Clearly, AFP isn’t paying much attention to the reality of what’s happening in our economy and the role shrinking public investment is playing in Coloradans’ inability to get ahead.

Here are just a few of the ways Colorado is failing families:

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Somebody please run against Jerry Sonnenberg

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Jerry Sonnenberg is winding up his first term in the Colorado Senate. He is up for re-election in 2018, and no one has stepped up to run against him.  Sonnenberg ran unopposed for his first Senate term, and for all four of his previous House terms, until he was termed out in 2014.  No wonder he doesn’t return liberal constituent’s phone calls – he feels pretty safe ignoring their concerns. What are they going to do, run a Democrat against him?

Sonnenberg has referred to a fellow female Senator as”eye candy” and tweeted that he’d like to lube his assault rifle with “Obama tears”. He legislated against eminent domain for water pipelines, and for eminent domain for oil and gas companies. He sponsored legislation to prohibit protesting at oil  and gas sites, and he is a climate science denier.

In an excellent piece by Win the Fourth (WTF),  the author makes the case for fielding a Democrat to run against Sonnenberg.

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Get More Smarter on Wednesday (November 15)

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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.

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

Good job, Rep. Dan Thurlow, but make sure somebody else taste-tests your dinner tonight.
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UPDATE #2: The first attempt in the Colorado Senate to fix SB17-267 dies in the Transportation Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

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

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Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for updates as they come in.

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Get More Smarter on 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.