Get More Smarter on Tuesday (March 7)

Go away, wind. Let’s go ahead and see if we can Get More Smarter. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► House Republicans finally unveiled their healthcare plan, which is basically a bizarro-Robin Hood scenario: Steal from the middle class to give tax cuts to the rich! As the Washington Post reports, Republicans are going to have trouble getting this bill past several competing factions within their own party:

As they roll out their Obamacare replacement plan, Republicans are quickly finding out what Democrats learned eight years ago: Even if you win control of Congress and the White House, there are still plenty of obstacles to passing laws that, in principle, your whole party agrees with.

Several factions within the Republican Party don’t like some key details about this new health-care plan. In fact, there’s enough opposition that these Republicans could derail the bill as it stands. It’s something President Trump appeared to acknowledge when he offered up in a tweet Tuesday morning the opportunity for “review and negotiation.”…

…Assuming no Democrats in either chamber support the bill, Republicans can’t lose more than two GOP senators or 21 Republicans in the House. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. Which means the factions opposed to Obamacare suddenly have a whole lot of leverage.

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is apparently not immune to the concerns of constituents, even if he refuses to meet with them. On Monday Gardner signed a letter from a handful of U.S. Senators defending Medicaid expansion, which would be gutted under the House repeal-and-destroy healthcare plan. This is odd for Gardner, who voted against Medicaid expansion in late 2015.

Meanwhile, poll after poll shows that Americans are increasingly nervous about gutting Obamacare:

Fully 68% of Americans want to keep what works and fix the rest, while just 32% prefer the GOP’s repeal and replace approach, according to polling from Hart Research. Moreover, the polling showed most Americans — including 54% of President Trump’s voters — have a favorable view of the Medicaid system, which would face steep cuts under the Republican plan.

The Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, meanwhile, considers the House bill to be nowhere near an acceptable “repeal” of Obamacare.

 

► The new Republican healthcare bill is still missing two very important points: It does not have an official score from the Congressional Budget Office, nor does it offer any sort of estimate on how many Americans would be covered under its plan. With those two major points still unknown, Politico takes a look at who wins and loses in this version of healthcare “reform.” Medicaid beneficiaries, hospitals, and Planned Parenthood are among the big losers, while rich people make out famously.

 

► President Trump’s new travel ban is succeeding in causing lots of confusion for students in Colorado. Business leaders, meanwhile, are concerned about a potential scarcity of labor as a result of the travel ban.

In response to Trump’s travel ban, Colorado legislators have proposed the “Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act.”

 

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

Far Right Bullies GOP Legislators Out of TABOR Reform

Jon Caldara.

The intra-GOP fight over House Bill 17-1187, legislation that would refer to voters a change to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights allowing the state to keep more revenue by basing the caps in the law on personal income growth, appears to be heating up rapidly as the bill heads for passage in the Colorado House. This initiative from two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder, marks the first serious attempt from Republicans to address the law’s excesses since 2005’s successful bipartisan Referendum C campaign.

So naturally, right-wing conservative interests led by the Independence Institute are working overtime to peel Republican support off the bill:

That’s GOP freshman Rep. Philip Covarrubias of Brighton today, a Republican lawmaker who had initially supported the plan before…well, somebody called him. It’s possible that he was called by an HD-56 constituent, or a number of HD-56 constituents. Maybe they were constituents encouraged to contact Covarrubias by Jon Caldara.

Or maybe it was just Jon Caldara. In any event, the heat is on Republicans considering this option as a way to address the state’s self-perpetuating budget problems. Despite the plan’s GOP origins, it was always going to be Republican lawmakers who put the kibosh on it–a fate foreshadowed by Senate President Kevin Grantham, who basically dismissed out of hand any idea that would leave the state with more revenue.

And so we see yet another attempt to address TABOR, in exactly the way TABOR prescribes with a vote of the people of Colorado, being scuttled by ideologues who don’t even want voters asked the question. That might not violate the true intention of TABOR’s author, convicted felon tax cheat Doug Bruce, but it’s hardly what the voters wanted when they gave themselves the power to approve tax increases.

If the words people use to glorify TABOR served any real purpose besides obstruction, this would be an outrage.

Walker Stapleton and the World’s Saddest Blog Post

The “Walker Stapleton face.”

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton is not funny. Not intentionally, anyway.

We feel compelled to point this out after reading a particularly-sad attempt at political spin from a local right-wing blog that is harder to swallow than a tennis ball.

Stapleton was interviewed last week by Kyle Clark of 9News, not long after Deputy Treasurer Jon Forbes resigned from the job after telling the PERA board to “go f*** themselves,” and the likely GOP gubernatorial candidate was asked some pretty direct questions that he did not answer well.

The entire interview, which you can view below, is not a good look for Stapleton, who says he “understands” the frustration with the PERA board that would prompt his former Deputy to fire off profanities as he storms out of the room. Stapleton also claims at one point that he has attended “at least 90 percent” of PERA board meetings in his six years as State Treasurer, a claim that is easy to disprove. The interview is obviously not a net positive for Stapleton, which is clear just from reading the video description provided by 9News: “Great moments in awkward question asking today when we asked Colorado’s Treasurer whether it’s the official position of his office that the pension board (PERA) members should go f— themselves.”

So it was that on Monday, the right-wing blog Colorado Peak Politics tried very hard to spin the idea that Stapleton is a really funny guy who is great at deflecting difficult questions with humor and a quick wit. Um…yeah:

There are a lot of reasons that people like state Treasurer Walker Stapleton, but perhaps the most obvious is his dry, often sarcastic, sense of humor. Last week, he sat down with 9News’s Kyle Clark, and in the face of some relatively trivial “gotcha” questions Stapleton showed off these winning attributes. It’s worth watching, especially if you’re like us and keeping a close eye on the moves of potential gubernatorial candidates.

When asked about the semantics of how he described his involvement in the drafting of a bill to change the makeup of the board for the Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA), Stapleton replied that while he “didn’t follow Sen. Tate into the drafting room” (ha!) he has long supported the idea and been a champion for the legislation… [Pols emphasis]

…By using sarcasm, Stapleton is able to diffuse needing questions and in many cases point out their silliness.

Hee-larious! If any of this was meant to be a joke — and it’s not clear that Stapleton is even trying to be funny here — we’re not ashamed to admit that we missed the humor entirely. Clark does ask some tough questions of Stapleton, but the questions are both fair and largely predictable. Stapleton’s answers are not very good nor particularly funny.

This is not a “gotcha” interview. This is just a straightforward sit-down that Stapleton does not handle well, which is how a conservative blog ends up writing a ham-fisted defense that reads like something Stapleton himself might have invented.

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

Colorado Senate President Snidely Whiplash Kevin Grantham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better luck in 2019, we guess.

Crowder/Thurlow TABOR Reform Probably Not Happening

Rep. Dan Thurlow (R), as depicted by hard-right advocacy group RMGO.

Peter Marcus at the Colorado Springs Gazette reports on a fledgling proposal from two Republican lawmakers in the Colorado General Assembly to change the maximum rate of allowable revenue growth under the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)–a long way of saying that two Republicans in the legislature are proposing messing with TABOR, which in itself is very big news:

Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa are heading down a road as bumpy as the crumbling state highways that have partially fallen victim to TABOR’s spending constraints. The lawmakers are proposing that the state’s spending cap formula be tied to personal income, rather than consumer inflation plus population change.

The battle ahead is long. It was once considered unthinkable for a Colorado Republican to imagine restructuring the TABOR formula so that government could grow when economic times are good.

Legislation – which would have to be referred to voters under TABOR – is planned for the upcoming session that begins on Jan. 11, with Thurlow carrying the bill in the House and Crowder sponsoring it in the Senate.

Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction makes a good point about the long-term future of TABOR if the law keeps forcing damaging budget cuts even in good economic times–too much of this and voters might be more receptive to a wholesale repeal of TABOR than a mere tweaking. Changing the limit on growth of revenue to go by personal income growth instead of the more restrained rate of inflation would give the state more to work with, especially in boom times–without risking better-known core tenets of the law like the requirement that voters approve tax increases.

Meaning Thurlow is taking a position that smart Republicans should strongly consider.

Whatever good intentions went into this proposal, it’s unlikely to pass the legislature as a referred measure. Even though it’s a relatively small change, most Republicans in the General Assembly are dogmatically opposed to any relaxation of TABOR’s strict revenue limits. On the other side, there may be Democrats willing to accept this proposal as an incremental step, but many others are as dead-set against TABOR as Republicans are committed to preserving it. Building a coalition between Republican and Democratic “TABOR moderates” without the ideologues on either side won’t be easy.

With all of that said, the fact that you have two Republicans at least indirectly acknowledging a problem with the sacred cow of TABOR is the real story here. Call it a small crack, in what has been a very high edifice up to now.

Amendment 71 is a power grab by special interests

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

I am voting no on Amendment 71, otherwise known as “Raise the Bar,” a question that will be on your Colorado ballot that you will receive later this month. While Amendment 71 is being sold as a common sense reform package to the ballot initiative process, in reality, it’s nothing less than a power grab by the political and corporate elites and almost entirely funded by the oil and gas industry.

Amendment 71 would erode Coloradans’ right to petition their government for change, as well as reduce access to direct democracy through the ballot initiative process.

While there is a need for ballot reform in Colorado, there are plenty of reasonable approaches to do so without stripping away the rights of everyday Coloradans. Amendment 71 is not the solution.

Look no further than the powerful special interests that are funding this campaign to understand what this is all about: money and power. Nearly 75 percent of the money funding the pro-Amendment 71 effort, over three million dollars, comes from the oil and gas industry. Amendment 71 would not only make it much harder to bring forward initiatives to regulate drilling and fracking, it would also detrimentally impact nearly all the issues that we progressives care about.

For example, I was proud to help put forth Amendment 41 in 2006, a successful ballot initiative that banned lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers and established an independent ethics commission to protect the public interest from political corruption. Under the changes proposed in Amendment 71, our effort to protect the public interest from corruption would not have been successful.

Amendment 23 in 2000, which I helped bring forward to better fund schools, would also not have become law.

Amendment 71 changes the signature requirements for initiatives so that one State Senate District can veto the rest of the state’s wishes. It’s not hard to imagine how this will play out in future elections: Imagine, a group of civic leaders, teachers, parents and grassroots organizers come together to finally reform TABOR and provide adequate funding for Colorado schools. Now imagine the Koch brother’s vast network swoops in with a well-funded “decline to sign” campaign in just one State Senate District, say in El Paso county or Eastern Colorado, that prevents the grassroots effort from ever getting the signatures now needed under Amendment 71 to access that ballot. Teachers, students, and parents would lose, and dark-money Princes David and Charles Koch would win. This is unacceptable.

Let’s be clear, Amendment 71 dictates who is allowed to change the state constitution and who is not. Amendment 71 ensures that only corporations and the ultra wealthy will have the ability change the laws, and it shuts the door on citizens and grassroots movements from doing the same. In an era where we already have a dangerous level of concentrated power with the elites and special interests, Amendment 71 would be the nail in the coffin for grassroots social change in Colorado through initiatives.

I encourage you to join Colorado educators, Common Cause, and me in opposing dangerous Amendment 71 and spreading the word to your friends and neighbors.

ProgressNow Colorado Board Votes To Oppose Amendment 71

After studying the details of Amendment 71, the “Raise the Bar” statewide ballot measure that would make constitutional amendment ballot initiatives substantially harder to qualify, the ProgressNow Colorado Board of Directors has voted to oppose the measure. ProgressNow Colorado’s opposition to Amendment 71 comes after numerous nonpartisan public policy groups have announced their opposition in recent days.

“Having struggled with the consequences of the misguided 1992 TABOR Amendment for decades, we share the frustration of those who say our state’s constitution is too easy to change,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Ian Silverii. “Unfortunately, Amendment 71 goes too far to restrict the basic rights of Coloradans to enact, modify and repeal laws through statewide ballot measures. The goal may be worthy, but the measure as written is simply overkill.”

“Having worked in the Colorado legislature for years, I know firsthand that referred measures from the legislature to voters solve problems–sometimes urgent problems,” said Silverii. “Holding referred measures to the higher ‘majority-plus’ bar Amendment 71 demands for citizen-initiated measures creates yet another impediment to our lawmakers doing their jobs.”

“Above all, making it harder to qualify measures for the Colorado ballot without effective campaign finance reform will not reduce the attempts by special interests to modify the constitution,” said Silverii. “All it does is raise the price tag to qualify, ensuring that only the wealthy and well-connected can afford to participate in the initiative process, rigging the system for big special interests and against ordinary Coloradans.”

“We may agree there’s a problem with irresponsible permanent changes to Colorado’s constitution,” said Silverii, “but Amendment 71 is not the solution.”

Sorry, Jon Caldara: Bustang’s a Hit

BustangHiResAs the Denver Business Journal’s Cathy Proctor reported last week:

Bustang, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s foray into regular statewide bus service, had a stellar first year, according to the agency better known for road and highway construction…

The agency had forecasted Bustang’s first year ridership at 87,376.

Actual ridership was 17 percent higher, with a total of 102,577 people taking Bustang through the end of June, said Bob Wilson, a CDOT spokesman.

CDOT expected revenues from paid fares to hit $647,817 for Bustang’s first year.

Instead, the actual revenue was 57 percent higher, with $1,014,781 recorded through the end of June, Wilson said.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported this weekend, with the success of the system’s first year there is growing interest in expanding the Bustang service west:

The first-year success of the new state transit service called Bustang is spurring increased hopes of it one day galloping past Glenwood Springs to serve Grand Junction as well…

Wilson said the idea of extending the western service to Grand Junction is on the agency’s radar. There’s just no timetable for it occurring, and any expansion would require approval from the state Transportation Commission, whether additional funding is required or not.

“But extending it from Glenwood to Grand Junction is part of the plan,” [CDOT spokesman Bob] Wilson said. “… It’s become more likely as time has gone on because of the success of the west route.”

This story takes on added political significance because in this year’s legislative session, Republicans introduced legislation to eliminate funding for the Bustang system entirely. Even with income and ridership exceeding expectations, fares aren’t enough to cover the total budget for the Bustang service. The system is funded in part by revenues from the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act of 2009 (FASTER) fee program. Longtime readers will recall that Republicans bitterly fought against FASTER as a violation of at least the spirit of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), suing and losing all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court–and perennially vowing revenge at the ballot box for this skewering of their most sacred cow.

Well folks, now they’d be taking something away that benefits voters. It’s easy to understand why even the conservative bastion of Grand Junction would want this additional transportation option. The practicalities run up against their rigid ideology, and ideology loses.

And with apologies to the ideologues, that’s how it should be.

Colorado Budget: Private Prisons Get Their Pound of Flesh

Kit Carson Correctional Center, Burlington.

Kit Carson Correctional Center, Burlington.

As the Pueblo Chieftain’s Peter Strescino reports, the Colorado state legislature gave final passage to the 2016 budget on Friday–but not before a last-minute request from the Governor’s office, supported by Senate Republicans, almost derailed the deal yet again:

A last-minute request by the governor to keep afloat a private prison — and help a rural economy — held up the final budget deal until the state Senate approved it Friday.

The budget, $25.8 billion, is headed for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk, where he is expected to sign it.

Hickenlooper requested at the last minute to spend $3 million to boost payments to a private, for-profit prison company that is threatening to close the Kit Carson Correctional Center on the Eastern Plains — a move that stalled the budget bill after Senate Democrats raised complaints…

Corrections Corporation of America.

Corrections Corporation of America.

The Denver Post’s John Frank has more on the $3 million to subsidize operations at the Kit Carson Correctional Center just east of Burlington, which is operated by the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America:

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, noted that the state gave Corrections Corporation of America a cash infusion four years ago to keep the facility open and now it’s back asking for more money. At the same time, other parts of the state budget are facing cuts or no new funding increases. [Pols emphasis]

Johnston said the timing of the request — just as budget negotiations finished — amounted to “blackmail.”

“It’s not in the best interest of the state of Colorado,” he said.

In the end, the $3 million for Corrections Corporation of America was not enough to blow up the long negotiations that led to this year’s budget compromises–which include hotly-contested line items like funding for the state’s groundbreaking IUD contraception program, a big win over the objections of the Senate’s far-right “Hateful Eight” caucus. But that doesn’t mean this “bailout” of an underutilized private prison was a good thing, as a statement from the state’s public employee union Colorado WINS makes very clear indeed:

According to WINS Executive Director, Tim Markham, “The for-profit prison industry is built on exploitation. They exploit our criminal justice system, they exploit their workers, they exploit the communities in which their facilities are located and they exploit Colorado taxpayers.

Unlike our state correctional facilities and professional correctional officers, for-profit prisons are not accountable to taxpayers. And they do not provide stable, community-building jobs – these are low-wage, low-security, high-turnover positions.

Colorado WINS has long stood publicly against the for-profit prison industry. This latest bailout is just one more example of why Colorado should extricate ourselves from this predatory and morally corrupt industry.” [Pols emphasis]

“Extrication” of Colorado’s prison system from for-profit corporate interests that have little regard for the state’s actual needs, unlike state employees who could be redistributed throughout the system and–key point–are much more qualified professionals who contribute far more to their local economies than the CCA’s low-wage employees, is a debate that will have to wait for another year. But these threat-laden “requests” for infusions of cash to a for-profit corporation under threat of closing underused prisons and “killing jobs,” this being the second such request in four years, is not at all what the private prison industry promised in the early 1990s: a happy arrangement in which private capital took the risk of operating the prisons and the public benefitted from “lower costs.”

Since that logic has now been turned on its head, we’d say it’s appropriate to question the state’s whole relationship with the private prison industry.

BREAKING: TABOR Author Bruce Goes Back To Prison

Doug Bruce.

Doug Bruce.

As the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Maria St. Louis-Sanchez reports, it’s back to jail scrubs for the author of the notorious 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), former GOP Rep. Doug Bruce:

Former state Rep. Douglas Bruce was taken from a courtroom in handcuffs after he was sentenced to at least two years in prison Friday.

Bruce, 66, was convicted in 2012 of tax evasion, filing a false tax return and trying to influence a public servant. Denver District Judge Sheila A. Rappaport ruled on Jan. 19 that he violated five terms of his probation…

“The probability of success on your probation is zero,” she told Bruce. “You were manipulative, you were deceitful, you lacked transparency and you tried to make a charade of probation.”

The profound irony of the author of TABOR, a sacrosanct law for Colorado Republicans due to its effect of severely constraining the legislature’s ability to raise revenue for necessary functions of government, becoming the state of Colorado’s highest-profile felony tax evader has…well, it’s never sat well with Republicans. They take great umbrage to anyone with the temerity to point out the stupefyingly obvious irony that the mastermind of TABOR is now a convicted felon tax evader.

The principal reason for this is that it’s not ironic at all. TABOR’s complex limits on revenue, stripping of power from the legislature to raise taxes, and (especially) the stilted requirements on the ballot questions needed to raise taxes combine to create a system that doesn’t work–where raising revenues for any purpose is nearly impossible. TABOR has created a system where the only way the state can take care of basic needs like roads and schools is through license fees, accounting gimmicks and weed money. Even with revenues growing in a booming economy, TABOR forces the state to refund money while years of budget cuts go unrestored.

That this intentionally dysfunctional system created by TABOR happens to align with Republican ideological goals of “drowning government in the bathtub” does not make it any less nefarious. But at the very least, as long as one side of our politics is devoted to upholding Bruce’s handiwork, they need to acknowledge the truth about TABOR’s creator.

Because his motives have never changed.

Cadman vs. Everyone: Rogue Colorado Senate Must Abandon Destructive Budget Stonewall

Sen. Bill Cadman.

Senate President Bill Cadman.

POLS UPDATE: Continuing Senate GOP intransigence over the hospital provider fee even after GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s opinion upholding the legality of the proposed reclassification of the fee to exempt it from TABOR restrictions received a ton of press coverage this morning–here’s a brief roundup starting with the Denver Post’s John Frank:

[T]he attorney general’s argument runs counter to a nonbinding memo from nonpartisan legislative lawyers that argued the measure may prove unconstitutional because it didn’t meet all the legal tests.

Top Republican lawmakers — who revealed the memo in January with great fanfare — suggested it nullified any action to reclassify the program, a move they believe would erode the foundation of TABOR and allow for unnecessary spending.

Not surprisingly, the new legal interpretation did little to shift the conversation at the Capitol. Hours after its release, Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, called it just “another opinion.”

The Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus:

The news offered a slight break from the partisanship that has plagued discussions, as Hickenlooper pursues the proposal as a means to address budget woes.

“It takes it a little out of the political realm …” Hickenlooper said following the release of the formal opinion. “I can only imagine that the attorney general and her office were under a lot of pressure … I respect that she’s resisted whatever political pressure was there.”

The pause from partisan bickering was brief, as Republican Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs fired back in the afternoon…

And the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader:

Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, has based some of his opposition on the OLLS memo. He said Monday his attorney’s are considering the new opinion from Coffman, but there are significant hurdles to passing legislation this year that removes the hospital provider fee from the general fund.

“Voters and taxpayers are looking to be protected from people who want to take the money out of their pocket and spend it wherever they want to,” Cadman said. “We’re now the arbiters between conflicting legal opinions.”

 

Given that the hospital provider fee fix has the support of a large number of traditionally GOP-friendly organizations like the chambers of commerce, it’s difficult to see how Cadman can maintain this position. Indeed, the only support Cadman really has at this point is from ideological pressure groups like Americans for Prosperity and the Independence Institute.

Who will Cadman listen to? The well-funded activists, or everybody else? Original post follows.

—–

Following the release of a formal opinion from Colorado’s Republican Attorney General affirming the legality of a technical change to the state’s hospital provider fee to forestall painful budget constrictions on education and other critical funding priorities, ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, demanded that Senate President Bill Cadman stop trying to hurt Colorado families–and get out of the way of a solution virtually everyone else in Colorado wants.

“Once again, convicted felon Doug Bruce’s so-called ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights’ is impeding our elected legislators from carrying out their most basic responsibilities,” said ProgressNow Colorado political director Alan Franklin. “But this time, there is a simple fix that almost everyone in Colorado supports. Reclassifying the hospital provider fee to help the state fund core functions like education and transportation, while protecting the equally important gains we’ve made expanding access to health care, is what stakeholders in both parties agree is the right thing to do. The only thing stopping us now is Bill Cadman’s one-seat right wing Senate majority.”

“Bill Cadman’s budget stonewall goes against the recommendation of nonpartisan fiscal policy groups, local chambers of commerce, and bipartisan regional coalitions across the state,” said Franklin. “With the Attorney General’s definitive opinion upholding the legality of this simple change, it’s time for Cadman to let an honest debate take place in the Colorado Senate. At least one member of the Senate GOP caucus has publicly broken with Cadman and Cadman’s friends at Americans for Prosperity on the hospital provider fee, stating that he is not a ‘puppet for out-of-state billionaires.’”

“Bill Cadman’s irresponsible budget stonewall against the entire rest of Colorado must end now,” said Franklin. “If it doesn’t, the voters will sweep Cadman’s tiny Senate majority from power in November–and they’ll have richly earned their fate.”

BREAKING: AG Coffman Upholds Hospital Provider Fee Change

UPDATE #2: Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman’s hilarious response to today’s opinion–hilarious if you’ve seen Senate President Bill Cadman’s original below, that is:

agguzmanhpf

—–

UPDATE: The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins:

Whether to reclassify the program isn’t a novel idea this year. Last year, the state’s Democratic House Speaker brought forward a bill, late in the session, and Republicans killed it.

The fight last year and this time around has oddly pitted Republicans against a near monolithic voice of the state’s business community that includes the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Associated General Contractors, the state Wheat Growers Association and chambers from Aurora to Grand Junction, and others.

Last year, when the hospital provider fee issue was being debated late in the legislative session, 307 lobbyists had signed up to work in support of reclassifying it. Only one group was opposed: Americans for Prosperity, the prime political arm of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. This year in Colorado’s legislature, AFP has made its top priority defending TABOR and keeping revenue generated by the hospital provider fee inside the economic structure that can trigger TABOR refunds. The group has asked lawmakers to sign a pledge saying they won’t vote to reclassify the program.

—–

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word "NO."

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word “NO.”

Big news this Monday morning on a question that’s critical to this year’s–and future years’–Colorado budgets. Providing guidance on the question of whether the state can reclassify the 2009 hospital provider fee to exclude the revenue from caps imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, thus sparing the budget from large unnecessary cuts elsewhere, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has released her long-awaited opinion requested by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

GOP Senate President Bill Cadman, who began this year’s legislative session by declaring any such fix a nonstarter, isn’t going to like it.

Question: Under current case law interpreting the requirement that enterprises be “government-owned businesses,” may the General Assembly establish a TABOR-exempt enterprise to collect and administer the Hospital Provider Fee?

Answer: Yes. Considering both judicial interpretations of TABOR and the General Assembly’s prior decision to classify the HPF as a fee rather than a tax, organizing the HPF as an enterprise would not contravene the three considerations that determine an entity’s status as a government-owned business: an HPF enterprise would (1) lack the power to tax, (2) provide government services in exchange for involuntary fees levied on service recipients, and (3) be financially distinct from its parent agency.

You’ll recall that Cadman blew up negotiations over the hospital provider fee at the beginning of the session by circulating an opinion from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services suggesting the fix wouldn’t pass muster under TABOR. No one is impugning the credibility of OLLS’s staffers, but the fact is that their opinion is strictly advisory and nonbinding. Cadman was on shaky ground to summarily declare the hospital provider fee fix dead on the strength of this one nonbinding opinion.

As of now, Cadman has no legal leg left to stand on.

Animosity-filled people blaming Medicaid for Colorado budget woes are wrong–again

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

Colorado Springs’ Republican Mayor John Suthers told the Colorado Springs Gazette Tuesday that turning the hospital provider fee into a TABOR-defined enterprise would be “by far the easiest, least painful solution for the taxpayers” to address Colorado’s budget woes.

But in his interview with Schrader, Suthers repeats the misinformation that Obamacare’s expansion of Colorado’s Medicaid program, which provides health care to the poor, is eating up state money now.

Suthers: “A lot of the animosity surrounding this goes back to the fact that they are saying look if we didn’t participate in the Medicaid expansion we wouldn’t need all this money, and the provider fee was basically a means to pay for the expansion. I understand all of that, but having the provider fee in the TABOR calculation is going to create immense problems going forward. It’s just going to get bigger and bigger and bigger and if you don’t take it out I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The animosity-filled people who told Suthers that Colorado “wouldn’t need all this money” if it weren’t for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion are actually factually wrong.

Colorado’s Medicaid expansion has so far cost Colorado nothing (Here at page 26). It’s been 100 percent paid for by the federal government, which will slide down to paying 90 percent of the costs by 2020.

Next year, Colorado will contribute about $41 million toward covering Obamacare’s new Medicaid enrollees. If Colorado were paying the full 1o percent now, the state would contribute $142 million. And Suthers is correct that the Hospital Provider Fee, which is used to cover various health care services for poor people who can’t afford them, is earmarked to pay for this.

But $41 million is a fraction of the $768 million projected to be collected by the Hospital provider fee next year. Next year’s state contribution to covering Obamacare’s Medicaid enrollees, which looks to be on the order of $75 million, is still a fraction of the HPF money collected. So the HPF appears to be a solid source of funds for covering Colorado’s contibution to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

The people, mentioned by Suthers, who have all the animosity about the hospital provider fee should explain how they’d fund basic health care programs for elderly, disabled, and other poor people without it. And, for that matter, how they’d pay for state government with it, if it’s not removed from the TABOR framework and $370 million in tax dollars is refunded to you and me.

CLARIFICATION: I updated this post to clarify that the HPF funds health care in Colorado, not other government programs.

 

Not So Fast There, “Party of No”

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word "NO."

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word “NO.”

As the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports, the debate over reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee in a way that doesn’t subject it to the arbitrary limits imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), thus avoiding still more painful budget sacrifices, took an interesting twist yesterday. You’ll recall that the session began last month with the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate hardening its position against reclassifying the hospital provider fee as an “enterprise” under TABOR, resting their predisposed stonewalling on an opinion from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services.

Well, as Hutchins reports, that opinion isn’t the final word by a long shot:

As Coloradans wait for an opinion from Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over what’s become the biggest political debate in Colorado, two former executive branch lawyers are weighing in with their own conclusion.

At issue is whether it would be constitutional to reclassify a billion dollar hospital program so money generated from it will not push general fund revenue over mandated limits under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and many Democrats in the legislature want a program called the hospital provider fee redesignated so there’s more money in the budget to fund roads, education and other programs.

In a legal review released today by former attorneys for past governors Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican, they say the Hickenlooper plan would be “legally sound and fiscally responsible.”

The opinion from OLLS that Cadman made a flamboyant display of at the beginning of the session was not binding. No one is impugning the motives of the General Assembly’s nonpartisan legal staff, but the fact is that they are sometimes demonstrated wrong in terms of how these questions actually play out in litigation. As the Denver Business Journal reports, this bipartisan legal opinion disagreeing with OLLS’s conclusion carries no less weight in the real world:

Trey Rogers and Jon Anderson — who served as legal counsels for former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, respectively — wrote that the OLLS was incorrect in its conclusions about the ability to categorize the money as an enterprise fund. The provider-fee fund would offer the service of helping hospitals defray the cost of providing care to patients and should not be considered as general revenue that can be used, like other pots in the general fund, for any service the state offers, Anderson said.

“Our courts have said that statutes enacted by the General Assembly enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality and will not be overturned unless the statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rogers added. “It is hard to imagine a court would find a provider fee enterprise to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In addition, former Attorney General John Suthers, now the Republican mayor of Colorado Springs, agrees that reclassifying the hospital fee revenue is legally workable:

“The way hospital provider fees are accounted in the state budget has created a serious problem,” Suthers said in a statement. “If this situation is not addressed soon, important state programs will be cut that negatively impact Colorado Springs and every other local community in Colorado. Transportation funding, in particular, will continue to suffer. Based on my experience, I believe that some form of a hospital provider enterprise could be designed to be constitutional under state law.” [Pols emphasis]

By sanctifying a nonbinding OLLS opinion that just happens to match with their political goals, Senate Republicans are trying to use the hospital provider fee situation as leverage to force cuts elsewhere–consistent with the party line this year that “entitlements,” in particular the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, are choking out various other priorities like roads and K-12 education. But as our friend Jason Salzman has explored in able writeups this week, that’s a false argument–Medicaid is not busting the budget.

The threat here is the arbitrary limit imposed by TABOR. Period.

The short version of all of this is that Senate Republicans are playing political games, in pursuit of their unwavering goal of cutting “the size of government”–reducing government, as right-wing anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist so famously said, to a size where you can “drown it in a bathtub.” A realistic assessment of need is not what is driving their agenda, but an ideological conviction that government is “too large.” Just as we’ve seen in Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback’s ideological slashing of public revenues, the end stage of this agenda has no regard whatsoever for the damage done to critical functions of government we all rely on.

If cooler heads are to prevail, thus preventing millions in cuts that don’t have to happen, it’s Cadman, or at least someone in his one-seat conservative majority who must relent. If he doesn’t, it’s going to hurt things that people actually do care about. That’s not something we’d recommend in an election year, but it would be better for everyone–including Senate Republicans–to not inflict the pain to begin with.

The High Price of Bill Cadman’s Senate Majority

Senate President Bill Cadman.

Senate President Bill Cadman.

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports–the hard-right faction in narrow control of the Colorado Senate, working closely with well-funded conservative action group Americans For Prosperity, are on the verge of scuttling a critical bipartisan agreement on a fiscal matter that’s been the subject of a year of negotiations:

The political arm of the Koch brothers’ conservative network is asking Colorado lawmakers to sign a pledge to protect TABOR, an effort designed to block Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper’s top legislative priority.

The Americans for Prosperity petition intensifies the political battle on a major budget issue before the 2016 legislative session and helps explain why Republicans are shifting their tone on the discussion about the hospital provider fee.

As the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover continues, the sudden intransigence from Senate Republicans on reclassifying the hospital provider fee in a way that exempts it from the revenue caps imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, thus preventing millions of dollars in harmful budget cuts to a range of important programs and services, is infuriating traditional Republican allies in the business community:

Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Metro Denver Chamber…delivered an especially strong message on the hospital provider fee: Re-enacting it does not, she said, play games with the state’s money but does allow room in the budget to invest more in higher-education. It also would allow general taxpayer fund dollars to continue to go to roads after that monetary transfer happened just in this budget year for the first time since before the Great Recession.

“We can not afford to be the only state in the union who doesn’t use general-fund dollars to maintain our roads and bridges,” Brough said. “We’re a laughingstock, and we will lose our competitive position because of it.” [Pols emphasis]

Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst echoes the anger from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in a statement late yesterday:

“We have a challenging session ahead of us to address Colorado’s critical priorities like roads and schools, and that is my focus. I and Coloradans across the state are acutely aware of the terrible budget cuts we are having to contemplate if we don’t find a solution. As we begin the 2016 session I will continue to work with members from both chambers and parties to solve these problems.

“Lots of lawyers will have lots of different opinions, but most importantly the legislature is the lawmaking body in this state, so that we can address problems just like these.

“We are focused on finding solutions for the people of Colorado, not on finding excuses for why we are failing them.”

What we’re talking about here is a change in the technical status of the entity administering the 2009 fee charged to hospitals to create Medicaid revenue which is then matched by the federal government. Right now, these revenues risk exceeding the TABOR-imposed revenue growth caps, which would force the state to make cuts even while sending out token refund checks. The business and community interests groups in support of this fix are not trying to unmake TABOR–this is about moving a purpose-specific funding mechanism out from under TABOR’s arbitrary limits so funding remains available for everything else.

And it might not happen now. Cadman is now reportedly hiding behind a nonbinding opinion memo against the proposal, the same kind of legislative advisory opinion that has been proven right and wrong in recent years–the courts decide these things, not memos. Despite that, it’s entirely possible that Cadman will succeed on the strength of that opinion in locking down the Senate Republican majority, denying a broad bipartisan coalition the single Senate Republican vote needed to pass this fix.

A single vote, folks. You can’t separate the frustration over the intransigence of the GOP Senate majority from the extremely narrow control Cadman wields over his chamber. One Senate seat, won in 2014 by well under 1,000 votes, gives Cadman the power to thwart the consensus of the entire rest of the state. Republicans and Democrats alike are outraged, but in the end there’s nothing they can do if Cadman and his hard-right majority refuse to engage in good faith.

When we say elections matter, and every vote in every election matters, this looming disaster shows why.