“Smaller Government, Lower Taxes” Mantra Hurts GOP with Young Voters

Politico reports on the findings from extensive polling and focus groups made public by the College Republican National Committee, which sought to understand how the GOP has lost "young voters." The full story, and the report, are worth reading because it brings to light new concerns with several longtime Republican talking points. For example, it's no surprise that Republicans are losing young voters because of their opposition to gay rights — but far more interesting is that the old "smaller government, lower taxes" approach is increasingly perceived as a negative as well:

Turning to a key talking point during the election, the report found that while Republicans during the 2012 cycle invoked jobs and the economy at every turn, the younger age group was put off by the way the GOP presented those issues.

“Policies that lower taxes and regulations on small businesses are quite popular. Yet our focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business,” the report says. “We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.” [Pols emphasis]

Younger voters — especially those in the Hispanic focus groups the CRNC conducted — are deeply familiar with the challenges posed by a less-than-robust economy, the report said, citing struggles with student loans and people who are delaying marriage because of financial issues. But the study said the party must explain how its policies translate into chances for economic advancement and should seek to do so in a more “caring” tone.

“If we don’t believe that Republicans are the ‘fend for yourself’ party, then it’s time for us to explain why — and to show our work,” the report said. “This will go a long way overall, but particularly with Latino voters, who tend to think the GOP couldn’t care less about them.”

The college Republicans warned that the party’s primary message of cutting taxes and reducing the size of government failed to resonate. In fact, one of the CRNC’s polls found that 54 percent of young voters said “taxes should go up on the wealthy” while only 3 percent said “taxes should be cut for the wealthy.” Bashing Big Government also didn’t play well and was even damaging, according to some of the focus groups, the study found. [Pols emphasis]

It's one thing to advocate for a smaller government and reduced spending when the economy is humming, but eventually people start wondering how roads and schools are going to get funded — particularly as the economy slows down. As it turns out, it doesn't take voters very long to figure out the disconnect.

That’s The Point, Scott Tipton

Always the last to catch on.

Always the last to catch on.

As the Durango Herald's Stephanie Dazio reports:

The U.S. Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act by a 69-27 vote last week. The bill generally would subject online shopping to state sales taxes. The taxes would be sent to the state where the purchaser lives.

Current law says states can force retailers to collect sales taxes only if the company has a physical presence in the state.

That can give online companies a leg up over brick-and-mortar stores that must collect taxes on all transactions.

A few years ago, Colorado tried to "encourage" online retailers to collect and remit Colorado's state use tax, which has always technically been owed on online purchases under Colorado law but uncollectible in practice due to federal restrictions on state sales tax remittance dating from the Sears Catalog era. Local retailers led by the Colorado Retail Council supported this legislation, citing the years-long drop in sales for local "brick and mortar" retailers at the hands of online merchants–who enjoyed a competitive advantage for local consumers, and use the same taxpayer-funded infrastructure for product delivery that local retailers do. What's more, local retailers are often used by consumers as "showrooms" for products they then buy online tax-free, adding insult to injury.

Colorado Republicans energetically fought against the so-called "Amazon tax" bill, claiming the measure would "hurt Colorado business," when it in fact was intended to level the playing field on behalf of local business. Ultimately, though, Colorado's attempt to push online merchants to collect and remit Colorado sales tax wound up mired in court. Meanwhile, the push for a federal solution began as other states pressed the issue–which led to passage in the Senate of the Marketplace Fairness Act last week. A key change was on the part of Amazon, the same internet retail giant who fought the Colorado tax legislation at all costs. With Amazon on board, taxation of online purchases in every state seems closer than ever.

But don't tell that to Colorado's Rep. Scott Tipton, folks.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, will oppose it, said his spokesman Josh Green.

“Do we really need to be raising taxes?” Green said. “It’s going to impact local businesses.” [Pols emphasis]

Now folks, as we've just explained, and as local businesses throughout Rep. Tipton's district would tell him if he listened to them, a measure of fairness for local brick and mortar retail is the point of the legislation. That's why local retailers have pushed for this for years at the local and federal level. In addition to boosting revenue for the state of Colorado, brick-and-mortar retail can finally begin to recover from a competitive disadvantage they have suffered from against large internet retailers for over a decade.

So yes, dunderhead! It's going to "impact local businesses." As in positively.

Attention CACI: New Mexico Is Not a Role Model

A brief side note from our neighbors to the south, as reported by the AP yesterday:

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is in Colorado to raise money for her re-election campaign and speak to a business group…

Martinez will attend a reception by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry at Coors Field. The owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team will speak at the event and Martinez will talk briefly about an economic development package of tax cuts that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law.

We haven't seen any post-event coverage of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's fundraiser yesterday hosted by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), where she presumably touted her policies as governor of New Mexico on economic development. To be honest, we don't know exactly what she said. What we do know is that the state of New Mexico is no role model for "economic development." 


Chutzpah: GOP Wants $1 Million To “Dispel” Gun Law “Myths”

Almost lost in the day-long debate Thursday in the Colorado House over the "Long Bill" General Fund budget was one of some two dozen unsuccessful amendments proposed by Republicans. Offered by freshman GOP Rep. Bob Rankin, Amendment 12 sought $1 million additional dollars for the Colorado Tourism Office. The purpose? We'll let Rep. Rankin explain, but once you realize what he's asking for, it's really quite astonishing.

Can't see the audio player? Click here.

KAGAN: Representative Rankin, to the amendment.

RANKIN: Mr. Chairman, this um, this bill moves one million dollars from the so-called ‘accounting fund,’ eight million dollars, to the Colorado Tourism Office. And since the amendment doesn’t clearly explain it, I should probably discuss what I intend to be done with that one million dollars.

First of all, let me say I do not intend this discussion to be a return to the debate over gun control. However, what I would like to point out is that we have a current and evolving problem that I think we can easily solve. And that is that the perception of the hunting community about what’s going in, going on in Colorado is causing a significant problem. I mean, I have a whole stack here of emails,  and press releases that you may have seen. I mean recently, we just had our first two cancelations of shooting clubs who were coming to Colorado, there was one in Montrose for July, had about three hundred people showing up and they just canceled. And this is not, you know this is not a problem based on reality, it’s really a problem based on perception and misunderstanding. [Pols emphasis]


Back To The Ballot For Education Funds

The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:

Supporters of increasing state funding for K-12 education have filed more than two dozen proposed ballot measures with the Colorado Legislative Council.

While only one is expected to actually make the ballot this fall, each asks taxpayers to accept an increase in the state’s 4.65 percent income tax rate to raise about $1 billion, all of which would go toward funding public schools.

The proposals are tied to a measure pending before the Colorado Legislature designed to reform the way the state funds education, a bill that guarantees that all 178 of the state’s school districts will see more funding, said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

“We know people don’t like property taxes, and sales taxes are quite regressive, so income seems to be the right structure,” Johnston said. “We’re working on getting the policy right in the (Capitol) building, and outside the building all of those coalition groups will spend the next month or two fighting over which one of those (ballot measures) they can get a coalition behind.”

Since the failure of Proposition 103 in 2011, which would have raised a relatively small amount of money for education with a short-term reversion to the tax rates in place before they were cut by GOP Gov. Bill Owens in 1999 and 2000, supporters of education funding have realized that a small-scale proposal like Proposition 103 won't attract enough support from Democrats to pass. In retrospect, it's understood that this was a major factor in the drubbing Proposition 103 received at the polls. While conservatives argued against any increase in taxes, liberals were peeled off from support of the measure by arguments that it wasn't enough–and that passing it would make the more comprehensive measures actually needed harder to pass down the road.

This time, however, it's expected that a more comprehensive proposal, one that can really generate the revenue needed to recover from years of cuts to an already unequal and inadequate school finance system in Colorado, is going to fare much better. Most importantly, this campaign will, or at least should, have the support of major players like Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose unwillingness to support Proposition 103 helped doom it.

As for which one of these two dozen different proposals will have the winning formula that heads for the ballot this fall? With apologies to Gov. Hickenlooper's marketing geniuses, that's "TBD."

Screwing Public Employees, Paying Private Prisons: Long Bill Time!

The Colorado economy continues on a path to recovery, with a larger-than-expected revenue projection of an additional $256 million for FY 2013-2014. But the question remains, as Colorado WINS Executive Director Scott Wasserman asked Eli Stokols of FOX 31 today:

“Can’t we have just one budget year in which public services and those who provide them are not used as a straw man for a partisan agenda?”

Judging by statements made during the recent figure setting for the 2013-2014 budget at the Joint Budget Committee, it appears the answer is "no." Republicans on the JBC say they are prepared to vote against the "Long Bill" General Fund budget–to oppose badly needed raises for state employees, and to protect for-profit prisons over state jobs. As FOX 31 continues, they are determined to plant the flag on this issue even though the fiscal picture is looking much better:

This year Democrats control both the state House and Senate, along with the governor’s mansion, and will be able to pass the budget it wants. In addition, they’ve got a lot more money in the bank, with next year’s general fund anticipated to be roughly $1 billion higher than the current fiscal year’s thanks to an increasingly optimistic revenue forecast. 

With that improved revenue forecast for 2012 and beyond, state employees are counting on a 2 percent across-the-board raise plus additional incentives for high-performing workers.

And as the state’s prison population declines, they are also asking the state to prioritize public facilities and close for-profit prison beds.

With regard to keeping private prison beds open, On March 14, after the discussion of the closure of 318 for-profit prison beds, Rep. Cheri Gerou told the JBC, “I know that I have at least two members of my caucus that will probably vote against the budget just on this basis, because it will directly impact their communities, and I think Sen. Lambert has a colleague in his caucus who will probably vote against the budget based on this.”

And after four years without a raise for all state workers, everyone from corrections officers to staff at state veterans’ homes, both Rep. Gerou and Sen. Kent Lambert stated on March 20 that applying a 2% across the board baseline pay increase would be the thing that makes Republicans vote against the budget. “That may have cost all the votes on my side of the aisle,” Gerou said.

Neither of these stands make Republicans look particularly good.


Sen. Owen Hill Commendably Kiboshes Fact-Free Twitter Tantrum

An "incident" in the Senate Education Committee last week involving Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak and Republican freshman Sen. Owen Hill turned into a major, albeit short-lived kerfluffle Friday after being clipped and circulated nationally by conservative media sites and social media personalities. Sen. Hudak, as you know, has been under intense fire from conservatives after a gaffe in testimony about a gun bill that later died. It appears that Friday's "Twitter bomb" of this audio clip was meant to further trash Sen. Hudak's character–an odd level of attention given to a term-limited lawmaker, but far be it from us to tell GOP operatives how to spend their time.

At issue was the debate in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday of the new School Finance Act proposal from Sen. Michael Johnston. It's a major piece of legislation, and Republicans are not favorably predisposed due to its linkage with a significant revenue measure that would appear on the statewide ballot. To make a long story short, Sen. Hudak is chair of the Education Committee. Due to scheduling, it was necessary to release committee members to their other committee obligations by 1:30PM. This put the Education Committee in the position of having a lot to cover, and not a lot of time to cover it. Sen. Hudak tried to get the committee through a long series of amendments, and probably was a bit short with Republicans who, true to form, wanted to "slow down" and debate the amendments in greater detail.

Near the very end of this hours-long proceeding, Sen. Hudak told Sen. Hill to "flip a coin" to decide how to vote on a Republican-introduced amendment to the bill. What she really wanted Sen. Hill to do, of course, was vote–and the outcome was not in question. But she was a bit rude about it, and from the audio it's clear that Sen. Hill wasn't real pleased.

The incident is what it is–probably not Sen. Hudak's most statesmanlike moment, but hardly a front-page story. Until, that is, out-of-state conservative pundits and their massive social media entourages–which have been lurking in Colorado social media channels since the gun debate–got ahold of an out-of-context recording of the incident made by a local right-wing blog


Why is Corrections Corporation of America still sucking down Colorado taxpayer money?

(Corporate welfare of the worst kind? – promoted by Colorado Pols)

prisonmoneyRight now, the prison population in Colorado, as it is nationally, is declining. The inmate population growth in the 1990s that resulted in for-profit prisons popping up like mushrooms to absorb the overflow is receding.
Which begs the question: why are we still sending taxpayer money to Corrections Corporation of America and subsidizing their economic race to the bottom for jobs? If you work at a state facility in Colorado, you make a decent living, staring in the $40,000 range, with health insurance and PERA.
CCA pays entry-level guards $12.66 an hour, about $25,000 a year – low enough wages to qualify for public assistance. And that doesn’t include even lower-paying administrative jobs. It’s the Walmartization of the public safety sector and it comes will all the short-cuts we’ve come to expect from that trend. 


Lobato vs. Colorado at the Colorado Supreme Court

9NEWS reports, a portentous set of oral arguments just finished before the Colorado Supreme Court:

It will be months before the Supreme Court issues a ruling, which could have a major affect [sic] on the state budget…

"We're a wealthy state," said Kathleen Gebhardt, founder of Children's Voices, a non-profit law firm which advocates for education. "We're in the top 10 for wealth and in the bottom for funding our students."

Gebhardt is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit of Lobato vs. the State of Colorado. The lawsuit, which has been initially upheld in district court, states that school funding is not equal across the state of Colorado and that is a violation of the state constitution. The case is currently under appeal.

According to the Colorado Department of Education and Gebhardt, schools receive an average of $6,474 per pupil in tax dollars.

"And, that puts us well into the bottom quadrant of all other states," Gebhardt said. "That worries me greatly about Colorado."

The district court ruling, which we discussed when it was issued back in 2011, was a thorough 180+ page indictment of the present state of Colorado's education system. District Judge Sheila Rappaport found that Colorado's public education funding system is not "rationally related" to the increasing requirements imposed on it–and that the state is unconstitutionally violating the Education Clause in the Colorado Constitution, which requires a "thorough and uniform" public education system.

If plaintiffs prevail, what could follow is a massive and court-mandated shakeup of not just education funding, but just about every other publicly-funded program in the state of Colorado as priorities obligatively shift to comply. The potential major upheaval this could create is a big reason why Gov. John Hickenlooper and others, even many who would support a large systemic change in support of public education, to oppose plaintiffs and argue that creating a "thorough and uniform" education system is a responsibility of the elected legislature–not the courts.

Recognizing the difficulty in striking a balance between these competing rational arguments, but mindful of the stories of severe hardship in many chronically underfunded school districts around the state, we've been anticipating this showdown for some time.

Another Shot At The Apple?

Not to be lost among the splashier debates underway at the Capitol, the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reports today on an ambitious new School Finance Act proposal from Sen. Michael Johnston:

A state senator is proposing a $1 billion tax increase to fund the first major change in 20 years to the way Colorado pays for its schools.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, has previously sponsored controversial school-reform legislation, including an end to seniority-based job protection for teachers.

On Monday, he unveiled what he called the capstone of those efforts – a new school-finance system to pay for the reforms passed by the Legislature. But if his bill passes, it would not take effect unless voters approve a historic tax increase for schools.

“We see this as a once-in-a-generation chance to get this right,” Johnston said…

The Legislature currently spends a little more than $5 billion on public education. Johnston estimated his new system would require an additional $750 million to $1.1 billion a year.

Read more about Sen. Johnston's proposal here. In addition to increased funding generally, badly needed after years of cuts, what we're looking at here is the first real proposal to address the historic ruling in the case of Lobato v. Colorado–which ruled that education funding in the state is fundamentally unequal, and not "rationally related" to the constitutional requirement to provide a thorough and uniform education for all students.

The last such attempt to boost education funding, 2011's Proposition 103, bombed with voters, but in the wake of its defeat, it's become clear that many voted against it because they didn't consider it to be a sufficient remedy for the problem. That fact would seem to be acknowledged in Sen. Johnston's call for an additional billion dollars per year, a number much closer to what experts say public schools in Colorado need to recover from years of austerity and cuts than Proposition 103's modest and temporary tax increases could have provided.

It's increasingly likely that this proposal, or something like it, will be a big part of our politics very soon.

#Obamaquester? Too Clever By Half

jedimindtrickOur friends at the Washington Post report:

Congressional Republicans now have a hashtag for their efforts to pin the blame for the looming sequester on President Obama: #Obamaquester.

President Obama this week ramped up public calls for the GOP’s cooperation on averting the deep automatic spending cuts set to go into effect on March 1. 

The National Republican Campaign Committee and House leadership on Friday began pushing the hashtag #Obamaquester, surfacing an excerpt from Bob Woodward’s book “The Price of Politics,” wherein Obama aide Jack Lew first proposes the deep cuts as a trigger for future action on debt…

But as Natalie Jennings at the Post quickly reminds her readers, the plan for "sequester" cuts in the Budget Control Act of 2011 were approved by a large majority of Republicans–a much greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats in fact–at the end of a long episode where those very same Republicans held the nation hostage in demand of…bigger budget cuts! You remember all of this, don't you? It wasn't that long ago. 


Boehner: Obama Seeks GOP’s “Annihilation”

Politico–tough to consider this a constructive attitude:

President Barack Obama is aiming to “annihilate” the GOP during the president’s second term, House Speaker John Boehner says.

“And given what we heard yesterday about the President’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a gathering of the Republican-oriented Ripon Society on Tuesday, a day after President Barack Obama’s second Inaugural address. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this Administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party. And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal — to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”

Boehner’s comments came in the wake of what critics called an unusually partisan inaugural speech from Obama, who pledged commitment to liberal priorities including climate change, protecting entitlements and gay marriage.

President Barack Obama’s second inaugural address received high marks from base Democrats, many of whom had felt frustrated by Obama’s long and usually fruitless negotiations with Speaker John Boehner and congressional Republicans–negotiations in which Obama was seen making concession after concession to Republicans, and still failing to attract their support. And it needs to be said every time–the things Obama wants enjoy popular support.

Bottom line: Boehner’s charge that Obama wants to shove the GOP “into the dustbin of history” is laden with irony after GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise in 2010 to render Obama a “one-term President”–his “top priority” as you recall. Arguably, Obama’s first four years in office amounted to one massive campaign by Republicans to shove Obama “into the dustbin of history.” And as opinion polling shows the public understands today, this was done without heed to the collateral damage: to the economy, or to the public’s confidence in any of our leaders.

And now that they have failed, totally failed, it’s Obama who wants to “annihilate” the Republican Party?

No, folks. If that’s what happens, history will record they did it to themselves.

Mesa Valley District 51 had a SURPLUS in 2010-2011 of $2.124 Million!

Contrary to popular news flashes and propaganda released by the Mesa Valley School District 51 and their Union TABOR buster handouts, they actually show a Surplus in the recent 2010-2011 Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Total Expenditures and Revenues.  This is after the hotly contested Mill Levy Override requested last year by the District Administration for 3B in which Mesa County homeowners and businesses rejected!  The businesses and homeowners were asked to give up a Starbucks coffee and a movie in return for an increased property TAX and the District pleaded that if the Levy override wasn’t passed schools would close immediately.  To date NO Mesa Valley Schools have been closed and at the January 8th, 2013 school board business round table discussion it was mentioned by a Board member that the District had extra funds available this year as well.

BUT what is interesting as you dig into the PAST you discover A SPENDING Problem during some of our best financial years!!!  Also notice the per pupil funding as it differs often from the low $6,100 you always hear.

Here are the 2010-2011 Totals based on 21,025.2

Total Revenues (Incoming Taxes) $212,037,042.00 or $10,085 per pupil

Total Expenditures (Outgoing Cost) $209,912,512.00 or $9984 per pupil

Surplus (What’s left over after all Cost) $2,124,530.00 or $101 per pupil

Just to completely verify the above numbers as accurate, VetTheGov contacted CDE finance office staff via email. Here is the Exchange:

Hello Theresa,

Questions on Total Revenues vs Expenditures at the District Level.

Do the totals in Table IIB rows J & K for 2010-2011 represent every dime from that District??? Is there any other Expenditures or Revenues not shown here and if not where else would they be???

Do reimbursements for transportation or special needs appear in these calculations???

Mr./Mrs. _____,

It reflects all reported expenditures reported by the districts. If you asking about state categorical funding for transportation and special education? If so, yes the revenue and associated expenditures are reported.

Theresa Christensen | Sr. Consultant Public School Finance | Colorado Department of Education

Since we have been hearing about the dire straight budget constraints over the past few years of recession lets look back a couple of budget cycles.

Here are the 2009-2010 Totals based on 20,996.2 pupils

Total Revenues (Incoming Taxes) $202,371,247.00 or $9638 per pupil

Total Expenditures (Outgoing Cost) $201,300,376.00 or $9587 per pupil

Surplus (What’s left over after all Cost) $1,070,871.00 or $51 per pupil

Here are the 2008-2009 Totals based on 21,041.8 pupils

Total Revenues (Incoming Taxes) $195,144,726.00 or $9274 per pupil

Total Expenditures (Outgoing Cost) $199,263,059.00 or $9470 per pupil

Deficit (Overspent Revenues) $-4,118,333.00 or $-196 per pupil

Here are the 2007-2008 Totals based on 20,241 pupils

Total Revenues (Incoming Taxes) $188,562,683.00 or $9316 per pupil

Total Expenditures (Outgoing Cost) $194,187,598.00 or $9594 per pupil

Deficit (Overspent Revenues) $-5,624,915.00 or $-278 per pupil

Here are the 2006-2007 Totals based on 20,206 pupils

Total Revenues (Incoming Taxes) $179,871,623.00 or $8902 per pupil

Total Expenditures (Outgoing Cost) $194,976,795.00 or $9649 per pupil

Deficit (Overspent Revenues) $-15,105,142.00 or $-747 per pupil

Interesting to Note that in 2010-2011 the CDE administration’s budget was $38.5 Million for 110 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) and has been raised during this recession to just over $80 Million for 150 FTE’s!  So CDE how can you justify 40 new administrators during a recession for twice the previous allocations???  Taxpayers these are the questions you need to ask your elected officials, otherwise the Smoke & mirrors campaign pushes forward!

After following the PAST money trail it appears during the Boom cycles Mesa Valley District 51 Overspent by a large amount and after being over $24 Million in the RED  they finally have their hands around how to budget!  Kudos to the current administration especially Melissa Devita for stopping the bleeding but it leaves many questions as to why the HUGE deficits when times were best and now when times are poor you are actually in Surplus. Mesa County residents these are the questions to begin asking the school board and school administration!  Where have the TARP monies been spent???  Why are you not discussing all Revenues when discussing the budget only State and local funds???  Why do you state that Federal funds are directed to be spent in certain areas when you know that is an untrue statement???  Why did you overspend back in the BOOM cycle???  How much monies from Referendum C did you receive???  Why the ATTACK on TABOR???

Here is the Districts Smoke & Mirror campaign of trying to cover up the past OVERSPENDING issues when State Tax Revenue times were at their pinnacle!!!  Enjoy the Video!

Colorado Senate Leads Off With Working Class Tax Credit

Colorado Senate Bill 13-001, as announced yesterday by the Democratic Majority Office:

When the Colorado General Assembly reconvenes on January 9, President Morse will introduce Senate Bill 1, the Colorado Working Families Economic Opportunity Act of 2013. The Act would create a tax credit for working families, a child and dependent care credit, and a child tax credit against state income taxes.

Many Colorado families are still struggling from the impact of our slow economic recovery, which has made it hard for wages to keep up with the increasing costs of basic necessities like childcare and transportation. This bill could provide a financial boost for more than 370,000 working families.

The Colorado Working Families Economic Opportunity Act is a refund mechanism funded by a state revenue surplus, in accordance with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR). Additionally, this proposed legislation would not create more government or bureaucracy because it is based upon already established federal guidelines and qualifications for earned income tax credits.

As further explained by KRDO-TV Colorado Springs:

Senate Bill One, the Colorado Working Families Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 proposes three tax credits. One would be for families who earn up to $60,000, the second would be for families with children and the third would be for families who provide for someone like children or an elderly parent.

“If you’ve got a single mom with two kids, making $32,000 a year, she’d get about $720 worth of credit that she would then be able to use to pay for childcare, pay for medical expenses, pay for transportation expenses, those kinds of things” Senator Morse said.

He said families receiving the tax credits wouldn’t be the only ones affected. He said the small businesses that employ them would also benefit, as workers would be able to attend work more consistently. And he said by spending that money they keep, those individuals would stimulate the economy.

The effect of passage of these refundable tax credits would be similar to the help to working families provided by the Democratic-favored federal Earned Income Tax Credit, and paid for with improving revenues now coming in as the economy recovers. Particularly with the recent end of the federal payroll tax “holiday” benefiting many of the same working class taxpayers, it’s tough to argue against this credit despite its expected fiscal note. As was the case with the EITC, we expect to see some impact studies showing this plan having a greater positive economic impact than, say, funding the Republican-favored Senior Homestead Exemption.

A clever initiative for Senate Democrats; we’ll be curious to see the arguments against this.

Denver’s Donnell-Kay Foundation Hears Pension Reform Ideas From Pew Center.

On October 17, 2012, the Donnell-Kay Foundation held a “Hot Lunch” meeting in Denver with representatives of the Pew Center and the John Arnold Foundation.


My take is that Donnell-Kay is an organization that works for the betterment of Colorado’s education system, but is also an advocate for elimination of public sector defined benefit plans in favor of cash balance or defined contribution plans. I believe that Donnell-Kay finds a kindred spirit in the Pew Center/Arnold Foundation partnership.

Here’s a description of the “Hot Lunch” presentation:

“Josh B. McGee, Vice President for Public Accountability Initiatives at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, presented ‘Affordable, Sustainable and Secure: Fixing retirement savings systems for future generations.” Also presenting at the “Hot Lunch” was David Draine, lead researcher on public sector retirement systems at the Pew Center on the States.

A Podcast of the presentation is available at a link provided by EdNewsColorado here:


And, slides from the talk are here:


I listened to the podcast and looked at the slides. I appreciated Josh McGee’s third slide titled “Colorado Pension Plans – Recommended and Actual Contributions.” This slide addresses the shortfall in the Colorado General Assembly’s annual required public pension contributions over the last decade. (Later in the presentation, David Draine of the Pew Center states that the Colorado General Assembly has underfunded Colorado PERA by $3.5 billion from 2000 to 2011.)

On Josh McGee’s seventh slide he suggests that: “The unfunded (pension) liability should be viewed as government debt.” (Agreed . . . in fact, I’ve noticed that Colorado’s TABOR amendment implicitly recognizes public pension obligations as state “debt,” not to mention Colorado case law, AG opinions, etc.)

On later slides Josh McGee presents the John Arnold Foundation’s advocacy of cash balance and defined contribution plans.

An ednewscolorado.org article covering the “Hot Lunch” presentation quotes David Draine on the reasons for Colorado PERA’s financial downturn: “Contributions weren’t made, benefit increases weren’t paid for and investment returns didn’t materialize, he (Draine) said.”

A person named “Marilyn Sweet” has the following comment (in the comment section) under the ednewscolorado.org article covering the Hot Lunch presentation:

“This article fails to mention that in 2000 the Republican governor and legislators made PERA refund money to employees in the form of Matchmaker which gave us each $40 a month in refunds from the pension system. The fund was 102% funded and apparently this was unbearable to the Repubs. The problem stems from the lawmakers messing with a good system and not ‘banking’ during the good years. Poor business practice at best. Don’t blame the retirees for this shortsightedness.”

(My understanding is that EdNewsColorado is funded by Donnell-Kay.)

In my opinion, the Pew Center appears to be ready to save public resources through the breach of public pension contracts where possible (see comments below in support of pension reforms adopted in Rhode Island and San Jose that seized contracted pension COLA benefits.)

Now for a few quotations from the podcast. David Draine of the Pew Center on the States:

“From 2000 to 2011 contributions from state and local governments in Colorado fell short of what they should have been by $3.5 billion.”

“Ultimately these benefit promises will need to get paid.”

“It is also clear that the longer states delay the more painful the fiscal impact will be.”

(This statement calls to mind an observation from the Illinois pension reform debate:

” . . . a short-lived pension reform that is invalidated by court order after protracted litigation . . . would be a disservice to the taxpayers.”

Gino L. DiVito, Tabet DiVito & Rothstein LLC, Chicago, ILL)

In his talk, David Draine also sang the praises of the San Jose and Rhode Island pension reform efforts (which, by the way, included COLA theft.) Finally, he noted that PERA’s new leader, Greg Smith, was also present at the hearing. As a newly anointed Executive Director, where does Greg Smith intend to take Colorado PERA next?

Josh McGee, of the John Arnold Foundation then spoke. Here are a few quotations:

“We’ve promised one thing and funded something completely different.”

“There is an incentive to underfund these systems.”

(I found it interesting that Josh McGee commented on the loss in pension wealth that his wife [who is teacher] incurred when the couple chose to move from Arkansas to Texas.)

Josh McGee then pointed out the benefits of cash balance and defined contribution plans, and said that the costs of transitioning to a new public pension system is a “red herring.”

“There are no costs to transitioning” to a new plan system.

So, in my opinion, it appears that the Pew Center and the John Arnold Foundation are not attempting to provide objective public policy research . . . they are advocates for specific policy solutions to the public pension underfunding problem, and are apparently apologists for the breach of public pension contracts. (Nothing wrong with being an advocate as long as you let people know!)

Here’s a link to a Josh Mcgee paper recommending DC plans, Cash Balance plans, and Hybrid pension plans:


Here’s the Donnell-Kay’s position on Colorado PERA:

“The current pension system (PERA) provides none of these assurances; it ensures that salaries are held low, that once a person enters the teaching profession, for example, that they should stay for their entire lifetime, that there is only one way to save for retirement and that wildly optimistic earnings projections will mask a system that is and never will be fully funded.”