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May 24, 2024 10:26 AM UTC

Cause for Concern? Colorado's Top Business Group Goes Dark Following Property Tax Deal

  • 3 Comments
  • by: Erik Maulbetsch

(After what Colorado Concern pulled, we wouldn’t want people to know our names, either — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado Concern is locking its doors and pulling its shades down tight

In the 48 hours following the close of Colorado’s legislative session, the state’s most prominent business group, Colorado Concern, had a board member resign publicly while citing policy disagreements, and scrubbed the names of member companies and its remaining board members from its website. Now, nobody is willing to talk about what happened.

One topic dominated the debates under the dome this year: property tax reform. Faced with looming property value increases, and right-wing groups wielding the leverage of drastic tax cut ballot initiatives, legislators and Gov. Jared Polis’ staff scrambled to negotiate a compromise that would limit homeowners’ tax bills without slashing funding for local schools, fire departments, and other critical services.

On Monday morning, with less than 60 hours left in the legislative session, at least some stakeholders believed a deal had been reached. A new bipartisan bill emerged would lower future tax rates while shielding school funding. According to news reporting on the deal, the last-minute negotiations were an attempt to convince conservative groups Advance Colorado and Colorado Concern to not proceed with their two tax cut ballot initiatives (#50 which is already on the ballot, and #108, which still needs its signatures collected).

Yet even as the initial news coverage of the press conference announcing the deal was published online, it was clear that Advance and Concern weren’t willing to play ball. Colorado Public Radio reporter Andrew Kenney’s article on the presser includes an editor’s note that the statement from Concern CEO Dave Davia indicating that he still backed both initiatives was added following publication.

Wednesday night, when the bill passed the Legislature, Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, a Republican who hopes to become a state lawmaker next year, shared her perspective on the last-minute negotiations via Facebook, including details of a meeting that took place just an hour before legislative leaders announced the bargain, in which she says she and other county commissioners believed Advance and Concern were on board.

On Monday morning CCI (Colorado Counties Inc – the statewide lobbying organization for County Commissioners) held an emergency meeting to determine CCI’s position on a yet-to-be-introduced ‘property tax’ bill. We were informed that the bi-partisan bill caps the growth of local government at 5.5%, which is the minimum Douglas County needs to continue the public services that we provide. We were also told that TABOR funds would NOT be ‘hijacked”‘to pay for any part of this bill. At that same meeting, commissioners were told that Initiatives #50 and #108 had been ‘removed’ by their sponsors, who were direct participants in the bill’s negotiations.  Based on the info presented and the questions that were asked and answered during that hour-long call, CCI took a ‘SUPPORT’ position, with 94% of the counties, including Douglas County, in favor. The property tax bill was introduced an hour later as SB24-233. –Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas, via Facebook, May 8, 7:10 PM [emphasis added]

Thomas was offering commentary on another Facebook post, this one from the Colorado Senate Republicans, celebrating SB233’s passage of the upper chamber and featuring one of its prime sponsors, Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, who represents the GOP on the legislature’s prestigious Joint Budget Committee.

Commissioner Thomas did not return multiple calls requesting comment on her post. This article will be updated with any response received.

Advance Colorado is a dark money group launched in 2018 as the state GOP began losing power and relevancy. Advance has spent millions — dollars some Colorado Republicans believe come from billionaire Phil Anschutz — helping Republican candidates and causes. Colorado Concern advocates on behalf of the CEOs of Colorado’s major companies, the largest of which are mostly developers or in the oil & gas industry. Colorado Concern CEO Dave Davia also sits on the board of another right-wing nonprofit, the Common Sense Institute, which is one of Advance Colorado’s two “partner organizations.”

Colorado Concern did not respond to an email request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.

However, it appears not all its board members approved of its decision. As the Colorado Sun’s Jesse Paul reported, Metro State University President Janine Davidson resigned from the Concern board on May 8, saying in a letter that she “cannot support actions or positions that put the vitality of our state services at risk, including higher education.”

In that same Sun report, Senate President Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder), told Paul, “It is frustrating to see an organization publicly disparage a policy that they helped shape in a large way. They are not taking actions that would increase their relevance in this building.”

Davidson wasn’t the only one to leave Colorado Concern that week. Senior Director of Political Affairs Anneliese Steel, who also served as Concern’s in-house lobbyist, left the organization on Friday, May 10, the same day that news of Davidson’s resignation broke. Per her email auto-reply, “After four amazing years at Colorado Concern, May 10th was my last day. I am returning to my passion in land conservation.” Asked via text if she could offer any more details, Steel replied simply, “no comment.”

Colorado Concern also employs the contract lobbying firm Sewald Hanfling. Partner R.D. Sewald, who lobbied on Concern’s behalf to amend the compromise bill (SB233), did not respond to an email request for comment.

While Concern’s “amend” position signified that the organization wasn’t fully opposed to the bill, CEO Davia’s May 7 comment to Colorado Politics that “SB 24-233 does not represent material tax relief for Colorado homeowners and small business owners,” speaks for itself.

Following Davidson’s resignation, Concern scrubbed the names of all board members, as well as all regular Concern members, from its website. A screenshot taken after the legislative session ended shows the board members, including Davidson, prior to the page being removed soon after. The page, which is no longer accessible from the menus, now features just CEO Davia, with blank space in the Board of Directors section. The alphabetical membership directory that listed dozens of corporate officers whose companies are Concern members is now also blank.

The bio page of one former chair, Richard Sapkin, still appears in Google search results (as do many others), but all the personal pages have been removed.

The Colorado Times Recorder reached out to Davidson as well as other board members who were listed on the website as of May 9, including Sapkin and L. Roger Hutson. None of them returned requests for comment.

Comments

3 thoughts on “Cause for Concern? Colorado’s Top Business Group Goes Dark Following Property Tax Deal

  1. What is DraftKing's – A Boston internet company's- angle here?

     

    I am sure they're trying to open sports bar sportsbook locations at our stadiums, still.

  2. One small typo in the report.  The lobbying firm is Sewald Hanfling.  They were the same guys sneaking around during Hancock's reign on the developer's side in the Park Hill Golf Course battle.  We beat 'em, hee hee!

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