Sonnenberg wins dubious “Californian of the Year” award from Independence Institute

Author: Marianne Goodland - December 27, 2017 - Updated: December 28, 2017

The award for Californian of the Year. Don’t bet the farm that Sonnenberg will accept it. (Jon Caldara, courtesy photo)

The Independence Institute has named Colorado Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, as its inaugural winner of “Californian of the Year.”

The somewhat tongue-in-cheek award was given to Sonnenberg in recognition of his efforts “to turn Colorado into East California,” according to an Institute announcement Wednesday.

Coloradans are characterized by their ability to make their own decisions, the Institute’s announcement said. “By contrast, Californian character, which is taking hold of our once ruggedly individualistic, freedom-loving state, is best described as making decisions for other people.”

Institute President Jon Caldara said nothing exemplifies the California value of making decisions for others than the “massive tax increase” put forward by Sonnenberg and three other lawmakers during the 2017 session, in Senate Bill 17-267, also known as “Sustainability of Rural Colorado.”

The measure reclassified the state’s hospital provider fee from a fee to an enterprise, a government-owned business and a move which is allowed under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The law, signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May, prevented hospitals, including a dozen rural facilities, from facing hundreds of millions in budget cuts and possible closure. The law also allowed the state to bond for $2 billion for transportation needs, with at least 25 percent of that going to rural road projects. The money for those bonds will come from leasing state facilities through what’s known as “certificates of participation.”

The Institute announcement, however, said calling the hospital bed “tax” a fee and labeling debt as certificates of participation raised taxes by $550 million per year and added $2 billion in debt without asking for voter approval.

“This immense Colorado tax increase takes place in the shadow of the historic tax cut from the Republican-led U.S. Congress. We find it telling, yet sad, that Republicans in Washington have more respect for Colorado taxpayers than the state Republican Senate leadership who turned Sonnenberg’s Californian idea into law,” the announcement added.

Sonnenberg is up for re-election in 2018 in a solidly Republican district that covers much of eastern Colorado. He had no comment, although he said so with what sounded like exasperation in his voice.

Sonnenberg beat out four other Coloradans for the award: U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, Mayor Christine Berg of Lafayette; Aidan Cook, who is advocating for an end to mutton-busting at the National Western Stock Show; and Brandon Rietheimer, who successfully pushed for a ballot measure in the 2017 election to require new buildings at more than 25,000 square feet to have “green” roofs.

The announcement said Sonnenberg will be presented with the award next month when the General Assembly returns to Denver.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.