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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 14, 20175min818

As often is the case, the Colorado Municipal League is the go-to source to explain complicated issues that we untrained reporters struggle to fully grasp. That’s the case with the tax bugaboo that has Gov. John Hickenlooper working on plans to call lawmakers back to Denver for a special session next month.

The mistake was introduced when the legislature hurriedly passed Senate Bill 267 at the end of the last session to reclassify the state’s hospital provider fee. The aim was to get it out from under a constitutional spending cap in order to drum up money for rural hospitals and transportation without — only technically — a tax increase.

For special districts, however, it was a significant tax decrease, which was never lawmakers’ aim.

In July CML’s deputy director, Kevin Bommer, wrote the clearest, most definitive explanation to date that Pulitzer Prize-winning publications in Colorado could only admire.

A critical part of the deal was an increase in marijuana taxes that will fund other portions of the deal, such as a business personal property tax credit. However, the decision to exempt marijuana from the state’s base sales tax and increase the special sales tax rate was made on the fly. The resulting fallout has become a cautionary tale for many in the state that blame local sales taxes for being complicated but fail to look at state policies that muddy the waters.

Bommer cited some reporting from the venerable Denver Post, but noted the state’s newspaper of record wasn’t the first to take a shot explaining the legislative quagmire. He’s right. The driver of this political conversation was Sherrie Peif of Complete Colorado. The Post rode her reporting coat tails four days later.

“As a general rule, changes in the state sales tax base automatically apply to statutory entities – statutory municipalities, counties, and special districts,” Bommer explained in his July 24 blog. “With over 80 different state sale tax exemptions on the books and legislation every session that propose more, the Colorado Municipal League is perennially busy ensuring that the state’s decision to exempt something from its own base does not automatically exempt it in statutory municipalities. (Home rule municipalities are thankfully unaffected by state exemptions, and such decisions on exemptions are purely local)

“The process was no different for SB 267.”

Read Boomer’s excellent Legislative Matters blog here.

Special session in the works to fix error in hospital provider fee bill

There were critics that the compromise was being rushed through at the time. One of the most clear and notable was Michael Fields, Americans for Prosperity’s Colorado clutch man who urged lawmakers to slow down and think deeply instead of swiftly on far-reaching tax policy. For years, the GOP has been resistant to reclassifying the hospital provider fee, because it represented monkeying with the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the constitutional amendment that conservatives revere like Reagan because it caps state spending.

Fields enjoyed an I-told-you-so moment Wednesday night after Colorado Politics was the first to report that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s staff is working on dates for the special session.

He said on Twitter:


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 16, 20175min413

For a long time Denver and, much more recently, Colorado Springs have been the only cities in the state with what municipal-government wonks call a “strong mayor” form of government. That’s where the mayor serves as the city’s full-time, hands-on chief executive, appointing department heads, running day-to-day operations and generally presiding over a separate branch of government from the city council.

Most other Colorado cities have what is inelegantly called a “weak mayor,” i.e., more of a strategist in chief who helps guide the overall direction of city government but leaves its routine operations to a city manager. There are assorted variations of the weak mayor; many involve the mayor sitting in a part-time capacity as a member of the city council and having little more power than the other council members. A first among equals; a chief parliamentarian who gavels down meetings and makes appointments to the parks board.

And then there’s Pueblo. It has no mayor at all. According to the Colorado Municipal League, Pueblo and Steamboat Springs are the state’s only two municipalities that have chosen to forgo a mayor entirely in favor of a council president.

For the second time in less than a decade, some Puebloans are trying to change that. In 2009, Pueblo voters rejected a ballot proposal to take on a strong mayor; now, reports the Pueblo Chieftain’s Peter Roper, civic leaders might run it up the flagpole again. Only, this time, those advocating for a mayor haven’t yet agreed on whether to ask voters for a strong or a weak one:

Nick Gradisar, Pueblo lawyer and member of the Board of Water Works, has been touting that change for years, arguing that Pueblo needs a leader with real power to shake up the city and get it growing again.

“And if that person can’t deliver on their agenda, voters could choose somebody new,” he explained in a recent interview.

Not so fast, argues Ralph Williams and Mike Salardino.

They are part of a second mayoral group that wants to steer around the “strong” style of mayor. They agree that Pueblo needs a mayor — someone with that prestigious title to be the city’s leader and symbol — but they don’t want to give that person the authority to pick city department heads, write the budget and be a full-time boss.

Where will it all lead? Perhaps no further than it did last time. Maybe not even that far. In any event, Roper’s overview of the debate is an enlightening read, pointing out among other things how the right person in a “weak” mayor’s shoes can be every bit as strong as a strong mayor, only with less power, pomp, bureaucracy and pay.

Williams and Salardino point to a Front Range legend — long-time Colorado Springs Mayor Bob Isaac — who led, bullied, cajoled, lectured and shaped that city’s government for five terms, a total of 20 years.

The late Isaac had a deep, gravely voice — the result of about 1 million cigarettes — and he was also a shrewd lawyer. No one doubted who was in charge in Colorado Springs. Yet he was a weak mayor: that city still relied on a manager to run the day-to-day operations.

… “Bob Isaac was the leader in Colorado Springs, and look how much that city grew during his years,” he said. “Pueblo would still need professional city management, but a weak mayor would provide that leader, as well. The best of both.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 16, 20174min273

Ardent defender of local control; treasure trove of facts and figures about Colorado’s cities; powerhouse lobby. The Colorado Municipal League fits the bill for all those descriptions and more. Of course, the organization’s wide-ranging mission goes with the territory — given the diverse assortment of municipalities it represents.

And that’s why its legislative wrap on the just-concluded 2017 session is wide-ranging as well. And lengthy.

Ever wary of overreaching by the state’s lawmakers, who have been known to trespass on local government’s turf, the league begins its summary and run-down of this year’s key legislative developments with a nearly audible sigh of relief:

Often, the danger of the last hours of the session is that deals get made in haste or by those trying to sneak something in under the wire. Once something gets into a bill or a conference committee report at the end of the session, it is hard for legislators to try to fix it — or kill it if it is not fixable.

In the last 10 days of the session, CML lobbyists were trying to contain and direct multiple bills… to ensure that the League’s positions were able to be maintained and that nothing changed in the bills that … municipalities would oppose.

In the final hours of the legislative session, there was a flurry of activity with many positive results. More importantly, no damage was done.

Like all influential lobbies — its slogan: “the voice of Colorado’s cities and towns” — the league cultivates a list of bills it supports as well as those it opposes every legislative session. And it makes sure it is heard; Executive Director Sam Mamet, a veritable fixture at the Capitol, is regarded as nothing less than relentless in pursuit of his members’ interests .

So, what were the league’s win-loss stats this year?

CML tracked 257 of the 684 bills and concurrent resolutions introduced. Of the 41 bills that CML supported, nearly 70 percent passed. Of the 29 bills CML opposed, 93 percent either were defeated or were amended such that the League dropped its opposition. These numbers may change, as they presume that the governor will sign all pending bills.

Among victories for which the league claims at least partial credit:

  • A step toward meaningful construction defects reform to kick-start owner-occupied attached and affordable housing. …
  • Defeat of unnecessary and harmful legislation that would have impaired downtown development authorities against the will of the voters who establish them …
  • Defeat of multiple bills that would have given business personal property tax and property tax breaks without holding municipalities harmless.

Incidentally, the league doesn’t sound too keen on a special session, whatever the pleasure of the governor:

While disappointing that the legislature could not find a meaningful statewide solution on transportation funding, it seems clear that a special session will not change that. People will have to roll up their sleeves over the summer and get back to work.

So noted.

Here’s the link again to the league’s full “Statehouse Report.”

 



Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 4, 20175min206
It’s campaign season for city elections across Colorado in the coming weeks, and this year’s ballots collectively pack an interesting punch. Besides council races, voters will decide on pot taxes, faster internet, sales taxes and fluoride, to name a few. There’s not hustle and bustle of governors or presidents blowing through when there’s loose dogs and […]

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Mike McKibbinMike McKibbinJanuary 11, 201714min307

Denver's recreational marijuana dispensaries want to be able to stay open later than 7 p.m. and have asked the City Council to extend their hours to as late as midnight. Currently, recreational and medical marijuana businesses operate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., shorter hours than all the city's surrounding communities, Kristi Kelly, director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said at the council's Special Issues: Marijuana Committee meeting Monday, Jan. 9. Kelly noted Edgewater, Aurora and Glendale allow marijuana dispensaries in their jurisdictions to stay open until either 10 p.m. or midnight.



Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 10, 20172min169
The Colorado Municipal League’s latest “State of Our Cities & Towns” report gives you an idea how much is provided locally to make communities more enjoyable. CML’s annual survey of Colorado municipalities measured the percent that offer amenities that make hometowns more “livable.” Nearly all provide parks, while trails and open spaces also are more prevalent […]

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Mike McKibbinMike McKibbinDecember 26, 20163min336

The Colorado Municipal League has listed seven key issues it plans to focus its lobbying efforts on in the upcoming 71st General Assembly, which begins Jan. 11, 2017. In a Dec. 21 blog, Deputy Director Kevin Bommer noted that while the league does initiate some legislation to address issues on behalf of its 269 member cities and towns, most of its work is in reaction to bills introduced in the House and Senate.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJune 10, 201621min333

Even after 23 years lobbying at the state Capitol, Jane Urschel says she learns something new all the time. “Every day is different,” she says. “There’s no continuity — you just go down there and find out what the surprise is for the day, then you deal with that.” Urschel is in charge of advocacy — not just lobbying, though that’s a big chunk of it — for the state’s school boards, serving as deputy executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, known as CASB.


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Ron RakowskyRon RakowskyMarch 23, 20167min313

The media has been replete with the saddest of stories about a serious health issue facing all of our communities — prescription drug abuse. Here are some facts: Each day, 44 people die as a result of an opioid overdose, far exceeding car-crash deaths. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, the rate of opioid deaths has increased by 200 percent. A significant problem results from prescription painkillers. A March 16 New York Times article focused on the pressures facing physicians, especially in rural areas. “Do no harm” is in the medical crosshairs more and more. As state-administered prescription drug monitoring programs clamp down on the practice of over-prescribing, some patients turn to cheaper options, including heroin.