Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJune 7, 20177min520
Gov. John Hickenlooper talks with reporters on March 8, 2017, at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

 

Two Republican state lawmakers are irked at Gov. John Hickenlooper for not signing a bill to maintain funding for rural hospitals at one of the hospitals that would have been affected.

Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who sponsored the omnibus bill that provided money for roads, schools and hospitals, told Colorado Politics that they felt the governor, a Democrat, was unwilling to work with them on the signing ceremony. The decision is going to make it difficult to work with the governor in the future, they added.

The bill also was sponsored by two Democrats.

Hickenlooper’s office maintains that it was simply a matter of scheduling, and that the bill was still signed in a rural part of the state, east of Pueblo. But for Sonnenberg and Becker, it’s a matter of optics.

The driving force behind the bill, which creates a 20-year funding program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, had to do with the potential for rural hospitals to close because of a lack of funding.

Senate Bill 267 reversed a proposed budget move that would have reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado would have lost about $528 million.

Republicans found themselves evolving on the issue because of the rural component. Last year, under the leadership of former Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, the issue of restructuring the Hospital Provider Fee was a nonstarter, as many Republicans believed the move would violate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by moving revenue out from under its constitutionally mandated spending cap.

But a handful of Republicans changed course this year, including Sonnenberg and Becker. They were dismayed to learn that the governor would sign the bill at Fowler High School. While it is in a rural area, in a town of about 1,200 people, and the legislation also benefits schools, the two lawmakers thought the governor should have signed the bill at a hospital in an area such as Hugo in Lincoln County, which was repeatedly highlighted during the Hospital Provider Fee debate.

“The total lack of communication on the part of the governor’s office is disappointing but not at all surprising,” Sonnenberg said.

“Four legislators from drastically different ideologies came together to pass this landmark bipartisan bill to sustain rural Colorado. The governor’s inability to communicate effectively with any of the sponsors to coordinate a bill signing at the Hugo hospital – our first choice – is just one more in a chain of missteps that prove that while our split legislature is capable of getting the work done, the governor has fallen completely out of touch.

“While we know the governor has the authority to sign bills wherever he wants, I am disappointed that it seems bill signings have become all about him. Legislators don’t have taxpayer funded airplanes and transportation to keep up with the governor’s whims.”

The governor’s office says the signing ceremony was simply a matter of scheduling. Several other lawmakers showed up to the event, including House Democratic Leader KC Becker, who also sponsored the legislation. Becker is from Boulder.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City also attended the ceremony, as did Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, who was one of the first Republicans to rally around the bill, even stating his support in previous years.

When it comes to signing ceremonies, the governor’s office is often overwhelmed by requests from lawmakers who want legislation signed at specific locations. It can be difficult to accommodate schedules, especially with the governor traveling the state and lawmakers looking to take vacation time after the session.

“I’m sorry they feel slighted on this one, but there was no slight intended from the governor’s office,” said Kurt Morrison, Hickenlooper’s director of legislative affairs. “It was scheduled around as many schedules as there could be and unfortunately with every bill signing ceremony, we’re hardly ever able to accommodate the wishes of all sponsors and the governor’s schedule.”

Rep. Jon Becker went as far as to say that the governor’s decision not to sign the bill at a hospital in a rural area like Hugo could impact interactions in the next legislative session. Next year is likely to be politically charged anyway, as the session will take place ahead of midterm elections and several statewide races.

“I cannot be more disappointed in our governor,” Becker said. “He asks us to work together and then does not work with us when we do. He was asked to work with us on a bill signing. We asked to have it at a hospital that would have been in trouble if the bill did not pass. We had several options and he ignored them all. Then when he decided on a bill signing location he gave us very few days notice as to where it was.

“He had three weeks to work with us on this very important bill and he refused. If he considers that working together, I can’t wait to show him how that goes both ways next session.”


r960-115bda7568fbc94f2b50ab49a26b12f8.jpg

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJune 5, 20176min511

 

Gov. John Hickenlooper is being pressured to decide between criminal justice reform and the needs of the law enforcement community regarding a controversial civil forfeiture bill.

Much of the law enforcement community, including Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey, is urging Hickenlooper to veto the legislation, which aims at reporting seizure information to the state and pushing cases away from federal control.

The governor has reportedly received dozens of letters in opposition from police and local governments, including from the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties, Inc., the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, County Sheriffs Of Colorado and Colorado State Patrol, to name a few.

The criminal justice reform side of the debate says the practice, in which law enforcement can seize money and property in suspected criminal cases, even before a verdict is reached and without due process, is abusive.

The governor has not yet made a decision on the measure, which has him in a thorny situation. His office continues to discuss the bill with stakeholders, including lawmakers and law enforcement officials.

One option facing the governor is to allow the measure to become law without his signature, though he would likely include a letter explaining his position.

Police chiefs and sheriffs say they aren’t opposed to the idea of reforming the practice, but that they believe more state-level research into the subject should be done before the legislation becomes law. It’s also a matter of maintaining budgets.

“I understand the desire to increase transparency regarding the process of asset forfeiture, and I support those efforts. However, this bill goes far beyond improving public access to data and analysis regarding asset forfeiture,” Chief Carey wrote in a letter to Hickenlooper.

The bill passed the legislature this year after intense negotiations and previous failed attempts. Supporters of the bill were under the impression that they had reached a fair compromise, but law enforcement says the state is moving too quickly.

“This bill seeks to drastically restrict our participation in the federal asset seizure and forfeiture process without any evidence this process is misused in the state of Colorado,” Carey wrote.

A concern that is driving the process is that agencies – including prosecutors and police – have been outsourcing the legal process to the federal government, which does not have the same standards as Colorado.

Under the legislation, police departments would need to disclose biannually any forfeiture proceeds through either a state of federal forfeiture process.

What’s most concerning to law enforcement is that agencies would be prohibited from receiving proceeds from federal forfeiture cases if property and money seized is less than $50,000. The idea is that smaller cases should be handled by the state, not by federal prosecutors.

Critics, however, say the $50,000 figure is arbitrary and that it has not been studied.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill say the legislation is not about painting law enforcement in a negative light. They argue it’s about ending a failed drug war that is benefiting law enforcement, while also encouraging transparency.

“We know there are bad actors and we have to talk about that,” said Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, a sponsor of the legislation.

“The fact that they have not been reporting is a problem. The fact that they have been going around the state process is a problem.”

Supporters of the bill say money seized should be applied to criminal justice reform, including fueling programs that combat the opioid epidemic.

But police say the bill would handicap their ability to fight crime by forcing agencies away from outsourcing cases to the federal government. Some prosecutors also fear that they are headed down a road where they would eventually have to hire staff just to handle forfeiture litigation.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said had the bill been in place during cases since 2012, the department would not have received federal equitable sharing in 85 percent of cases. Local officers spent over 42,000 hours investigating cases with federal partners.

But Herod said the alternative is that the legislature comes back next year and discusses a complete elimination of the state’s participation in forfeiture cases.

“It’s important to note that we need to pass this bill or we’ll see bills in the future that say we need to get rid of asset forfeiture altogether,” Herod said. “Quite frankly, they might have that support.”


3Capitol Gold.jpg

Peter MarcusMay 22, 20174min340

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed a measure that will provide a state income tax deduction for monetary awards received as a result of winning an Olympic medal.

House Bill 1104 was signed at a ceremony at the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.

The measure follows a move by Congress last year that gave broad passage to a similar measure to exempt medals and stipends from taxes.

In the Colorado legislation, deductions are given to to anyone who receives a medal at the summer or winter Olympics or Paralympic games.

Non-monetary benefits and endorsement earnings are not eligible for the income tax deduction, which will be available beginning in tax year 2018.

Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, was the driving force behind the bill during the last session.

The USOC gives athletes who win a medal at the summer or winter Olympics a cash award: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals. Paralympian medal winners are paid $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000, respectively.

The United States Olympic and Paralympic teams have won an average of 100 medals during each of the last four summer Olympic and Paralympic games and 35 medals during each of the last four winter Olympic and Paralympic games.

Federal law allows the value of Olympic or Paralympic medals and any monetary prizes received from the USOC to be excluded from federal taxable income, as long as the taxpayer has an adjusted gross income of less than $1 million.

House Bill 1104 won’t have much of an impact on state revenue, according to state fiscal analysts. Data from the USOC shows there were 65 Colorado residents that participated in the 2014 winter and 2016 summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Of these, seven athletes won an Olympic or Paralympic medal for a total of seven medals.

The value of the state income tax would have been approximately $2,400 in tax year 2014 and nearly $2,800 in tax year 2016.

It also won’t cost much money to implement the program, as fiscal analysts believe it can be accomplished with existing resources given the small number of taxpayers that are expected to claim the state income tax deduction and its availability every two years.

“Your proposed state-based legislation would provide much needed and significant financial support to some of Colorado’s most dedicated amateur athletes,” Desiree Filippone, managing director of government relations for the USOC, said in a letter to lawmakers as the bill was moving through the legislative process.

“Our Olympic and Paralympic athletes shouldn’t be penalized by way of a tax on their medals or stipends,” said Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, a sponsor of the bill. “Not everyone ends up on a Wheaties box, and as Coloradans we have an opportunity to make a statement and a difference to and for the young people that work so hard to represent the U.S.”


CD6-2.jpg

Peter MarcusMay 19, 20178min457

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday announced that he will not call the legislature back to work on the outstanding issue of transportation, which could force a ballot initiative.

After the legislative session ended last Wednesday, Hickenlooper had a message for lawmakers: Don’t make any vacation plans for the rest of May.

But on Friday he made it clear that a special session would not happen, despite his frustration with the legislature’s failure to come up with a larger source of money for crumbling roads and highways.

“We can always do better,” Hickenlooper said at a Friday afternoon news conference. “I continue to have real concerns about how we’re going to finance infrastructure… We received only a fraction of the money that we need for transportation.”

Hickenlooper had been contemplating calling lawmakers back to work more on transportation, funding the state energy office, health care policy, and rural broadband internet.

Hickenlooper called those outcomes from the session disappointing – especially losing funding for the Colorado Energy Office – despite also claiming “the most productive legislative session” since he took office in 2011.

Transportation was the top priority. An omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the session relies on existing state revenue. Transportation would get about $1.9 billion over the next 20 years. But from that, $500 million would go to rural infrastructure and $200 million to mass transit.

About $1.1 billion — parceled out by yearly budgeting — would go for “other” transportation needs, including clogged interstates that have driven most of the conversation to make massive new investments in the state’s transportation system.

But after the session Hickenlooper said that’s not nearly enough against $9 billion in identified needs, and eventually the state’s traffic jams are going to start hurting the state’s robust economy.

Hickenlooper was considering asking lawmakers to take another look at a sales-tax increase for roads that would have to be backed by voters, a proposal which failed in the legislature this past session.

“These last nine days we talked to a number of stakeholders… and we wanted to reassess whether it would be worth the effort to bring everybody back, and I think in the end our conclusion is that it really isn’t worth calling special session at this time. The political landscape hasn’t shifted,” Hickenlooper said.

Without a more comprehensive transportation package, the issue could still go to voters. Several ballot initiatives are being discussed. The Colorado Contractors Association and the libertarian Independence Institute have filed multiple ideas.

The Contractors Association effort proposes a range of tax increases, while the Independence Institute’s proposals would ask voters to approve using existing funds to pay for a transportation bond program.

Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, said his organization is going to be re-evaluating the ballot proposals to see which one might work, and whether to run it this year or in 2018.

“At this point we’re going to have to do some more analysis and research on them… to see if there’s an appetite to go in 2017 or maybe step back and write something for 2018,” Milo said.

He added that the ballot proposals must be re-examined after the legislature passed the omnibus spending bill, which Milo called only a “down payment.”

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have lamented that while the governor was considering a special session, he never reached out to Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City.

The caucus posted a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video in which Grantham is sitting at his desk eagerly awaiting a call from Hickenlooper.

Suddenly the phone rings and Grantham quickly answers, “Governor?” But, alas, it is not the governor, it is Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, one of the key lawmakers behind the $1.9 billion omnibus spending bill.

“Jerry, I’m expecting a call from the governor, he said he’s calling about special session and I’m waiting here to receive his call.”

Hickenlooper said he never gave Grantham a call, who sponsored the failed tax increase proposal in the legislature, because the Senate president made it clear that he wasn’t interested in a special session.

“He was very explicit the day after the end of the session that he wanted no part of a special session,” Hickenlooper said. “He didn’t think there was going to be any different answers… I didn’t have to call him and waste his time. I know how busy he is, despite what the video seemed to portray.”

Following the governor’s comments, Grantham did not appear satisfied with the response.

“I guess there was certainly no need for all the mystery of deciding to not announce it on Monday, and then not announce it on Tuesday, and not announce it on Wednesday …” Grantham said. “I was waiting for the governor to provide the ending.”

Sandra Hagen Solin, spokeswoman for Fix Colorado Roads, which led many of the transportation talks in the legislature, expressed disappointment that the governor didn’t call the legislature back.

“We had hoped there would be another opportunity for a legislative solution to our funding and finance challenge to be crafted for the 2017 ballot,” she said. “We are disappointed that the door is closed for this year. We are committed to keeping the conversation moving forward with legislative leaders and voters.”

Loren Furman, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association Of Commerce and Industry, said business interests will begin to look at alternatives, such as ballot measures.

“Another opportunity to secure long-term funding for transportation is certainly one we strongly support but we respect the governor’s decision,” Furman said. “We know this issue is important to Coloradans who use our roads every day and they should be given the choice of whether to fund our ever-growing infrastructure needs.”

Other issues left on the table 

The governor is also concerned that the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on fully funding the Colorado Energy Office. Lawmakers came to an impasse on the last day of the session, severely crippling the energy office.

Broadband is another concern for the governor. Lawmakers were able to come up with $9.5 million to expand broadband into rural areas. But they weren’t able to come up with a steady more permanent stream of money.

Several of the governor’s priority health care bills also failed this year, including a bill that would have required hospitals to submit more information about how they spend the state’s Medicaid dollars.


Swing, Gary.jpg

After legislators adjourned the 120-day legislative session Wednesday night, they convened at Stoney’s Bar & Grill in downtown Denver. Gov. John Hickenlooper made the rounds with a message: Don’t make any vacation plans for the rest of May.

He told reporters Thursday he’s going to think about it through the weekend before deciding if he will call lawmakers back to Denver to work some more on transportation, funding the state energy office, health care policy and rural broadband internet, outcomes from the session that Hickenlooper called disappointing.

“With a special session you have a little more time and maybe bills can be assigned to a place where they can get a fair hearing, a public hearing,” the governor said.

“Then the media, therefore the entire state, can see exactly who’s saying what.”

An omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the session relies on existing state revenue. Transportation would get about $1.9 billion over the next 20 years. But from that, $500 million would go to rural infrastructure and $200 million to mass transit.

About $1.1 billion — parceled out by yearly budgeting — would go for “other” transportation needs, including clogged interstates that have driven most of the conversation to make massive new investments in the state’s transportation system.

Hickenlooper said that’s not nearly enough against $9 billion in identified needs, and eventually the state’s traffic jams are going to start hurting the state’s robust economy.

Asked by Colorado Politics what he would ask lawmakers to do differently, Hickenlooper suggested taking another look at sales taxes, but not the high 0.62 percent (on top of the state’s existing 2.9 percent), but something more reasonable might pass with voters in November.

“Let’s do it!” Sandra Hagen Solin of the business coalition Fix Colorado Roads said in a text message after the Hickenlooper’s meeting with reporters. “Let’s finish the conversation. Let’s find the middle ground on a proposal to fund our most pressing corridors that can be supported in both chambers and can secure a favorable vote by the voters.”

Legislative leaders shared a message for the governor: What’s the point?

“If he wants a tax hike, is there a legislature that’s going to put that on the ballot for him now?” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said in a statement. “Not this legislature, as we’ve already seen.

“Unless the governor can point to successes on any of these issues he’s guaranteed to have, he’ll just be wasting taxpayer dollars. I appreciate his desire to get things done. But we had an opportunity for him to have engaged on these issues during a 120-day session, and now it’s Day 121.”

House Speaker Crisanta Duran told reporters Senate Republicans have already demonstrated they won’t support a tax hike for roads, but instead want to take the money from other state programs and services. House Bill 1242, which she and Grantham co-sponsored, would have asked voters to pass a sales-tax hike in November to raise about $700 million a year.

“There were so many ideas incorporated in the 1242 that was the result of anybody willing to have the conversation, anybody who was willing to come to the table,” she said. “Unfortunately there were some who were just not willing to come to the table.”

With the centerpiece of the session in tatters, lawmakers were able to come together on a separate bill that will restructure the a state fee on hospital beds to move it out from under a constitutional spending cap that triggers rebates to taxpayers.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he wouldn’t call the session a failure — “no session is a failure” — even though fellow Senate Republicans rejected the transportation bill he negotiated and co-sponsored.

“Keep working on transportation,” he said Wednesday, as the session was finishing up. “That’s all we can do.”

The governor is also concerned that the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on fully funding the Colorado Energy Office. Lawmakers came to an impasse on the last day of the session, severely crippling the energy office.

Broadband is another concern for the governor. Lawmakers were able to come up with $9.5 million to expand broadband into rural areas. But they weren’t able to come up with a steady more permanent stream of money.

Several of the governor’s priority health care bills also failed this year, including a bill that would have required hospitals to submit more information about how they spend the state’s Medicaid dollars.


12El Paso GOP Assembly.jpg

Peter MarcusApril 28, 20173min194
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday vetoed legislation what would have addressed a tax credit on cigars shipped out of state. The bipartisan Senate Bill 139 would have allowed cigar retailers to claim a tax credit on the state’s 40 percent excise tax for out-of-state sales. The credit is set to expire in September 2018. The […]

This content is only available to subscribers.

Login or Subscribe



Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 25, 20173min323
Six Republican state legislators from El Paso County are calling on the governor to get a move on to designate Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock a “high priority” to possibly score some money from the Trump administration. The president signed an executive order Tuesday to expedite environmental reviews for high-priority infrastructure projects. Trump […]

This content is only available to subscribers.

Login or Subscribe