Three times during Wednesday's final State of the State address, Gov. John Hickenlooper brought up one of his signature efforts of the past several years: development of a state water plan to guide Colorado during the next 30-plus years.
Sure, there were all the opening-day rituals under the Dome on Wednesday — speeches, promises of bipartisanship and warm greetings among almost all of the 100 members, who insisted they were happy to see one another again. But then there’s the real business of the General Assembly: making laws (well, and killing legislation; plenty of that, too).
And the House Democratic majority got down to business the same day, releasing its caucus’s first five bills — enunciating some of their top priorities for the 2018 session. An announcement from the Dems’ press shop boiled it down to, “work-life balance, rural education, the opioid epidemic and college education credits.”
Or, as House Speaker Crisanta Duran put it:
“A major goal this session is to create more opportunities for Coloradans to turn their hard work into economic security. …These bills are part of a much larger agenda to preserve and enhance our Colorado way of life.”
Here’s the legislation — a lot of it with bipartisan sponsorship — as read across the House clerk’s desk:
HB18-1001/Reps. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Matt Gray, D-Broomfield – Creates an insurance programs that allows more Coloradans to take paid time off to care for a sick parent or loved one without having to quit their jobs, or risk being fired.
HB18-1002/Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale – Enables students in the final year of a teacher preparation program to receive stipends for teaching in rural school districts with teacher shortages. The first of several bills to address the rural teacher shortage.
HB18-1003/Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood – Authorizes grants for education, screening, intervention and prevention services to address the opioid epidemic, which is now the leading cause of accidental death among Coloradans 55 years of age and under. Part of a package of opioids bills from a bipartisan interim committee being brought by Reps. Pettersen, Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.
HB18-1004/Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver – Extends a tax credit for donations to child care facilities to help increase the availability of quality child care providers in Colorado.
HB18-1005/Reps. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan – Expands notification to students and their parents about concurrent enrollment opportunities, so high school students can get a jump on their college educations.
Republicans will introduce a bill to lock $300 million a year into the state budget, and then refer a ballot measure to Colorado voters in November to allow the state to borrow money against it for transportation, Senate President Kevin Grantham said on the opening day of the legislative session Wednesday.
With six weeks to go before next legislative session, seven House Republicans are calling out their chamber’s Democratic majority and Gov. John Hickenlooper to spend existing money on transportation in next year’s budget instead of waiting on voters to decide.
The group is releasing the statement Thursday morning but it was obtained early by Colorado Politics.
The request isn’t a new one. House Republicans made the same pitch last session for existing money versus asking voters for new taxes. Democrats countered that Republicans were seeking to take the money out of education and social programs already struggling to keep up with the state’s growth.
Last year, the issue hit an impasse when Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have asked voters to approve a sales tax to address the needs of roads, bridges and traffic jams. Republicans say the money already exists in a state budget that could grow by $2 billion next year.
When Hickenlooper released his budget request to the legislature this month, he asked for no additional additional money for transportation that hadn’t already been approved by lawmakers.
“We set the governor up to succeed, to knock it out of the ball park,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, one of the signers of a statement. “And he dropped the ball.”
Besides Becker, the statement was endorsed by Reps. Perry Buck of Windsor, Terri Carver of Colorado Springs, Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, Paul Lundeen of Monument, Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs and Yeulin Willett of Grand Junction.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said the group was being ridiculous and cited last year’s bipartisan Senate Bill 267, which will provide budget money that can be leveraged for transportation projects. She called the premise of extra money in the budget “malarkey.”
Her full statement is posted below the full text of the Republicans’ statement:
We have enough to fix our roads and bridges
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Colorado has one of the fastest growing economies and fasting growing populations in the nation. Yet, for a state surging in economic development, the state government has spent a fraction of what’s needed on the roads and bridges that service this influx of commerce and people.
For nearly a decade, transportation funding has been hyper-politicized, and the subject of a perennial blame-game between Republicans and Democrats. This begs the question: If both sides know more spending on roads and bridges is needed, why the impasse? The issue is a fundamental disagreement about how Colorado spends your tax dollars. Colorado has a constitutional mandate to balance its budget; every dollar collected must be accounted for in the annual budget. Democrats continue to look for more revenue, regardless of how much more money we get per year. Conversely, Republicans have long argued the problem is not the amount of revenue, but how it’s prioritized.
Take for example Gov. Hickenlooper’s recent budget request. Nowhere In his $30.5 billion 2018-2019 budget proposal is any general fund money allocated for roads and bridges. This is also not surprising, as none of his previous budget requests have called for general fund spending on these critical projects. It should be noted that during his administration, general fund revenue outpaced population by four to one.
It’s estimated that $300 million a year (less than 1 percent of Colorado’s current annual budget) will service a twenty-year $3.5 billion dollar bond to tackle the growing list of transportation projects and maintenance throughout the state. If Republicans were in control, the budget would start with that bond payment, followed by the next priority and so forth. Democrats however, insist Colorado’s tax payers need to pony up that additional $300 million through increased taxes, even though the budget is $1.09 billion larger than last year, and $10 billion larger than when Gov. Hickenlooper first took office.
When Republicans propose using existing resources for roads and bridges, the questions about “cuts” and “what programs will receive less funding” always seem to follow. But keep in mind, the Governor’s budget request calls for more than a dozen agencies to get an increase to their current budgets. Any reductions to those proposed increases only exist according to the Governor’s budget request. Moreover, a decrease in the amount of an increase is not a “cut.” it is responsible fiscal policy.
Fortunately, the governor’s request is just that, a request. The legislature retains the authority to set its own figures and appropriate your tax dollars. The next legislative session begins in January, and we have 120 days to iron out Colorado’s next budget. We are certain Democrats’ calls for more revenue will be loud and frequent, but consider those calls have not softened even with $12.5 billion more revenue over the last decade. Which begs a second and even more important question: how much more money do the Democrats need before they’ll start prioritizing Colorado’s most impactful infrastructure?
If it’s up to Republicans, we have enough. We can fund the infrastructure projects Colorado needs while ensuring the essential state services provided to citizens and communities are not compromised. The governor has made his case for how we should spend $30.5 billion, but we are not convinced that his request fits the needs of Colorado. All 100 state legislators need to keep their eyes on the top priority and recognize we have what we need to fix our roads and bridges.
Duran provided this response:
The idea that Democrats refuse to take action to address our roads and bridges in Colorado is absolutely ridiculous. Less than seven months ago we began to invest an additional $100 million per year that is being leveraged into nearly $2 billion for new transportation projects around the state. The bill that made this happen had strong bipartisan support. The authors of today’s letter must have very short memories.
We all want a transportation system that’s adequate to serve the needs of our growing state. And it’s true that nearly $2 billion isn’t going to solve all our transportation problems. But it’s easy to say, “Let’s spend more on roads.” Much harder to say, “Let’s spend more on roads by spending less on K-12 students, on hospitals and public safety.”
The letter-writers note that “[w]hen Republicans propose using existing resources for roads and bridges, the questions about ‘cuts’ and ‘what programs will receive less funding’ always seem to follow.”
We are still waiting for answers to those questions.
Those answers are the crux of the issue, because the notion that there are big chunks of money buried in the couch cushions of our state government is misleading malarkey. In a state where the population is both growing and aging, the demands on our state budget increase every year – simply pointing to numerical increases in the budget is disingenuous.
Our innovative transportation funding referred measure last year would have been an actual solution to this problem, and it’s disappointing that three Republicans in the Senate prevented Coloradans from deciding whether to make that investment in our transportation system.
Here’s the bottom line: we were able to make a historic investment in transportation last year, but Republican proposals to divert existing dollars will unavoidably cut funding to our schools, place even more of a debt burden on Colorado’s college students and cut services for seniors and disabled Coloradans. That’s an unacceptable solution, and it’s unfortunate that the Republicans continue to argue for it.
Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday responded to criticism from Republican lawmakers and others about the special session he called last week to address a mistake made in the hospital provider fee law. The measure, signed into law on May 30, is intended to spare hospitals from a greater than half-billion budget cut in 2017-18. The law […]
A simple fix may turn out to be pretty complicated. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to fix a problem with the landmark legislation that reclassified the state’s hospital provider fee program may have hit a snag: the two Republican lawmakers who helped marshal the bill through the General Assembly have no intention of helping with the fix.
Ideas inspire both philosophers and legislators, but the two jobs differ considerably thereafter.
That distinction is critical to understanding the current dust-up between the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara and several Republican lawmakers.
A thoughtful, assertive voice for liberty, Caldara is a friend and an ally. He and the Institute advocate tirelessly for personal freedom and limited government – principles that are as dear to me now as they were when I served in the Colorado Senate.
Caldara’s job is to turn up the heat on lawmakers when they are being cajoled to compromise. His job is not, however, to consider those same lawmakers’ prospects for re-election or to balance the competing interests that lawmakers face back home.
So, when Caldara calls for the Republican Party to purge lawmakers who, in his view, don’t sufficiently toe the line, it’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and assess the realities that lawmakers must face – or ignore at their own peril.
Legislators have a responsibility to the people they represent. They are responsible for governing, particularly when their party is empowered with a majority.
In Colorado, Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate. Democrats hold a nine-vote margin in the state House, and they’ve held the Governor’s Mansion for more than a decade.
The reality is that Republicans cannot pass legislation without some cooperation from Democrats – and vice versa.
Two such bipartisan bills considered by the Legislature earlier this year draw Caldara’s ire because they represented compromise on existing taxpayer protections.
House Bill 1242, sponsored by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, proposed to ask voters for a sales tax increase to boost transportation funding, which has flat-lined for the past 17 years.
Grantham is a straight shooter. He didn’t break any arms, buy any votes or employ dirty tricks. He asked his caucus to give the bill a fair hearing, and ultimately, it died in a Senate committee.
Senate Bill 267 – which became law – moved the controversial Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) outside the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) spending limit, allowing government spending to increase. On the other hand, it lowered the TABOR spending cap by $200 million.
Caldara skewers Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) and Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), along with Reps. Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan) and Polly Lawrence (R-Castle Rock), for advancing the bill.
If Republicans had their way, the spending cap would have been reduced by more than $500 million. Conversely, Democrats wouldn’t have reduced the cap whatsoever, except that they had to placate Republicans.
Important to rural lawmakers, the bill threw a lifeline to several smalltown hospitals that were faced with shutdown. That may not mean much to residents of the Front Range where hospitals are ubiquitous. However, closing the only hospital in an entire county is the difference between life and death for some victims of severe accidents or acute illness. Worse still, a community that loses its hospital faces a bleak future, with closure of businesses and schools looming.
Sonnenberg and Becker cut the best deal they could to protect the interests of the rural communities they represent and to prevent taxpayers from being fleeced.
With perfect hindsight, let’s compare this compromise to a missed opportunity several years ago when Republicans considered a bill expanding rights for gays and lesbians while protecting freedom of conscience of individuals and organizations whose faith holds that marriage is the domain of opposite-sex couples.
Republicans killed that bill and, in the next election, lost their majority in the state House. The next year, Democrats passed the same bill minus protections for religious liberty.
Like it or not, progress in a split legislature involves give-and-take. That doesn’t sell well in a white paper, but it’s the reality that our lawmakers must confront. After all, what good is a pristine voting record if you’ve done nothing to make life better for the people who elected you
Colorado’s political right has made its heartburn abundantly clear by now over Senate Bill 267, the eleventh-hour, catch-all, bipartisan legislation that wound up funding a little of this and a little more of that — and unexpectedly became the sleeper of the 2017 legislature. The bill’s title purported to address the “sustainability of rural Colorado” but, as it turned out, reclassified the endlessly debated hospital-provider fee; authorized the lease-purchase of state buildings to fund highways; gave a $30 million lift to rural schools; the list goes on.
Just to underscore the indignation among true believers in the state’s law on tax limitation — which SB 267’s critics say was trampled — the venerable (and once influential) Colorado Union of Taxpayers, or CUT, has named a number of the bill’s legislative supporters to a “wall of shame.” It’s evidently a first for the decades-old group. CUT’s ire, and the wall itself, are mostly directed at black sheep in its own flock — i.e., what it deems wayward Republicans. All but two named to the wall are in fact members of the GOP:
…those legislators who sponsored SB17-267 and those CUT pledge signers (indicated by *) who flagrantly violated their pledge to Colorado Taxpayers: Senators Randy Baumgardner*, Kevin Grantham*, Lucia Guzman, Kevin Priola*, and Jerry Sonnenberg; Representatives Jon Becker, KC Becker, Phillip Covarrubias*, Lois Landgraf*, Polly Lawrence*, Kimmi Lewis*, Larry Liston*, Clarice Navarro*.
Some recent history: While much of legislative leadership as well as some rank-and-file members in both parties were patting themselves on the back for the considerable compromise that went into SB 267 (signed into law by the governor in May), the Republican right rebelled. Went ballistic, really. Particularly the reclassification of the hospital-provider fee aggrieved the likes of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, among others, because it effectively allows the state to hold onto surplus tax revenue it otherwise would have to return to taxpayers under constitutional taxing and pending limits. Hardline fiscal conservatives also didn’t like how the bill uses a technical loophole to borrow highway-construction funding without first seeking voter approval.
The fact that a number of Republicans signed onto the measure in both chambers — the Senate, which they control, and the House, which they don’t — drew epithets like “betrayal” and “sellout” from the right. Independence’s Jon Caldara and like-minded advocates were left nearly speechless (not literally in Caldara’s case, of course):
Support for the measure by some of the legislative GOP has in fact led to something of a rift in Republican ranks, as highlighted by a heated Twitter exchange we captured not long ago. Some of the sharpest barbs flew between Caldara and roving Republican operative Tyler Sandberg:
Charlatans like @JonCaldara refuse 2 acknowledge reasonable people can disagree w/o accusing the other of being the anti-Christ#COpolitics
Founded in 1976, CUT describes itself as “our state’s long-serving advocate for taxpayers.” Its familiar scorecard ratings of lawmakers, assessing their fiscal conservatism or lack thereof, have at times held considerable sway among Republicans at the Capitol.