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Ernest LuningErnest LuningOctober 3, 20178min5600

It's safe to say no one is happy with the special legislative session that convened Monday and concluded Tuesday at the Colorado Capitol.  Gov. John Hickenlooper has faced nearly unified opposition from Republican lawmakers since calling the special session in order to come up with a "simple fix" to a drafting error in complicated legislation he signed earlier this year.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 3, 20179min11190

Colorado lawmakers, depending on party affiliation, thought the special session that ended Tuesday on a party-line vote in the Republican-controlled Senate Transportation Committee represented a missed opportunity to fix their mistake or a staunch defense of the state Constitution.

Republicans opposed the fix and preferred voters decide the tax issue, or at least get specific legal guidance on Senate Bill 267, the bipartisan legislation the governor signed into law in May. The bill inadvertently removed special districts’ ability to get a share of marijuana tax revenue. Agencies that provide transit, cultural programs and other special services told lawmakers that while it was a small part of their annual budgets, every dollars counts.

Republicans argued that taking away a tax then restoring it, as Democrats sought to do, might require voters to approve it under the constitutional Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, chair of the Senate Transportation, which killed both bills seeking to fix the badly worded bill, asked Dave Genova, head of Denver’s Regional Transportation District, whether it had a plan to cut services. RTD did not.

He asked if it had contingency funds that could prop up services while the legislature worked on a fix in the regular session in January. It did.

“While we do have these rainy day accounts, we do have a lot of competing priorities,” Genova told the committee Tuesday.

Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, seemed exasperated with Republicans who wanted to wait three and half more months. She said “lawyer after lawyer” had told lawmakers that they have the authority to fix a bill-drafting error without going back to voters for approval to restore the pot taxes to special districts.

“If you can remedy a problem sooner rather than later, doesn’t it make more sense to do so?” she asked in the committee hearing.

House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, said he took an oath to uphold the state Constitution, which says voters must approve tax increases.

“Our failure to comply with the Constitution also has consequences, ” he said. “We’ve heard a lot about how this is a simple fix, but a simple fix is in the eye of the beholder.”

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, said some Republicans are using the bill to show opposition to RTD, “Some people want to use this as a way to punish RTD, but this is not just about RTD.”

Baumgardner said he didn’t believe that theory on punishment, but wondered why the push for a fix, through a special session came too late to get it on the ballot to let voters decide this November.

“You could have put this on the 2017 ballot if it had been addressed earlier,” he said.

House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 267, took on the constitutional question.

“Is this a new tax? Nope, voters have approved it multiple times,” she said of pot taxes. “We certainly did not intend to override votes here. Our mistake does not take away the fact that voters approved these taxes. This is not a new tax.”

Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, talked about RTD’s services that his constituents rely on.

“It doesn’t help, all other things being equal, losing half a million dollars a month doesn’t help,” he said, adding he fears cuts to transit services his constituents rely on.

Weissman said there is broad support for a fix, including mayors from conservative and progressive-leaning cities, chambers of commerce and constituents.

He noted that 49 of 65 members of the House voted for Senate Bill 267 last May.

“If you voted for this bill, whatever your reason to do so was, it was not to remove from the tax base of special districts their ability to collect a voter-approved tax on recreational marijuana,” he said. “And if you voted against this bill back in May, whatever your reason to do so, I just about guarantee the reason to do so was not because you wanted to preserve the presence of recreational marijuana in the tax base of these districts.

“That issue was simply not on the table.”

Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, called any no vote “an assault on rural Western Colorado,” where residents rely on small special districts for services, such as transit, that can’t easily absorb the loss of the marijuana tax revenue.

“It is an assault on people who work hard every single day — our teachers, our police officers, our nurses, our maids, our restaurant workers,” she said. “It’s an assault on the services that help them every single day.”

Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said it’s the first time in his five years in the legislature that he has seen such an important mistake that was so overlooked in a bill that became law.

“I don’t know how that happened,” he said. “It could have something to do with a lot of important legislation gets shoved through in the last two weeks of the legislative session instead of talking about it from the first two weeks, but that’s just a footnote to that.”

He said he’s a rural advocate but he favors restoring the cut through the Constitution, not the legislature.

“I’m a rural advocate only because of what the Constitution allows me to do,” Wilson said.

Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, who sponsored the Senate fix said she is open to other options, including finding money for special districts elsewhere in the budget or legislation that stated the fix would take effect upon a new ruling on constitutionality.

“I think we owe it to the districts to give them feedback other than, ‘We’ll work on it in January,’” she said. “… We’re not being our best selves in this special session.”

Deborah Jordy, executive director of the Denver’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, said she was disappointed but hopeful for an eventual fix.

“As we have said since the error was discovered, we stand ready to work toward a solution that respects the will of the voters who have authorized our funding multiple times over the last nearly 30 years,” she said in a statement. “It is our hope that state lawmakers will provide that solution during the regular legislative session in 2018.”

Americans for Prosperity opposed the special session and argued that a change in taxes requires a vote of the people.

“It’s a shame Gov. Hickenlooper and some legislators were willing to disregard TABOR and raise taxes without the permission of Coloradans,” Jesse Mallory, AFP’s state director and the former chief of staff to the Senate Republicans, said in a statement. “Thankfully, members of the General Assembly stood strong and stopped this legislation, reminding voters that some legislators still serve their constituents, not special interests. I’m proud of our activists who were able to quickly mobilize and make their voices heard that raising taxes without the permission of Coloradans is unconstitutional.”

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated several times to add more comments.)


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningSeptember 29, 20178min781

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers say it’s a simple fix, but Republicans say it’s anything but. As next week’s special legislative session approaches — it’s set to convene Monday — Republican leaders in the Capitol and outside pressure groups are ramping up their opposition and predict the endeavor will be an expensive waste of time. It isn’t the reaction Hickenlooper expected when he issued a formal call for the session earlier in September so lawmakers could correct a drafting error in a tax bill that’s costing some special districts hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue.


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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanSeptember 26, 20175min4510

Active independent expenditure committees, aka political action committees (PACs), currently number 61 registered at the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.  These committees collect money to support candidates.  The sources of the funds are undeclared, so only the total amount of donations shows in Secretary of State's Office forms.  These PACS do not coordinate with candidates.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 16, 20178min242
Opposite of leadership is blaming bill drafters for your own bad legislation, then wasting even more taxpayer dollars. #copolitics #coleg — Rep. Patrick Neville (@PatrickForCO) September 15, 2017 Leveraging a drafting error no one saw & that has bad effects for ppl is cynical politics that ppl hate. Quit it GOP. #coleg #copolitics — KC […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 11, 20177min161
House Republican Leader Patrick Neville says if voters put Republicans in charge of the legislature and the governor’s office next year, you can expect big changes on how the bills get paid in Colorado. The state budget, $28.5 billion, is the most important thing the legislature does. It pays for everything from schools to prisons, […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 8, 20175min2860

 

Remember that high school teacher or college prof who was known as “an easy A”? The one you didn’t have to worry about too much around finals?

No such luck for the 100 members of Colorado’s General Assembly — at least, not when it comes to the report card just issued on the lawmakers for the 2017 session by tax-hating, spending-cutting, government-curbing conservative advocacy behemoth Americans for Prosperity-Colorado.

Only six lawmakers — all of them in the state Senate, all of them members of the GOP majority — earned an A grade. The six “Champions of Freedom,” as AFP dubs them, are Sens. John Cooke, of Greeley; Vicki Marble, of Fort Collins; Tim Neville, of Littleton; Jim Smallwood, of Parker; Jerry Sonnenberg, of Sterling, and Jack Tate of Centennial.

In stark contrast, 17 state senators — basically, all of the upper chamber’s Democrats — flunked. That’s right: a big, fat F.

Things look even worse in the House. All 37 of the lower chamber’s majority Democrats — plus three Republicans:  Reps. Marc Catlin, of Montrose; Polly Lawrence  (currently running for state treasurer), of Roxborough Park, and Lang Sias, of Arvada — rated an F.

And AFP handed out no A’s to House members. Not a one.

The grand total: six A’s and 57 F’s.

Of interest: Sonnenberg and Tate were among the Republicans to vote for Senate Bill 267, the “rural sustainability” measure that raised revenue for a number of budget items while raising the ire of the political right.

Also noteworthy was who didn’t make the Senate’s A-list: longtime fiscal conservative stalwarts like Sen. Kent Lambert, of Colorado Springs, who earned a B, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, who came home with a C.

Some of the House’s reputed righties also didn’t seem to impress AFP. Rep. Perry Buck, of Windsor — whose significant other is swamp-draining 4th Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck — got a D. Rep. Justin Everett, of Littleton — another candidate for state treasurer whose Wikipedia page says he “has been described as a ‘Combative Conservative,’ and is one of the most constitutionally conservative members of the Colorado House” — got a C. Rep. Tim Leonard, the Evergreen Republican? Also a C. Rep. Dave Williams, of Colorado Springs: C. Even House Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville, of Castle Rock, only got a B.

What’s the basis for the grades? The organization issued a press release accompanying the report card today, offering insights on methodology:

In an effort to provide the most comprehensive accountability tool to citizens, AFP-Colorado scored nearly 1,800 individual votes on a wide variety of legislation. Bills scored include those that relate to our Budget Colorado Public Policy Agenda: SB 267, the “Sustainability of Rural Colorado” bill, HB 1242, a sales tax increase for transportation funding, and SB 61, a bill that sought to equalize funding for charter schools from local property taxes.

AFP-Colorado State Director Jesse Mallory — who not long ago worked closely with the Senate Republicans as their chief of staff — was quoted in today’s press release:

“We are excited to release this year’s scorecard, a tool we use to hold members accountable and commend those who advance economic freedom … We plan to promote this scorecard throughout the state to inform Coloradans on how their legislators voted. …”

In other words, he thinks the F students might have some ‘splainin’ to do.

Depending, of course, on how much their constituents care.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20179min1360
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Denver Rustlers’ co-founder and sponsor Larry Mizel greets the posse Tuesday morning at the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

A do-gooder delegation of more than 300 state and metro Denver politicians and business leaders descended on Pueblo, the Home of Heroes, Tuesday for the Junior Livestock Auction at the Colorado State Fair.

The Denver Rustlers rode again for the 33rd year.

More than 300 Rustlers filled three luxury buses to Pueblo, with several statewide officials — Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Secretary of State Wayne a Williams — doing their best to visit with everyone on board all three, making their way down the center aisles and switching buses at rest stops on the way.

Once at the fair, the Rustlers were joined by members of groups that have sprung up to give the Rustlers some competition– the Pikes Peak Posse, the Pigskin Buckaroos and the Fair Ladies, a bidding group from Pueblo and Otero counties.

“They grow the numbers every year and match or set records every year, and it all goes toward a great cause, which is paying for college for these kids,” said state Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican and a candidate for state treasurer.

Everett said he’s been to Pueblo with the Denver Rustlers going on eight years. “It’s great because everybody ignores partisanship and focuses on the kids and spending the day in Pueblo. Metro Denver legislators get to step outside their comfort zone.”

Wearing white Rockmount Ranch Wear shirts with flowered embroidery, they gathered Tuesday morning at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. The posse loaded into buses for a trail ride to the fair to drive up the auction prices and reward young livestock-raising competitors.

“This is one pork project we can all support, and that’s getting down to the state fair and buying some of the livestock from these kids who have worked so hard around the four corners of Colorado,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, after marveling at the number of “Yuman beings” from his hometown in the crowd.

He was introduced by one of the founding Rustlers, businessman and philanthropist Larry Mizel, who joked, “We’ll take short comments, starting with Cory,” and the crowd groan and laughed. Mizel added of his own height, “our U.S. senator, one of the guy’s my size.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former pub owner, turned the subject to beer, noting 33 years of the Rustlers made him think of 1933, the year the Volstead Act was repealed ending Prohibition. He noted that a bottle of Rolling Rock beer (brewed in St. Louis, by the way) has the number 33 on the front of the bottle and 33 words on back.

“Now I’m not superstitious, but I’m just saying 33 is a good number, so this better be a good trip,” the governor said before shoving off.

Denver Rustlers anticipate setting records on 33rd outing to Colorado State Fair

Hickenlooper told the dignitaries that the state fair is a “big deal,” and so is their annual trip.

“This expedition is a big deal for the entire state, because it allows us to support agriculture in a very powerful way,” he said.

Tim Schultz, another of the founding Rustlers, talked about how it all started. There was a great concern at the time  about cancelling the junior livestock auction at the state fair, because the bidding seemed to be in a deep wane.

“This is one of the rare times folks from the metropolitan area can reach out and help kids from all across Colorado,” Schultz said.

The late Tom Farley, a former state legislator from Pueblo, approached Tim Schultz, who was then the state agriculture commissioner, along with Mizel and Denver dairy operators Dick and Eddie Robinson, who enlisted their friends.

State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton running for state treasurer, is a veteran Rustler. He was born in Sterling and comes from generations of family farmers in northeast Colorado.

“I think it’s important as a legislator to understand all the different parts of our economy,” he said. “Because I was born in the rural part of Colorado, I get it.”

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Gov. John Hickenlooper tells Denver Rustlers that the state fair is a big deal and so are they. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a very urban Democrat from Denver, said the event opens pathways of communication that hopefully pay off later when legislation, partisanship and pressure are intertwined in the House and Senate.

“This is so Colorado, people coming together,” he said at Del Frisco’s. “This is what we say we do, but this is us actually doing it. We bring people together, we have conversations across party lines, across socio-economic lines. It’s just people getting together. … This is that one time you chat with that person from the other side who you’ve meaning to get ahold of, but you just never were able to. Now you can. We’re together all day.”

Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, said good economic relationships are forged, as well, and rural Colorado needs both. He supported reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund for two years. The legislation passed this year, when lawmakers understood more clearly that in big cities healthcare is big business. In rural Colorado they are a literal and economic lifeline.

“I’m from rural Colorado, so i don’t always understand how metro (areas) work,” he said outside Del Frisco’s. “I couldn’t imagine going to school with thousands of students. It’s a two-way street on a lot of these issues.”

State Sen, Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton, built on that point, “We’re state legislators,” he said. “We should think of all of Colorado and what’s best for Colorado as one all the time. Things like this remind of us of that.”

His son, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, had a simpler answer that nearly Republicans and Democrats could all agree with on a hot summer day.

“It’s always good to get out of Denver and see the rest of Colorado,” he said.

Would he buy a cow at the auction? No, he said, though his money was in the Rustlers pot to bid. He already has chickens that provide him eggs. The steak can come from elsewhere.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 28, 20175min1130

A formal hearing into an ethics complaint filed against Rep. Kim Ransom of Lone Tree isn’t likely to take place before October, based on discussions of the complaint today with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.

The complaint, filed last year by Lone Tree resident Charles Bucknam, alleges Ransom accepted a gift that exceeds the state’s constitutional limits. The commission decided in January that the complaint had enough merit to move forward with a formal investigation.

That investigation, conducted by commission staff, was completed last month and obtained by Colorado Politics.

Ransom was one of 10 lawmakers who was named an awardee by the non-profit Principles of Liberty organization, which is headed by Rich Bratten. Bratten and wife Laurie are long-time conservative activists; Laurie is a staffer to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and before that handled communications for the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, an ad hoc group of conservative state lawmakers. Rich Bratten runs a variety of conservative groups; he also served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado.

The complaint against Ransom alleges she accepted a $600 “Gold Pass” to the 2016 Western Conservative Summit as one of 10 lawmakers who were slated to receive an award from Principles of Liberty. The Gold Pass allowed lawmakers to attend the summit and receive free meals.

The state’s ethics law limits gifts to lawmakers to those valued at $59 or less. But there are exceptions to the law, pointed out by Ransom’s attorney, Mark Grueskin of Denver, in his response to the complaint.

The biggest loophole may be that elected officials can accept gifts from nonprofits that receive 5 percent or less of their funding from for-profit sources. “As far back as 2015, Rep. Ransom spoke with House of Representatives partisan legislative staff who related that, at the behest of one or more legislators, the Office of Legislative Legal Services (‘OLLS’) had reviewed the propriety of legislators’ acceptance of a Gold Pass to the Western Conservative Summit,” wrote Grueskin in his response.

According to Grueskin, the legislature’s legal services staff spoke to the director of the Centennial Institute, which is part of Colorado Christian University, which sponsors the annual summit. The Centennial Institute verified that CCU was a nonprofit entity that receive less than 5 percent of its funding from for-profit entities. There would be “no ethical barrier” to accepting the Gold Pass to attend the summit, Grueskin wrote.

In his complaint, Bucknam seeks sanctions of a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine levied against Ransom.

Nine other lawmakers were notified they would receive the Principles of LIberty Award, given to those who received A-plus ratings for their final votes on legislation reviewed by the organization.

Ransom was the only lawmaker of the 10 who notified the Secretary of State that she had accepted the Gold Pass on a quarterly gifts and honoraria report filed in October, 2016.

The other awardees included Reps. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, Stephen Humphrey of Severance, Justin Everett of Littleton, Lori Saine of Firestone, Tim Leonard of Evergreen, Perry Buck of Greeley, and Sens. Tim Neville of Littleton, Vicki Marble of Fort Collins and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. All 10 attended the Western Conservative Summit and accepted the award, although how many of the 10 accepted the passes is unknown. Bratten did not respond to an email or phone call seeking that information.

Humphrey, Leonard, Tim Neville and Sonnenberg did not file third quarter gifts reports for 2016, a potential violation of the state’s ethics laws. The other five did file those reports but said they had received nothing of value for the quarter that began on July 1 and ended on Sept. 30, 2016. The Principles of Liberty award was given during the summit’s Saturday evening event on July 2.

Under state law an elected official who fails to file a gift report or files an incomplete or inaccurate report is guilty of a misdemeanor and can carry a fine of between $50 and $1,000.

No ethics complaints for accepting the passes were filed against the other lawmakers, nor were there any ethics complaints filed for failing to file the required reports. The statute of limitations for an ethics complaint is one year.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 25, 201710min2510

The gloves are off and the fur is flying in the Republican primary for Colorado's next state treasurer. In a series of emails sent to state GOP activists and donors Thursday, state Rep. Polly Lawrence accused her fellow state treasurer candidate state Rep. Justin Everett and his allies — "his minions" was the phrase she used — of spreading lies and mounting "traitorous attacks" on her, while an independent expenditure committee backing Everett blasted Lawrence for "lying to get re-elected, only to conspire with liberals and vote like Democrats."