Peter MarcusMay 1, 20176min422

Despite a dramatic back-and-forth Monday over a plan to free money for critical state services, legislative leaders say they are close to a compromise.

The proposal would create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, including roads and highways. The first iteration of the legislation started with a $1.35 billion bond program.

Lawmakers have just days left in the legislative session to strike a deal and advance a bill to the governor.

An agreement has been reached on the state spending limit portion of the bill, which would be lowered by $200 million, thereby triggering taxpayer rebates faster. It had been the largest sticking point in the debate.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has been leading talks for Republicans, started by asking that the base be lowered by $670 million. Negotiations then brought that number down to $335 million, which still wasn’t enough for Democrats. But Sonnenberg on Monday announced the $200 million offer.

The sticking point now is over Medicaid reform. Republicans said the deal that was reached with Democrats included a requirement that co-pays for Medicaid patients be set at the maximum level set by the federal government. Democrats, however, said that was never part of the deal.

As Sonnenberg on Monday was announcing that a deal was reached, he was told that Democrats were not supporting the proposal, causing him to backtrack.

“We had a deal and now they are backing out,” Sonnenberg told Colorado Politics on Monday morning.

But House Democratic Leader KC Becker of Boulder said Democrats were never aware that that was going to remain a part of the compromise.

“I don’t even know what they’re getting at there,” Becker told reporters Monday afternoon.

“There was never a deal on Medicaid co-pays. If they’re putting it on the table now … we’ve never had a real discussion on this … I don’t know if we can find common ground, it is that new of an issue and that much of a surprise for me.”

Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.

The legislation, which has bipartisan sponsorship despite the partisan wrangling, would reclassify a fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base to protect taxpayer rebates.

Democrats have been wary of the proposal, as they are worried that lowering the spending cap base would trigger taxpayer rebates faster, leading to significant budget cuts in the future.

The issue hit a tipping point this year as state budget writers proposed a $264 million reduction of the Hospital Provider Fee to eliminate surplus taxpayer rebates and free money for spending on other budget issues. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million.

Some hospitals have said they would close. The Colorado Hospital Association on Monday afternoon held a news conference urging lawmakers to take action on Senate Bill 267.

The measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated to rural districts over three years, and another $33 million would be added to other state education needs.

The legislation also would address some side issues, including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment.

Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding and business tax credit by raising marijuana taxes.

“A lot of people think that marijuana taxes are just a budget solver for the entire state of Colorado. A lot of people in Colorado who are involved in small businesses think that the business personal property tax is really cumbersome and confusing. So, I think this is a good marriage,” Becker said.

Senate Bill 267 also would encourage state agencies to reduce budgets by 2 percent.

And it would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption because of budget woes that might be triggered by a lower spending restriction. Seniors are able to reduce property taxes by exempting 50 percent of the first $200,000 in market value.

The bill would secure up to $150 million per year over 20 years for the bond program. Bonds would be issued over four years, rather than all at once. The original bill proposed securing up to $100 million per year for bonding.

The measure would rely on the state being allowed to borrow money to undertake large projects in order to fulfill its financial obligations. It would utilize certificates of participation, where the state would make lease payments for assets to free money.

Another $200 million would be made available for capital construction to improve state buildings. The first version started with $150 million.

“We have agreement on all the major elements …” Becker said. “We don’t have to solve everything in this bill.”


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanApril 28, 20175min412

The state boosted its per pupil funding for public school students by 2.8 percent out of the General Fund to $6,585,800,182 for 2017-2018. That number works out to $6,546.20 per student, according to Senate Bill 17-296. Adding other sources, the Colorado Department of Education estimates that the average per pupil funding for next year will be $7,605, up from $7,420.

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 18, 20173min311
This week’s House Republican video is good for a couple of smiles. It serves up a lot of food for thought about the state budget and paying for transportation. The House GOP has contended all along that a tax increase isn’t needed to fund billions for widening interstates and other core transportation needs. (Transit, not […]

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Linda GormanLinda GormanApril 17, 20178min405

Senate Bill 17-267 was recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee on a 4-1 vote. That’s potentially bad news for taxpayers, and sick people. The bill would make Colorado’s state budget less transparent, reduce legislative and taxpayer control over state spending, create two new slush funds outside of legislative control, increase state indebtedness, and use a financial trick to raise the amount of tax money the state can keep without voter approval.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanApril 7, 20175min550
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Colorado’s population in 1992 was 3.5 million. Census projections put the state’s population in 2017 at 5.5 million. In 1992, 812,308 citizens — 53.68 percent of voters — said yes to the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), and 700,906 citizens — 46.32 percent of voters — said no.

Not to make too fine a point, but the 1.5 million 1992 voters on TABOR would comprise 27 percent of today’s population. And many of those 1.5 million people are no longer living in Colorado. Yet here we are, 25 years later, juggling TABOR limitations at the Capitol.

As background, the state in 1992 was in a deep recession from the oil and real estate bust of the 1980s. Front Range citizens especially were in an economic pit.

Downtown Denver was a dump: no Coors Field, no Pepsi Center, no new Mile High Stadium, no new Auraria Campus, no lightrail, no fancy Union Station, no pedestrian bridge over to the Highlands, no condos in LoDo or RiNo, downtown shopping fleeing to the suburbs, and prominent Denver retail names gone bankrupt.

Colorado Springs was hit hard as its real estate expansion of the ’80s died. Banks were on the brink of going out of business across the state.

After the anti-tax 1992 TABOR vote, Denver metro citizens did a 180-degree reverse and voted to build Denver International Airport. Then citizens voted for Coors Field and Mile High Stadium. With help from Gov. Bill Owens, RTD got a tax for light rail.

These investments set the stage for Colorado’s current economic vibrancy. The investments occurred based on a good feature of TABOR — let the people decide what projects and programs merit their money. Yet TABOR’s bad features, still in place, are wreaking havoc on the state’s budget.

Senator Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, was among five legislators who voted against SB-254, the budget appropriations Long Bill. He’s asking people to take a long view back and forward: “It’s a vote to raise the TABOR issue once again. We’re not funding our schools, oil and gas inspectors, renewable energy, or filling in gaps from cuts from D.C.”

It’s esoteric for newcomers to know that Colorado’s current budget is based on the 2009-2010 recession years due to TABOR. “Unlike other states, because of TABOR’s ratchet down effect, Colorado doesn’t get to make up for downturns and come back,” says Kerr.

When the state gins up more tax revenues, as it has, the budget base doesn’t move up. Its budget level continues at the 2009-2010 recession point, forcing refunds of extra tax dollars.

The Hospital Provider Reimbursement Fee portrays the problem. The health care fees, considered a tax, push state revenues above TABOR limits. The Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee put up SB17-256 to reduce provider fees by $264 million, which causes an additional $264 million loss in federal matching funds.

The provider fee reimburses hospitals for delivering care to people who can’t pay. Without the fee, some hospitals, particularly in rural counties, don’t have enough money to operate. When those hospitals close, uninsured and insured alike lose care.

Four Democratic Senators, Irene Aguilar, Kerry Donovan, Matt Jones and Andy Kerr, and Republican Sen. Owen Hill, voted against the budget Long Bill. Also affected by TABOR is the ongoing $880 million annual negative factor that lowers public K-12 education spending. House members get to vote next.

So the question is, when will today’s citizens get the chance to vote on tax policy for today?


John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 4, 201714min327

Now that the Colorado state budget proposal has appeared and lawmakers are wrangling over the numbers, the political narratives that will be used to sell the budget to voters and to defend against constituent anger in elections to come are taking shape. This year it seems unquestionable that it will be a tougher budget for Republicans to spin than for Democrats. For starters, there will be more spending. The budget is $26.8 billion.

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 3, 20173min202
They might not have the votes to do anything about it, but Colorado House Republicans say the state budget doesn’t need new taxes but rather new thinking in a new video. (Stop staring at us, Cole Wist; you’re freaking me out.) Last week the Senate Democrats and Republicans put out a podcast and a video, […]

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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanMarch 29, 20175min389
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

A new bipartisan bill, Achieving a Vision for Education in Colorado, HB17-1287, sets up an advisory board to create a strategic plan for public education, preschool through college, for implementation up to 2030. The bill recognizes that the 21st century world is “fiercely competitive” and that a “world class highly effective twenty-first-century learning system is the key to Colorado’s economic success.”

The bill also says, “in recent elections, voters have been unwilling to balance local funding with increased amounts of state resources for education.” School districts could argue the opposite — that the state has been unwilling to ask for adequate resources to fund local schools.

The bill states that the current public education system, overall, is mediocre. Educators, bottom to top, can say that public school funding is mediocre. TABOR tax limitations have steadily reduced Colorado’s financial support of its institutions of higher education, leaving students to cover ever-increasing tuition bills and state colleges and universities to seek out-of-state students to bolster revenues.

Public school K-12 students over the last eight years have lost about one year of school funding to the Legislature’s so-called “negative factor,” the amount of money the state should give to public education but can’t because of limited revenue. This underfunding especially affects rural districts and districts with lots of poor kids, such as Aurora School District, which has recently been pummeled by A Plus Colorado for its poor achievement results.

Currently, the state is in a multi-hundred million dollar budget crisis, mostly of TABOR’s making, putting a whole slew of state responsibilities at risk, including rural hospitals, housing support and much abused roads, bridges and highways. The Legislature might get a bill through to increase the state’s sales tax to put more money into transportation. But some tax averse Republicans say the Legislature should be able to pay for transportation out of current revenues. Others ask, “and what might those be?”

Does the education vision bill recognize that Colorado is at a critical tipping point? Our education system can either end up like Kansas or Massachusetts. Currently, Kansas public schools are going bankrupt due to tax cuts that gutted funding. Massachusetts has a dynamic economy and a highly competitive public education platform — from its universities to its urban schools — due to strong public financing.

Maybe it’s time to turn the money conversation on its head. Instead of talking about taxation, it’s time to talk investment. Here is an example. Back in the sixties, former Gov. Pat Brown of California invested in the University of California and the California State College, now University system. UC added UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Irvine and UC San Diego. It recently added UC Merced in the central valley.

Until recently, these public universities provided low-cost, high quality education. California’s community college system, until recently, offered college courses at $20/credit.

Like Colorado, California’s public spending on education was severely constrained by Prop 13, a property tax precursor to TABOR. Unlike Colorado, California’s current governor, Jerry Brown, took the investment issue to voters. California’s citizens authorized billions of dollars in tax increases to spend on transportation and education, a reinvestment commitment bound to pay off for decades.

Colorado likes to grab companies from California. How long will that continue with our “mediocre” public schools? Certainly, there’s a tax point between where we are now and where California is that will provide enough re-investment to reinforce our dynamic economy and end our very poor funding of state responsibilities.


Sen. Chris HolbertSen. Chris HolbertMarch 28, 20177min468

President Trump’s first foray into the thickets of Washington-style budgeting naturally is generating a lot of media attention, but back here in Colorado, in the General Assembly, we’re also about to enter our most critical week in terms of hammering-out our spending priorities. And because our state budget probably has an even greater impact on Coloradans than any federal spending bill, I thought I would share some highlights (and lowlights) from this year’s debate from a Republican perspective.