Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 14, 20182min465

They’re calling the event “Another look at TABOR” — as in 1992’s voter-enacted Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — because of course it won’t be the first time skeptics of the epic tax-limiting provision in the Colorado Constitution have eyed it in hopes of changing it.

And while the March 19 forum, announced in a news release this week by the League of Women Voters of Denver, is billed as a mere briefing and discussion on the subject —  it’s a pretty safe bet change will be on the agenda.

The featured speaker is TABOR critic Carol Hedges, executive director of the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute and author of “Ten Years of TABOR.” Hedges, the league promises, will offer “an insightful presentation on TABOR and what impact it may have on Colorado’s future.” Her presentation probably won’t include praise for TABOR’s taxing and spending limits or for TABOR author Douglas Bruce.

Of course, if Hot Sheet were to solicit a comment from Bruce — the legendarily  less-than-personable Colorado Springs real estate investor and perennial political activist who served time for tax evasion — he likely would dismiss the forum as another attempt to gut the will of Colorado voters and engorge government. Then, he would hang up. We’d always welcome his input, though.

Here’s more on the forum:

Where: Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia Street in Denver, McCollum Room

When: Monday, March 19, 5:30 pm – Coffee & networking; 6:00 pm – Presentation


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJanuary 12, 20184min317

Wikipedia reminds us it was the now-forgotten 19th century New York politician Gideon J. Tucker who observed, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

It’s a sentiment that nowadays draws more applause on the right than the left. And among those whose daily toils include wooing and cajoling lawmakers to swing their way on the issues of the day, the put-down is rarely heard at all. (Obviously.)

Unless it’s the Colorado Union of Taxpayers. Whatever your philosophical take on the long-standing, tax-cutting, TABOR-lovin’, big-government-loathing advocacy group, you’ve got to give it at least grudging credit not only for sticking to its guns — but also for regularly sticking it in the General Assembly’s eye. Hence, CUT’s announcement today of a planned meet-and-greet and debriefing with a couple of sympathetic state lawmakers.

The announcement’s come-on? “Come Hear What They Are Doing to Us This Session!”

We added the boldfaced italics, but there probably was no need for you seasoned #coleg buffs — or for those of you familiar with CUT. In other words, it’ll be the kind of crowd where the old Reagan-vintage line, “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help,” still draws knee-slapping and guffaws.

If you’re game, here’s the rest of the announcement:

Legislative Kick Off

Come Hear What They Are Doing to Us This Session!
 
Senate Champion Vicki Marble and House Champion Tim Leonard
will share their insights on the 2018 Session.   

Where:
Independence Institute
(Free Parking) 
 
When: Thursday, January 25, 2018
Time: 7:00 a.m. 
 
Cost $20, free for paid 2018 membership  
(CUT annual membership $25) 
PO Box 1976, Lyons CO 80540 Taxpayer Hotline 303-494-2400


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David SchlatterDavid SchlatterDecember 13, 20176min321

The Arapahoe County government spends nearly $400 million per year serving over 600,000 residents.  If your home or business is within the county, you pay the costs of that government.  Whether a homeowner or renter, increased property taxes impact everyone throughout the county.  If property taxes go up, so will rents.  Every citizen is affected.  Does Arapahoe County need a new jail, courthouse, and more taxes?  What about its pension obligations?


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 24, 20174min1013

It’s not that much of a stretch to say the history of Colorado fiscal policy over the past quarter-century is synonymous with the biography of Douglas Bruce. That’s by and large because of the one groundbreaking policy Bruce authored and relentlessly championed into law in 1992, the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the state constitution.

For all of the legendary Colorado Springs tax reformer’s exploits since then — from his repeated attempts to enact other laws through the ballot box, to his time in elective office, to his stints behind bars for tax evasion — it is that one milestone that has seemingly tied the state’s fiscal fate to Bruce’s persona.

Hence, Colorado Public Radio’s three-part series this month chronicling Bruce’s role in Colorado politics and policy, “THE TAXMAN: How Douglas Bruce And The Taxpayer’s Bill Of Rights Conquered Colorado.” To say the podcast/text rendering is both ambitious and compelling is to say the least; it arguably amounts to a new must-listen/must-read for any student of Colorado public policy. That includes not only aspiring officeholders but also many of those already elected to office who are still in need of a tutorial.

It’s such a significant undertaking by CPR — including the feat of nailing an extensive studio interview with the alternately media-craving, media-baiting and media-hating Bruce — that Westword’s Chris Walker took note of the epic effort this week in a story about the story. Walker interviews Bruce’s interviewers, CPR’s Rachel Estabrook, Nathaniel Minor and Ben Markus:

Westword: TABOR seems like such a difficult and technical subject for a podcast. What was your motivation to start this project, and why did you think it would work?

Rachel Estabrook: I got interested because I produce a lot of the interviews that we do with Governor Hickenlooper, and TABOR comes up all the time. I didn’t feel like a lot of people — even some people in the CPR newsroom — really understood what it was about. It felt right for a sort of explanatory piece, but then I started learning more about Douglas Bruce. He’s such a fascinating character with so many twists and turns and complex motivations.

Twists and turns and complex motivations; yup. Walker even delves into the extent to which Bruce himself may view his own identity as being intertwined with Colorado policy; some of his critics would might put it more bluntly — that he has no other life:

… did he understand that your project was as much about him as it was about TABOR? Did he get defensive when you asked him about his personal life, or did he understand why that was something you’d be interested in?

Minor: We talked about policy a lot. And he would say, “Oh, I really don’t want to talk about more private parts of my life.” But then he would go on and tell us about private parts of his life.

Walker’s profile of the piece is enlightening in its own right. The CPR series, even more so. Both truly worth your time.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 3, 20179min1354

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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Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandSeptember 19, 20176min390
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 […]

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