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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 10, 20172min3120

Tom Tancredo says he’s taking the public’s temperature, gauging its appetite for yet another gubernatorial run. A more world-weary reading of the former congressman/forever firebrand’s ad hoc stumping around the state is that it’s a case of, “Oh please, no! Really? Me? You want me to run for guv? Again?”

Either way, Colorado’s favorite fusion politician — part alt-right/populist rabble rouser, part off-again-on-again Republican — will make a whistle stop Oct. 21 at the libertarian-ish Independence Institute in Denver for a breakfast hosted by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers. He will keynote CUT’s annual Taxpayer Champion and Guardian Award Breakfast, honoring members of the General Assembly who vote right — hard right — on taxing and spending issues. So, the right will be leading the right at the event.

Here’s more, courtesy of CUT:

Come To Honor and Thank:
Senate Champion Vicki Marble
House Champion Tim Leonard
Senate Guardians Chris Holbert and Jim Smallwood
House Guardian Stephen Humphrey
Guest Speaker:
The Honorable Tom Tancredo

 

That’s Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 a.m., at the Independence Institute’s citadel just east of downtown, 727 E 16th Ave, Denver CO 80203. (Parking is free.) The cost is $20 to non-CUT members but free for those who are up to date on their 2018 membership. RSVP: 303-747-2159 or rsvp@coloradotaxpayer.org


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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 3, 20179min11170

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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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 28, 20175min1110

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 LuningJune 26, 20178min94

A group of liberal advocacy organizations for the first time released combined legislative scorecards this week, conglomerating assessments of the 100 Colorado lawmakers’ votes last session on key legislation the organizations said they plan to present to voters next year. A Republican who received among the lowest overall scores, however, dismissed the endeavor as a “political stunt” and told Colorado Politics he doubts the predictable rankings — Democrats good, Republicans bad — give voters any meaningful information.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 21, 20174min720

Conservative state lawmakers, <a href="http://www.denverpost.com/2017/04/20/colorado-transportation-bill-appears-doomed/" target="_blank">anticipating the death</a> next week of a grand-bargain $3.5 billion transportation-funding bonding plan, are championing an alternative. Their proposal might be a long shot, but if ever were to experience a moment, this might be it.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicFebruary 6, 20176min650

What's happening this week under the gold dome? Here are some select highlights from the legislative schedule, all of which of course subject to change, given that there are 100 lawmakers and a million lobbyists in the building each day. <strong>Monday </strong> <a href="http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb17-1038" target="_blank">HB 1038</a>, prohibiting corporal punishment in public school and state-licensed day care centers. The “no hitting kids” bill will receive its last reading in the House, where it’s sure to pass, and be sent to the Senate for consideration. Sponsored by Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, the bill sailed through its education committee hearing, with only conservative-libertarian Reps. Justin Everett, R-Littleton, and Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen, voting against it.