7 winners and losers: Breakdown of the 2016 Colorado legislative session
May 11, 2016 Updated: May 11, 2016 at 10:45 pm
The 2016 Colorado legislative session may go down in history as the year of little change.
The politically divided chambers in the General Assembly resulted in neither party having much success with their lengthy agendas.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for political moderates or independents who don’t care about party agendas, but for everyone else, they’ve got something in the loss column this year.
That means 2017 won’t see major policy changes on things like clamping down on construction defects litigation or equal-pay legislation.
Here is a look at some of the winners and losers from the session, which concluded Wednesday:
The Joint Budget Committee
Any politician who can emerge from 120 days of politicking and still look like a high-functioning, level-headed individual. The three Democrats and three Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee received more than their share of accolades for crafting a 581-page budget that somehow managed to appease both sides. Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, led the committee to a $25.8 billion budget that averted major cuts and – perhaps more significantly – the gridlock all too common across the nation when politicians dig in their heals.
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
In a year in which status quo truly reigned supreme, it’s only appropriate that TABOR appear on both sides of this list. Proponents of the 1992 voter-approved Constitutional Amendment have to be thrilled. TABOR at its core is designed to prevent government from growing faster than the growth of inflation and population without voter approval. An effort to permanently lower the threshold at which taxpayers receive refunds from “excess” revenue growth failed after months of negotiations, preserving the likelihood that more TABOR refunds will come (see AFP below).
Americans for Prosperity
The biggest battle of the 2016 General Assembly was over a plan to remove the state’s mechanism for funding Medicaid from the General Fund, thus lowering the TABOR base and allowing the state to retain millions of dollars. Only one “lobby” group opposed that measure – the social welfare nonprofit Americans for Prosperity, funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers. Days before the 2016 legislative session began AFP asked lawmakers to take a pledge to protect TABOR.
The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
Although the TABOR threshold wasn’t lowered, lawmakers were able to circumvent refunds that nonpartisan staff projected would have to be given to taxpayers in the 2016 tax year. It was done through clever accounting that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee revenue by $75 million, thus making sure the state would stay below the refund threshold. TABOR author Douglas Bruce could be booing from prison, where he landed in 2016 after a judge found him guilty of violating terms of his probation for white-collar crimes.
Lawmakers met, and met, and met – mostly behind closed doors. It’s hard to knock that strategy of negotiations, but many of the most watched bills of the session popped up as late bills that had been meticulously crafted by a handful of chosen stakeholders and out of the public eye.
Many lawmakers say funding transportation and other infrastructure needs is a priority, but those needs are starting to look like they really are second-fiddle. The budget only provided half of a long-promised transfer of revenue from a 2009 bill that mandated about $500 million be put into transportation needs over five years. Democrats rejected a proposal to ask voters to issue bonds to fund infrastructure, and Republicans voted down a bill that funded a number of projects, but killed the hospital provider fee bill.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle repeatedly called referred measures “a gun to their heads.” If that’s truly how lawmakers feel about the will of the people, perhaps voters should pull the trigger at the ballot box this November. Both those who love and hate the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights never once considered taking the issue to the ballot, something lawmakers can do with a referred measure. A battle over whether Colorado should have a presidential primary election was overshadowed by concern over a proposed initiative to ask voters whether primaries should be open to unaffiliated voters. A debate over whether chain grocers should be able to have numerous liquor licenses to sell beer and wine was dominated with the intent to override a ballot question that will ask voters the same question.