Jan 09

Lawmakers open 2015 session agreeing on education funding, but not on TABOR

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Audio: CPR’s Megan Verlee reports on the Legislature’s start

Economic opportunity, education funding, business development: Whatever issues you care about, there’s a good chance the 70th Colorado General Assembly will try to do something about them in the coming months.

The lawmakers convened Wednesday with Democrats still in the majority in the House. But the Senate is now under Republican control, for the first time in a decade. Compromise will be key to getting bills passed.

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Jan 08

First day of Colorado legislative session targets gun control, abortion laws

DENVER – After a year of bitter contention over stricter gun laws, Colorado Republicans proposed bills on Wednesday that seek to repeal controversial legislation that was passed by Democrats in 2013.

The laws, which bans the possession of large-capacity (more than 15 rounds) magazines and require background checks for all private gun sales, triggered at least one lawsuit against the state and played a part in recall elections that put two southern Colorado lawmakers out of office.

HB 15-1009 would repeal the law banning possession and sale of large-capacity magazines. HB 15-1050, brought forward by Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Janak Joshi of House District 16, aims to repeal the background checks for the transfer of guns from non-licensed carriers.

Wednesday’s opening day of the Colorado legislative session included more than the anticipated repeal of gun laws.

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Jan 08

Lawmakers open 2015 session agreeing on education funding, but not on TABOR

Senators and their guests bow their heads during a prayer as the Colorado Legislature kicks off its 2015 session on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

(Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee)

 

Economic opportunity, education funding, business development: Whatever issues you care about, there’s a good chance the 70th Colorado General Assembly will try to do something about them in the coming months.

The lawmakers convened Wednesday with Democrats still in the majority in the House. But the Senate is now under Republican control, for the first time in a decade. Compromise will be key to getting bills passed.

The parties do seem to be on the same page in at least a few big areas, including boosting school funding and expanding workforce development programs.

However, Senate President Bill Cadman brought an agenda that also includes more polarizing ideas, like cutting regulations on business.

“Rolling back costly, useless regulations will make us more competitive. And if we are not sharpening our competitive edge in every place we can, we are losing it in every place we don’t,” said, while also warning of coming fights over what the state should do with its growing state tax revenue.

“We are about to face one of the best problems we have had in this legislature in a long time. It’s called prosperity,” Cadman said.

As soon as this year, Colorado may start sending money back to residents, as required by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Senate Republicans have said those refunds must go out. But Some Democrats want to ask voters to instead put the money into full-day kindergarten.

In the House, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst warned that too few Coloradans are benefiting from the growing economy.

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Dec 31

Governor Hickenlooper unveils next year’s Colorado budget & taxpayer refunds

Governor Hickenlooper unveils next year’s Colorado budget & taxpayer refunds

by Lisa Cyriacks

For the first time in many years, Colorado government finds itself in a position of having to refund tax revenue to voters. The refunds are required when state revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth.

Taxpayer rebates totaling $167.2 million are mandated by Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), assuming current law and the accuracy of the September forecast by the Office of State Planning and Budget.

A $30.5 million rebate for new marijuana taxes is coming. Total state marijuana revenue was different than what was projected in the election blue book. (In November 2013, Colorado voters approved Proposition AA, which allowed a 10% retail sales tax and a 15% excise tax.) Because the estimated revenue subject to TABOR was underestimated, under TABOR the state must refund the money being collected or ask voters again to keep it for additional state spending.

According to Governor Hickenlooper, it will be important to engage the legislature when the session begins on the issue of marijuana sales tax revenue rebates. At the time he presented the proposed budget he advised that it would be unwise for the state to plan to spend any of those funds in advance of that discussion. Continue reading

Dec 24

Economists: Colorado tax refunds could come year early

Colorado Capitol Dome

Colorado Capitol Dome (Denver Post file photo)

Colorado lawmakers may have to refund money to taxpayers sooner than they initially expected.

Refunds are a sign of Colorado’s booming economy. But they also mean lawmakers will be restricted in how much money they’ll be able to keep and spend under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, also known as TABOR. It requires refunds when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth.

State economists giving lawmakers a quarterly revenue forecast Monday gave conflicting estimates about whether refunds are required in the 2015 tax year. Legislative economists say no but warn that the possibility exists.

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s economists predict, however, that the state needs to refund $196.8 million next year because of revenue increases in the current budget year. Lawmakers weren’t expecting refunds until the 2016 tax year, and Hickenlooper’s budget request sets aside nearly $137 million for those.

But the latest predictions by the governor’s economists have increasing revenue collections in cash funds and severance taxes, hence their predictions for sooner-than-expected refunds. Henry Sobanet, Hickenlooper’s budget director, said the state has a revenue cushion to cover most of the $196.8 million that needs to be refunded. Still, about $73 million of that was already budgeted, so the governor’s office will present lawmakers with an adjusted spending plan by Jan. 2 to account for that amount. Continue reading

Dec 22

Colorado budget forecast shows continued growth but TABOR worries ahead

TABOR moneyColorado’s economy keeps getting better, and it continues to be reflected in the amount of money the state takes in from taxes.

That’s the conclusion from the latest estimates from state officials that show overall tax collections continue to improve in the state, coinciding with the continuing improvement in the state’s economy.

Revenue forecasts released Monday from the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB) and the nonpartisan Legislative Council both showed increases in forecasted revenues. The forecasts are used to set budget priorities for the state government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends on July 1.

The more conservative forecast, from OSPB, suggests that general-fund revenues in the 2015-2016 fiscal year will be $53.6 million more than previously forecast just three months ago, when forecasters agreed that about $1 billion more in revenue would be available to lawmakers for spending on state programs in the coming fiscal year.

Forecasters continue to predict, however, that lawmakers will have to set aside as much as $120 million of the increased revenue to pay refunds to taxpayers mandated by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which limits the amount of increased revenues the state can take in and how much lawmakers can spend each year. Continue reading

Dec 18

Coloradans face choice: tax refund or pay for services, governor says

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Audio: Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks with Ryan Warner

Newly re-elected Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper smiles to applauding supporters as he arrives to deliver his victory speech, at the Capitol, in Denver, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Hickenlooper won a second term in office, narrowly defeating Republican challenger Bob Beauprez.

(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper says that voters will soon face difficult decisions regarding the state’s finances.Economists predict the state will be forced to refund excess tax money to citizens under to Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in coming years.

Hickenlooper says that will mean the state may have to cut some essential services. As an example, he says the state won’t be able to provide oversight of nursing homes to the extent it currently does — and at a time when the nursing home population is growing.

 

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Dec 17

GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY: Hullinghorst Desires To Defy TABOR

House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst

We love Democrats who live in such insulated liberal enclaves, they have no problem forgetting that Democrats lose when they show their true colors.  Luckily for us, Colorado House Democrats decided to make just such a Democrat their #1.  Yesterday in a Denver Post article, new Majority Leader, Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, says “I’ve never met a tax dollar I haven’t wanted to spend.”  Now, we might be taking some liberties in that paraphrase right there, but the sentiment is dead on as Hullinghorst proposes stiffing Coloradan tax-payers $130 million in tax refunds just because she wants to spend the money.  As The Denver Post reports:

…incoming House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst made the most direct suggestion that Democrats may support a ballot measure in 2015 to ask voters to keep the money for state spending instead of issuing a refund.

… the Boulder Democrat said. “The people would be far better off if we invested that in infrastructure, education — something that really benefited them rather than (them) getting their 50 bucks to spend on a tank of gas or something.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Hullinghorst, Colorado would probably be better off if that money went to roads and educating Colorado kids.  But, there’s no way in hell we’re giving Hullinghorst that money because that money wouldn’t be going to roads and kids.  Instead, it’d be going to public education unions already engorged on tax-payer dollars.  Or, maybe another pet project of Gov. John Hickenlooper where he spends $100 million to throw a parade for his BFF Michael Bloomberg (never Bloomberg mind that we don’t have roads here to have that parade on).

It doesn’t really help Hullinghorst’s putting the people of Colorado first plea, when one realizes it is the poorest who will benefit the most directly from a TABOR refund.  Sure, what may be just one more tank of gas for Hullinghorst could be the difference between making this month’s rent for those who can’t afford to live in Boulder.

TABOR was put into place to control just such tendencies, recognizing the reality that Democrats always feel like there’s another tax-payer dollar out there for them to spend.  And TABOR is doing its job right now; if Colorado Democrats are going to follow their playbook of taxing and spending us to death, they’ll have to do it in full public view for everyone to see.  Unlike other states, where convoluted budget processes and a lack of a requirement to stay within a specific budget allows state legislatures to stuff all sorts of pork into budgets, if Hullinghorst wants to defy TABOR, she’ll have to do so with a whole host of attention on her.  While this may not threaten her own seat in the People’s Republic of Boulder, such a gospel of tax and spend will certainly threaten her majority in the rest of the state.

TABOR once again is the emergency brake from Colorado Democrats driving us off any fiscal cliffs.

http://coloradopeakpolitics.com/2014/12/03/give-money-hullinghorst-desires-defy-tabor/

Dec 16

Ahead of second term, Hickenlooper strikes sober tone on state budget needs

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday delivered his fourth State of the State address. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post)

A month before his second term, Gov. John Hickenlooper is painting a bleak picture of Colorado’s future budget situation, even as he touts the state’s improving economic fortunes.

“We are going to have real difficult challenges in terms of how we address pretty much any basic infrastructure (spending need): transportation, K-12 education, higher education, healthcare,” he told the Denver Forum at a luncheon Tuesday. “Some of the things we’ve taken for granted and counted on in terms of our quality of life, we probably won’t be able to continue to afford.”

The reason for the strife, as the Democrat made clear, is the state’s constitutional spending limit known as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR. It’s politically volatile to point the finger at TABOR and Hickenlooper sought to walk a fine line as he raised the stakes.

Next year, Colorado lawmakers are anticipating budgeting taxpayer refunds because the state’s revenues are exceeding the inflation-plus-population-growth-cap for the first time in 15 years.

Unless lawmakers seek to keep the money (which is an idea being floated at the Capitol), the refunds will go out the door even as the state struggles to meet its constitutional requirement to fund education under what is known as Amendment 23. The state is short $900 million on education funding, according to analysts.

“Amendment 23 requires us to spend more. TABOR requires us to spend less. It really is a Gordian knot,” he said.

Hickenlooper expects this to come to a head two years from now, when refunds are expected to continue and grow.

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Dec 06

Diverging from Hickenlooper, Democrats consider not supporting tax refund

 Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an election-eve budget plan that supported taxpayer refunds next year, but his Democratic colleagues in the legislature are openly considering a move to spend the money.

The talk comes as the Joint Budget Committee continues preliminary meetings to craft the state budget and raises the specter of an intraparty showdown on one of the top legislative issues in the upcoming 2015 session.

Under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Colorado must return any tax collections in excess of its constitutional revenue cap, which is set by the rate of inflation plus population growth. Right now, the state forecasts a potential $130 million refund.

In a recent interview, noted in a story looking at Hickenlooper’s second term, incoming House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst made the most direct suggestion that Democrats may support a ballot measure in 2015 to ask voters to keep the money for state spending instead of issuing a refund

TABOR picture“If we don’t do anything as a state, we are going to be spending almost as much money as we refund, refunding money to people, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of common sense to me,” the Boulder Democrat said. “The people would be far better off if we invested that in infrastructure, education — something that really benefited them rather than (them) getting their 50 bucks to spend on a tank of gas or something.”

Hullinghorst didn’t elaborate, but the cost for refunding TABOR is typically negligible because it’s done through tax filings.

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