The education funding battle enters its next round with a new online database supporting superintendents across the state in their effort to convince legislators to spend more money on their districts.
Although schools have been calling for more money since the 2008 recession spawned the “Negative Factor,” this most recent campaign first started shortly after the November election with the superintendent of Littleton Public Schools mailing a flyer to 47,000 residents in his district.
The Negative Factor is a budgeting mechanism used by the Colorado General Assembly to restrain total spending on public education while still allowing base spending to rise by enrollment plus inflation each year. The negative factor reduces funding to school finance factors not covered by Amendment 23, which include school district size, local cost-of-living, and the number of low-income kids in a district. The Colorado Supreme Court recently ruled that the negative factor is constitutional.
The flyer, which cost the district nearly $10,000, urged residents to contact legislators and support reclassifying the Hospital Provider Fee as an enterprise fund so it falls outside the requirements of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). The move would free up hundreds of millions of dollars under TABOR, despite the fact that many view the “fee” as a tax.
LPS Superintendent Brian Ewert told the Parent Teachers Association that he expects 168 of the state’s 178 school districts to do the same.
It now appears that the head of the state’s second-largest district has joined Ewert in the effort.
Cadman: Somebody knew hospital provider fee is unconstitutional
It only took 40 minutes for the Office of Legal Services to return Senate President Bill Cadman’s request last week for a memo on whether the Legislature can legally recast the state hospital provider fee as an enterprise fund. The short answer is no, the maneuver wouldn’t comply with the Colorado Constitution.
Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, believes someone else — a lawmaker, a state official — must have requested the same information and failed to share it.
“Our guys are really good,” Cadman said. But not that good. Cadman doesn’t think legal services could crank out an opinion on the topic in under an hour.
“Somebody had it, and I wish they would have shared it with us,” he said.
Cadman broke the news to reporters Wednesday afternoon in his office, saying that more reporters — the 10 that were present for the briefing — have seen the memo than have members of his caucus.
- A memo from Colorado’s Office of Legislative Legal Services says it woud be unconstitutional for state legislators to exempt the current hospital provider fee program from the revenue limits of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) by turning it into an enterprise fund, state senate President Bill Cadman announced this week.
- Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) has been pushing for the change to boost funding for transportation, to which the provider fee is tied.
- As it stands, the fee is pushing the state above its revenue cap, which requires taxpayer refunds despite shortfalls in other budget areas, the Denver Post reports.
Review: Building A Better Colorado
I attended one of the meetings put on by Building a Better Colorado (BBC). It was a thinly veiled attempt to control the narrative on several issues facing Colorado.
This was a two-hour session run by a moderator for a group of about 60 people. The time started with the moderator describing the 3 broad problems/issues (as defined by BBC) to be discussed. Then some time was spent on each issue/problem. Each issue/problem was put in front of the group with various possible responses/solutions. 10 or so minutes were given for each table of 4-8 people to discuss, and then a series of possible responses/solutions were put to a multiple choice vote for that issue/problem. Clicker devices were distributed for people to vote on their response to each response.
The three broad issues were 1) the initiative process for amendments to state law and amendments to the constitution, 2) fiscal policy and TABOR, and 3) the primary voting process.
Here was the basic formula:
Premise: There’s a problem, and here’s our definition/spin on what it is.
What should we do? A. Nothing, B. Our potential Ballot Initiative, C. Our other potential Ballot Initiative.
Vote on how you feel about A.
Vote on how you feel about B.
Vote on how you feel about C.
Here are some specific examples, quoting directly from the handout used in the presentation. After talking about what a huge problem the initiative process is, 2 questions were asked. Here is question #2…
“Should we require a higher threshold for passage of amendments to the CONSTITUTION than for citizen-initiated amendments to state LAW?”
Vote on A: “Maintain current policy…” Of course, a majority of people, having just heard what a problem this is, vote that we need to do something.
Vote on B: “Make it harder to amend the constitution by requiring future amendments to be approved by a supermajority (2/3) vote, but allow fixes/changes to existing language to be approved by the same simple-majority threshold by which it was adopted initially.” People pick from 3 levels of support and 3 levels of opposition.
That’s it. No other choices. On to the next topic.
It was similar with TABOR. Continue reading
DENVER – After laying out their policies before some of Denver’s most prominent business men and women, Democrats and Republicans each scored a victory when the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce endorsed their pet projects for the 2016 legislative session.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver chamber, urged business leaders to support the Democratic governor’s plan to keep money that otherwise would be refunded to taxpayers under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But she also said it’s time for a Republican plan to reduce the risk of lawsuits for homebuilders to pass after three years of Democrats shooting down the measure.
The Colorado General Assembly begins Jan. 13 and those two issues – TABOR refunds and construction defects lawsuit reform – are two of the most contentious items on the agenda.
Leaders of both political parties answered questions Tuesday morning at a breakfast forum held in the Brown Palace Hotel.
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said unless lawmakers are able to find a fix to budget woes caused by the TABOR-mandated refund of $212 million to taxpayers in the 2016-17 fiscal year “we are putting the Colorado way of life at risk.”
DelGrosso calls Democrats’ fee plan a “shell game”
A deal to move the state’s hospital provider fee out from under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ revenue cap appeared in peril Tuesday, a week before the legislature convenes.
Republican legislative leaders said at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce breakfast they won’t support the move, even if they’re promised more money for statewide transportation projects as a result.
The battle over moving the fee out from under the TABOR rules is expected to be one of the biggest disputes of the legislature, which returns Jan. 13.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and many fellow Democrats want to reclassify the hospital provider fee as an enterprise fund. He seeks to exempt it from counting toward the TABOR formula of inflation plus population growth. Exempting the fee, estimated to be $750 million in the next state budget, also would prevent the state from having to refund an estimated $156.5 million to taxpayers.
Legislative Democrats and Republicans began laying out their agendas Monday for the upcoming session, and their priorities once again are worlds apart on business issues — particularly on the long-running matter of construction defects reform.
House Republicans said they will seek for a fourth time to pass a bill making it harder for small numbers of condominium owners to file class-action construction-defects lawsuits against builders when the session begins on Jan. 13.
Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman lays out Democrats’ legislative agenda
ED SEALOVER | DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL
And they will make a fifth-straight effort to pass a bill that would require the state to warn, rather than fine, small businesses that commit first-time offenses of new rules that do not endanger public safety.
House Democrats, meanwhile, said they will look at ways to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for doing the same jobs at private businesses and will try for a second time to require international companies that hold some of their profits in offshore tax havens to include that revenue when calculating Colorado taxes. Continue reading
Colorado’s unique tax law — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR — will likely become a point of conversation and contention during much of 2016 in both the legislative session and at the ballot box.
Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget request attributed some of the need for millions of dollars in cuts to the constitutional amendment that is seen by some as too restrictive a way to govern Colorado’s spending.
Movement is already afoot to make change. As an example, a nonpartisan group of state leaders called Building a Better Colorado has been traveling Colorado this year to find consensus on a possible ballot initiative in November to change parts of TABOR.
In addition, state Democrat lawmakers have said they plan to bring back last year’s failed hospital provider fee bill, a potential work-around TABOR to create wiggle room in the state’s budget. The hospital provider fee, which is assessed on hospitals to help pay for indigent health care, has raised so much money that it has bolstered state budgets past TABOR limits, requiring the state to issue taxpayer refunds. Continue reading
An education group, with the support so far of Front Range Democratic lawmakers, is planning to ask voters this November to allow the state to keep more tax money for public schools. It’s a proposal that anti-tax groups would vigorously oppose.
Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, said her group is still in the very early stages of formulating language for a ballot initiative that, should it make it to the statewide ballot and win support of voters, would separate education spending from constraints imposed on tax revenue by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, known as TABOR.
“There is no other way to start to address the funding issues than to keep the revenues that are a result of a growing economy,” Weil said after a Dec. 17 town hall meeting at the Community College of Aurora. The meeting was led in part by state Democratic lawmakers from Aurora, including Sen. Morgan Carroll and Reps. Rhonda Fields, Jovan Melton and Su Ryden, as well as area education officials, including Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn and Cherry Creek Public Schools Superintendent Van Schoales.
Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute, viewed the news with a kind of exhausted skepticism.