Jan 06

Lawmakers prep for TABOR, tort reform fights

photo - DENVER, CO - JANUARY 07: Senate President, Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, speaks on opening day of the 2015 Colorado Legislative session at the State Capitol Wednesday morning, January 07, 2015. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)
DENVER, CO – JANUARY 07: Senate President, Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, speaks on opening day of the 2015 Colorado Legislative session at the State Capitol Wednesday morning, January 07, 2015. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

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.”

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Jan 06

GOP leaders say no interest in moving hospital provider fee from TABOR

DelGrosso calls Democrats’ fee plan a “shell game”

By Joey Bunch
The Denver Post

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.

 

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Jan 05

Colorado legislators lay out very different priorities for 2016 session

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.

Col Dem leadershipSenate 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

Dec 27

Important questions about TABOR and their answers, part one

James Redmond
jredmond@greeleytribune.com

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

Dec 23

Clash building over plan to de-Bruce education

The Colorado Statesman

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.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock speaks at a rally in support of Amendment 66 in 2013. What began as Initiative 22 was on the November 2013 ballot and would have increased the state’s income tax to raise revenue for public school spending by nearly 17%. The amendment failed at the ballot box. This year, Great Education Colorado is seeking a different path to more dollars for K-12 education by freeing public education spending from TABOR limits altogether.

Photo Colorado Statesman Archives

Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute, viewed the news with a kind of exhausted skepticism.

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Dec 22

Colorado Schools To Get Unexpected $159M Funding Boost

The Colorado State Capitol.

(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Lawmakers will have difficult decisions to make on school funding issues when they tackle the budget this coming legislative session.Members of the Joint Budget Committee on Monday received year-end economic forecasts from state budget staffers. One of the key takeaways from their reports was an adjustment to school enrollment and local tax revenue numbers, which will free up $159 million more in school funding than was previously expected.

Statewide pupil enrollment turned out to be lower than what was projected earlier this year. And the share local communities contribute to school funding was greater than what had been anticipated.

“At the end of the day, I’m certainly hopeful that the news today is that we can invest more in our schools,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, who chairs the Joint Budget Committee.

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Dec 19

Littleton school superintendent kicks off state-wide campaign to fight TABOR

Although the election may have ended a month ago, at least one Colorado school district superintendent hasn’t stopped campaigning.

Littleton Public Schools (LPS) Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter Wednesday that drew ire from several residents in the district.

The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district started off with a letter from Ewert that seemed innocent at first.

“Little Public Schools is a special place where students excel, families thrive, and the community has a long tradition of supporting its schools,” the letter read.

However, it immediately turns to talk of inadequate statewide tax structure and a need for more money. But that’s not what crossed the line for residents like Lori Horn, who received the mailer despite not having students in the district.

“This is a new superintendent,” Horn said. “It was a different kind of letter for families to receive. I was surprised to get it since I don’t currently have kids in public schools here. They paid some money for it. It looked like a fluff piece about nice things going on in the schools, but one-third of it was his letter.” Continue reading

Dec 19

Littleton flyer cost school district near $10,000

A flyer recently mailed to Littleton Public Schools (LPS) residents asking them to contact their state legislators about an education funding plan cost the district nearly $10,000.

LPS Superintendent Brian Ewert sent out a newsletter earlier this month asking residents to support a possible bill that would remove the hospital provider fee from the general fund and convert it to an enterprise fund – thereby exempting the fee from counting toward the state’s constitutional revenue limit under the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and potentially opening the door to increased education funding.

The hospital provider fee is a fee charged to hospitals for each bed used by a patient daily. The revenue goes to fund the state’s expansion of Medicaid. By removing it from the general fund, it is predicted it would free up more than $600 million under the TABOR’s revenue cap. That would prevent automatic refunds to Colorado residents and possibly allow for more education funding.

Joint Budget Committee Chairman Kent Lambert-R has called the controversial maneuver a shell game in its effort to skirt TABOR laws.

The tri-fold, full-color, glossy mailer from the school district is Ewert’s first informational flyer since taking over as superintendent this year Continue reading

Dec 19

Prominent Denver business groups urge legislators to tweak hospital provider fee, fund roads

Colorado business groups are ramping up the debate over the state’s hospital provider fee, warning that if lawmakers don’t change how the state accounts for the money the fee generates, they’ll “almost certainly force” a tax increase to address Colorado’s crumbling roads instead.

The letter was sent to leaders of both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to set revenue from the hospital fee aside in a so-called “enterprise fund” that wouldn’t be subject to limitations imposed by the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.

The letter is mainly directed at Senate Republicans, whose opposition killed a bill on the provider fee in the last session of the Legislature after it had already cleared the Democratic-majority House..

The business groups constitute a crucial support sector for GOP-sponsored legislation. The letter to leadership on the hospital fee is meant to give cover to Republican leaders who are feeling pressure from more conservative elements of the party that want to block the enterprise fund idea — or who want to repeal the fee altogether.

“Republicans are certainly sensitive to the needs of the business community. The Senate Republicans have a track record of fighting for businesses,” said Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, one of the organizations backing the request. “We want to point out this is something important to businesses.” Continue reading

Dec 08

Hospital provider fee is a billion dollar political fight in Colorado

Hickenlooper calls for pulling the money from TABOR limits

 

A $1.2 billion system that provides health care to thousands of Colorado residents is becoming a political and fiscal headache for Gov. John Hickenlooper and lawmakers — one likely to dominate the 2016 legislative session.

The hospital provider fee program is expected to collect more than $750 million in fees in the next budget year and help propel state revenues over the TABOR limits, forcing the state to issue taxpayer refunds and reduce spending in key areas.

The dichotomy is driving the Democratic governor’s push to overhaul the program, despite being rebuffed by lawmakers earlier this year, and renewing questions about how the fee works.

More than usual, the greatest obstacle is politics. The debate represents a confluence of polarizing issues, from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to the expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

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