Jan 10

State’s school superintendents plan rally on Capitol Hill Monday to ask for more money

Photo credit: Todd Shepherd

Photo credit: Todd Shepherd

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.


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Jan 10

Cadman: Somebody knew hospital provider fee is unconstitutional

Cadman: Somebody knew hospital provider fee is unconstitutional

But Democrats counter that it’s up to courts to decide: ‘Lots of lawyers will have lots of different opinions’
The Colorado Statesman

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.

Senate President Bill Cadman displays a memo from the Colorado Legislative Legal Services office answering whether a proposal to reclassify the state’s hospital provider fee would be constitutional at a press conference in his office on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

Photo by Kara Mason/The Colorado Statesman

“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.


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Jan 10

Legal memo upsets effort on Colorado hospital provider fee

Dive Brief:

  • 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.

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Jan 09

Review: Building a Better Colorado

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

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.


Click (HERE) to read the rest of this story:

Jan 03

Group backed by prominent Colorado leaders weighs TABOR overhaul

A third measure considered would allow unaffiliated voters to play a bigger role in primaries.

By John Frank
The Denver Post

An organization backed by prominent Colorado leaders is moving toward ballot initiatives in 2016 to roll back the state’s TABOR spending caps and make it harder to amend the constitution.

A possible third ballot question from Building a Better Colorado may allow the state’s 1.3 million unaffiliated voters to play a larger role in selecting candidates at the political primary level.

The bipartisan organization tested support for the issues in a December statewide poll and recently began drafting ballot language for the potential initiatives as it prepares to conclude a five-month listening tour in January.

“I think people recognize that there’s a problem that needs to be dealt with … and therefore, there is more enthusiasm for a solution,” said Reeves Brown, the project’s director.

The move to eliminate the inflation-plus-population revenue limit in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rightslikely would include a provision to direct surplus money that would have gone to taxpayer refunds to certain priority areas, rather than give state lawmakers free reign to spend it.

Click here to read the rest of the story:

Jan 03

Colorado taxpayers will get a TABOR gift in 2016

Every Colorado income taxpayer will get a gift from TABOR this tax season, even if it’s the smallest of the projected refunds – $21 for a single filer.

But the working poor will get an extra boost from the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in 2016 because the state took in enough revenue last fiscal year to trigger a Colorado version of a federal tax credit. Almost 400,000 Coloradans will receive an average of $217 as part of their income tax return for the 2015 tax year – 10 percent of their federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

“These are people who are working. They are employed, they earn money but they aren’t making enough to get by,” said Tim Hoover, communications director for the Colorado Fiscal Institute. “A lot of them are working two or even three jobs. These are people who really need a little bit of extra boost in their paychecks.”

Hoover said many economists – both Republicans and Democrats – are advocates of the federal program, which has been among “the biggest and most successful anti-poverty programs this country has ever seen.” Continue reading

Dec 27

Important questions about TABOR and their answers, part one

James Redmond

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 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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