Irony Watch: Stapleton Trashes Denver Post Article After Declining Interview

(Nobody shoots their own foot quite like Walker Stapleton — promoted by Colorado Pols)

If you’re a journalist, this is the kind of  irony that makes you want to jump into the raging Platte River: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton is trashing a Denver Post article as “completely misleading” even though Stapleton refused an interview request from the reporter who wrote the article that Stapleton is so upset about.

Over the weekend, The Denver Post’s John Frank reported that Stapleton caved to pressure from conservatives and withdrew his support from legislation aimed at making money for PERA, the state’s public pension system.

Frank sought Stapleton’s comments for his article, but alas, as Frank reported:

John Frank: “Michael Fortney, a spokesman for Stapleton, declined to make him available for an interview and blamed the media for spreading falsehoods about the legislation.”

So John Frank dutifully did the best he could anyway to piece together Stapleton’s best response to the substantive issues at play. But this wasn’t good enough for Stapleton, who trashed Frank’s reporting on KLZ 560-AM’s nooner show yesterday:

 Stapleton (@5:40 below): “John Frank’s reporting, which was lacking to be diplomatic, was completely misleading, never once illuminated my track record of suing the pension system, lowering the [assumed] rate of return, leading the defeat of Amendment 66, the largest tax increase in Colorado history, because the money was going to back fill obligations in the pension system. I mean, the notion that somehow I’ve become sideways, because I’m in league with the pension system–the facts don’t quite bear that out.”

That’s not what the article said at all, but Stapleton went further, telling KLZ host Ken Clark that he thinks The Post has a bias against “statewide elected Republicans,” and so he’s “really isn’t surprised” that The Post’s coverage “has been not accurate.”

Stapleton (@1:30 below): “The Denver Post, their coverage of this, has been not accurate and misrepresentative of my position from the beginning, which really isn’t surprising as a statewide elected Republican.”

You can add another layer of irony to this accusation, because one of the state’s most conservative/libertarian journalists, Vincent Carroll, wrote that Stapleton “migrated into incoherence” when Stapleton previously attacked The Post’s coverage of the PERA legislation…

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“Loan Shark Payback”–How A Bipartisan Dirty Deed Was Done

UPDATE: FOX 31 reports on the controversy over House Bill 15-1390:

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Registered lobbyist Megan Dubray.

Registered lobbyist Megan Dubray.

A big question remaining from the end of this year’s legislative session is the status of a bill passed at warp speed just as the session came to an end earlier this month. House Bill 15-1390, legislation that would allow subprime personal lenders to dramatically increase interest rates on “supervised” loans typically sought by borrowers with impacted credit histories, passed the Democratic-controlled Colorado House nearly unanimously and with almost no debate. In the Senate, most Democrats voted against the legislation after consumer advocacy groups like the Bell Policy Center managed to sound the alarm.

Yesterday, those groups joined with Senators Jessie Ulibarri and Lucia Guzman at a presser, requesting a veto of the bill by Gov. John Hickenlooper. As we’ve noted previously, Hickenlooper’s office was apparently not party to the deal that greased this bill through the legislature just before adjournment, and both sides are presently lobbying his office for and against signing the bill into law.

As these remaining steps in the process play out, many observers, including readers of this blog, have rightly asked the question–just how did this plainly anti-consumer legislation make it out of the Democratic-controlled Colorado House? Why did so many Democratic representatives, including some pretty lefty liberal types, vote for a bill directly counter to the interests of working families they are charged with defending? Especially a last-minute bill so obviously being slipped in under the wire?

The answer to this question may be as simple of the identity of the lobbyist whose job it was to pass the bill. Megan Dubray is the registered lobbyist for Springleaf Financial, one of the two major lending companies who would benefit most from House Bill 1390’s dramatic hike in subprime personal loan interest rates. If Dubray’s name rings a bell to you, it’s because she used to be the Deputy Communications Director for former Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

In short, Dubray is a friendly face to Democrats in the Colorado House majority, and we have to assume that relationship played a role in both the late introduction of House Bill 1390–which required the consent of House leadership–and its quick passage through the House with most Democrats in support. The difference between House Democrats’ overwhelming support for House Bill 1390 and the opposition encountered from most Senate Democrats can be at least partly accounted for by Dubray’s role in lobbying for the bill.

Assuming this version of events is accurate, does it excuse Democrats in the House? Absolutely not–no matter how outwardly persuasive a case was being made to pass this bill, or who was doing the lobbying, allowing such enormous rate hikes on loans made to people who are already in credit trouble is exploitative and morally questionable on its face. Especially considering the huge profits subprime lenders are raking in as the economy recovers, the argument that this industry would simply pack up and leave the hundreds of millions of dollars they’re making here on the table if they don’t get these rate hikes is simply ridiculous. And there’s just no excuse for so many Democratic lawmakers not realizing that.

Bottom line: all the Democratic votes in the world for this bill do not make it right. A Democratic lobbyist pushing this bill does not make it right. Whatever happens to House Bill 1390, soul-searching lies ahead for everyone who contributed to this ugly situation.

We’ll continue to update as the story develops.

Another instance of Stapleton caving under pressure from righties

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Walker Stapleton.

Walker Stapleton.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton apparently caved to pressure from conservatives earlier this month, when he claimed not to have supported legislation that he helped draft and later promoted.

It was a weird reversal–but not the first time Stapleton has walked back a moderate position after hearing from his conservative allies.

In January, in an interview with Colorado Public Radio’s Ryan Warner, Stapleton clearly stated he was open to not returning TABOR refunds.

Asked by Warner if he would support “something that you felt was responsible and meant the state held on to the TABOR refunds,” Stapleton answered:

Stapleton: “Absolutely. TABOR is the popular whipping post, but Gallagher and Amendment 23 have also created a Gordian Knot of automatic ratchets in the budget and we need to free ourselves of automatic ratchets and get more control over where we spend dollars and more results-oriented spending for our budget going forward in the future. But I’m not opposed reflexively to anything, other than I’m opposed to anything that doesn’t give taxpayers a voice in where their money is being spent.”

Sounds kind of reasonable, doesn’t he, like he did in supporting a common-sense bill to bolster Colorado’s public retirement system. That is until conservatives got to him.

Same thing happened to his reasonable attitude toward TABOR. It disappeared.

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Radio Interview Provides More Info on Stapleton’s PERA Bill Hypocrisy

(Ain’t talkin’ yer way outta this one, Walker – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

POLS UPDATE: Walker Stapleton takes fire from left and right and questions about his double dealing grow:

“No matter where you stand on the issue of protecting our state’s retirees, one thing is clear: you can’t trust Walker Stapleton,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “State employees who worked their whole lives preparing for retirement on their PERA pensions deserve better than a treasurer who pays lip service to the state keeping its promises–but then sells them out to protect political loyalties.”

“The far right is working hard to destroy public pensions, and Stapleton’s political alliances are directly in conflict with his responsibilities as Treasurer of the state of Colorado,” said Runyon-Harms. “By attacking legislation he once supported, and then lying about it, Stapleton has cost himself friends on both sides of the aisle. It doesn’t matter how you feel about PERA, the only thing that matters today is Treasurer Walker Stapleton can’t be trusted to lead on the issues that matter most to his office.”

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dealinwalkerfinIf you’re a reporter, it’s tough to be fair when the person you’re writing about won’t talk to you, but The Denver Post’s John Frank did the best he could in an article Sunday about State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

Stapleton, who declined to be interviewed for Frank’s story, is clearly on record supporting legislation this session allowing him to issue bonds to make money for the state’s public retirement system. But speaking on conservative talk radio after the bill died, Stapleton denied ever supporting the legislation. The question is, why?

Frank points out that one reason for Stapleton’s about-face is pressure from conservatives who are wary of debt. That’s charitable to Stapleton. Actually, Stapleton admitted on the radio that he was under pressure from conservatives who want only to reduce expenses of retirement programs (higher age of retirement or contribution, lower pay outs). Stapleton’s bill intended to increase PERA’s revenue, so that the retirement system would be stronger and have a better chance at functioning as promised. This pissed off the conservatives, whose apparent underlying goal is to weaken or kill public pension programs.

Stapleton’s own explanation for his apparent hypocrisy is, as Frank reported, that he “supported the bill to give him the authority to issue bonds but not the issuance of bonds.”

This didn’t impress The Post’s Vincent Carroll, who wrote last week:

Actually, the legislation had everything to do with issuing bonds. You don’t give the state authority to do something unless you anticipate that it will exercise that power at some point and are comfortable with that possibility. And this bill wasn’t a permanent authority. It expired on Dec. 31, 2018, roughly when Stapleton will leave office. Obviously the bill contemplated Stapleton himself signing off on bonds at some point.

Frank produced evidence showing that Stapleton thought actually issuing the bonds was a good idea if “done in a prudent and conservative manner.”

On KLZ 560-AM’s nooner show, hosted by Ken Clark, Stapleton got even more specific, identifying a financial window during which he was prepared to issue the bonds.

“We had a provision that we would not even consider issuing the bonds if the arbitrage wasn’t at least a two-point spread.” (Listen to the KLZ interview at 4:25 below.)

You don’t need to know what an arbitrage is to see that Stapleton was happy and ready to consider issuing the bonds under very specific circumstances–if the arbitrage was at least a two-point spread. Case closed.

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Pressure Builds For Veto of Interest Rate Hike Bill

loanshark2The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch reports on growing controversy over House Bill 15-1390, legislation passed at the very end of this year’s legislative session with almost no debate to allow subprime lenders to dramatically increase interest rates on certain personal loan products:

Gov. John Hickenlooper has three official requests on his desk to veto House Bill 1390, legislation that adjusts the cap on subprime loans allowing 36 percent on a $3,000 loan.

The bill was introduced near the end of the session and sailed through. Groups that oppose it say they didn’t have time to make their case and want a veto in order to give the proposal more debate next year…

“In a legislative session that was supposed to be about the middle class, this bill moves Colorado in the wrong direction,” states the joint veto request from The Bell Policy Center, ProgressNow Colorado, the Colorado Center on Law & Policy and the Colorado Progressive Coalition.

“We wish this bill had come up earlier in the session to allow more time for conversations with legislators and a greater opportunity for the views of average Coloradans to be heard. Your veto of HB15-1390 will help protect low- to moderate-income Coloradans from detrimental credit products. The Legislature can address this issue again next session in a manner that ensures all viewpoints are heard and more measured deliberations take place.”

More from the Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela:

“We are not opposed to the loans, just to increasing the current rates so significantly,” the letter reads.

Danny Katz of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group said the bill benefits those that don’t need help — financial institutions.

“This bill simply takes money from Colorado family pockets and sends it to Wall Street and out-of-state investors,” Katz said. “That’s not how Colorado should do business or treat its families.”

Read more coverage of House Bill 15-1390 in the Durango Herald and Colorado Public Radio. To the dismay of lobbyists and complicit lawmakers, the word is definitely getting out.

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

As we’ve discussed in this space, the whole purpose of introducing this legislation at the last possible moment in this year’s legislative session was to limit the public’s knowledge of what was happening. Now that the press is covering it, it looks very bad–and Democratic legislators who sponsored this late bill are being forced to defend their actions. That’s not going real well, as Vela continues:

“These people have nowhere to go to get a loan,” said Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, who helped sponsor the legislation in the Senate…

“They’re trying to associate it to payday lending and it’s not,” Jahn said. “These financial institutions are willing to give loans to people with bad credit, who are trying to rebuild credit. So the interest rate is higher, but not as high as payday lending.

“These groups that come out opposing this, always say, ‘You’re taking advantage of poor people.’ No, not really. They have nowhere else to go.”

Got that? Consumers have “nowhere else to go,” so let’s jack up their interest rates! Makes perfect sense if you’re the one lending the money. Those consumers aren’t likely to be so happy about it, however.

Democratic supporters like Sen. Cheri Jahn and the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton argue that the number and total dollar amounts for this type of loan have shrunk in Colorado since 2005. That’s a disingenuous argument, though, since in 2005 subprime credit was incredibly easy to obtain–so much so that subprime debt nearly sank the entire U.S. economy just a couple of years later. Back in reality, as the New York Times reported in detail last fall, subprime personal loans–and the companies booking them–are doing just fine in today’s recovering economy.

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Veto the “loan shark giveaway,” Gov. Hickenlooper

In the final hours of the legislative session last week, something bad happened.

Lobbyists for the subprime lending industry sneaked in a last-minute bill to allow huge interest rate increases on certain personal loans. The Colorado Attorney General’s office estimates that this legislation could mean increases of almost 40% to the total cost of a personal loan.

Send a message to Gov. Hickenlooper right now requesting a VETO of House Bill 15-1390.

There was no opportunity to properly debate this legislation–and that was by design. This bill to allow lenders to hike interest rates on personal loans was passed by both chambers in less than a week with almost no debate. Some lawmakers have already expressed regret over their rushed vote for this legislation. Passing bills that could cost thousands of Coloradans millions of dollars at the last minute with no debate is just plain wrong.

Tell Gov. Hickenlooper to VETO House Bill 15-1390, the “loan shark giveaway” bill. Your message will be delivered instantly to the Governor’s office.

Thanks for your timely assistance stopping this bad anti-consumer legislation. This time, the money saved could be your own.

Groups Ask Hickenlooper To Veto Interest Rate Hike Bill

380_image_loanshark_8662Here’s an excerpt from a letter sent by several consumer advocacy groups including the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, and the Colorado Progressive Coalition to Gov. John Hickenlooper, requesting a veto of House Bill 15-1390last-minute legislation that shot through the General Assembly at the closing bell allowing lenders to dramatically jack up interest rates on specific types of personal loans:

We respectfully ask you to veto the Allowable Finance Charge for Certain Consumer Credit Transactions bill (HB15-1390). This bill, which was introduced in the final few days of session and did not get a full vetting in the Legislature, would raise the cost of credit for moderate- and low-income Coloradans on certain consumer credit transactions. Raising these caps would lead to more high-cost and unaffordable credit products, hurting Colorado consumers and middle-class families. We are not opposed to the loans, just to increasing the current rates so significantly.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which regulates these loans, testified in the House about how HB15-1390 would affect these loans. While neutral on the bill, the office said that it would increase the costs of an average $6,000 loan by 38.1 percent. The Attorney General’s Office also said there is nothing to indicate that this credit product is not available to consumers or that consumers are having a hard time accessing this product.

In a legislative session that was supposed to be about the middle class, this bill moves Colorado in the wrong direction. We wish this bill had come up earlier in the session to allow more time for conversations with legislators and a greater opportunity for the views of average Coloradans to be heard. Your veto of HB15-1390 will help protect low- to moderate-income Coloradans from detrimental credit products. The Legislature can address this issue again next session in a manner that ensures all viewpoints are heard and more measured deliberations take place.

As we discussed last week, House Bill 15-1390 passed through the General Assembly at lightning speed with almost no debate. Consumer group opponents like the Bell Policy Center had no opportunity to mount an opposition to the bill. In subsequent days, we’ve heard that lobbyists for the lenders who would benefit from higher interest rates facilitated the late introduction of the bill, and paraded lenders through the legislature in the final days who essentially threatened to close up shop if they couldn’t increase interest rates–this despite the fact that tens of thousands of these loans worth hundreds of millions of dollars were made under the current rates last year. This threat, which sounds remarkably like the hollow arguments against payday lending reform a few years ago, evidently persuaded all but two members of the House to pass the bill. In the Senate, after opponents had the chance to get their feet under them, most Democrats voted against the bill--a telling difference.

1390senatevote

From all accounts we’ve heard, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office was not part of whatever dubious greasing of the wheels occurred here, and his signature is by no means assured. Over the coming days, we expect Hickenlooper to hear from both sides, but ultimately we think there is enough backlash forming against both the bill and the shady process by which it was introduced and passed to make a veto an easy decision.

And after that, we hope for a frank conversation within the Democratic House caucus–about how sticking it to subprime borrowers in the closing hours of the legislative session is not how you “protect working families.”

So Much For Keeping That Interest Rate Hike Bill Under Wraps

FOX 31’s Tammy Vigil reports on the last-minute giveaway to subprime personal lenders that passed the General Assembly with distressing bipartisan support–at least in the Democratic-controlled House–and is now headed to the Governor’s desk, where consumer advocates hope it will be vetoed:

Only the Governor can save consumers now.

House Bill 1390 raises interest rates on personal consumer loans by up to 71 percent. It would allow lenders to raise finance rates from 21 percent to 36 percent on loans up to $3,000.

It also increases rates from 15 to 21 percent on loans more than $3,000 to $5,000.

These loans target people with some credit problems who can’t get loans from traditional banks and credit unions to buy consumer products like cars, boats and to consolidate debt…

As we discussed yesterday, House Bill 15-1390 would dramatically increase the maximum allowable interest rate on the specific types of personal loans offered by subprime lenders like Citigroup’s OneMain Financial and Springleaf Financial. Not surprisingly, lobbyists for these corporations were the driving force behind this legislation, and successfully prevailed on Democratic leadership in the House to allow the bill to be introduced late last week. Asked to defend the legislation yesterday by FOX 31, House sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton (D) made a disappointingly unconvincing argument:

“It is high risk. It has a higher interest rate of 36 percent, but it’s much better than 125 percent we see with pay day lending facilities,” said State Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat from Aurora.

He also said these lenders need a hand to stay in business in our state… [Pols emphasis]

The claim that these lenders need to be able to hike interest rates in order to “stay in business” is plainly contradicted by the huge success they are enjoying in Colorado today–in 2013 alone, millions of dollars in profits on over 31,000 loans of the type that would be affected by the legislation. Sure, 36% is a lower interest rate than payday loans, but the current rate caps are not hurting these lenders’ business. It is therefore completely disingenuous to claim that we must let them inflate the cost of loans they issue to consumers by almost 40% in order to “keep them in business.”

In fact, that’s the same nonsense we heard from the payday lending lobbyists and their political surrogates back in 2010, when legislation reforming that industry’s over-the-top usurious practices was signed into law. Five years later, surprise! You can still get a payday loan in Colorado with ease.

Bottom line: this was a major political mistake for Democrats who backed indefensible anti-consumer legislation, and another lesson about the constant vigilance needed at the Capitol to protect citizens from predatory corporate lobbyists. The last-minute rush to pass this bill was obviously meant to limit debate and public knowledge of what was happening, and that was a terrible decision by Democrats who should know better.

And now that the media is cluing in to what happened, it’s time for some mea culpas–and a swift veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Last-Minute Swindle: Personal Loan Interest Rate Hike Races Through General Assembly Ahead of Sine Die

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

Just when you thought it was safe to exhale as the end of the 2015 session of the Colorado legislature approaches today, fresh controversy is brewing at the Capitol over House Bill 15-1390: a bill that sped through the House yesterday before passing the Senate today to allow lenders to dramatically increase interest rates charged for specific types of personal loans. Passed with almost no notice or debate, the Bell Policy Center is urgently sounding the alarm–from their release yesterday before the bill passed the Senate this morning:

A late bill that is clearly bad for consumers easily passed the House and is on the Senate floor. This bill, Allowable Finance Charge for Certain Consumer Credit Transactions (HB15-1390), would raise the cost of credit for moderate- and low-income Coloradans on certain consumer credit transactions. The frenzied pace of the final days of the legislative session paved the way for this bill to sail through, and consumers stand to lose. [Pols emphasis]

The bill passed the House (62-2) last week and the Senate Finance Committee (4-1) this morning, despite strong testimony in both chambers from our Rich Jones. Jones said that raising the caps on certain supervised loans and consumer credit sales would lead to more high-cost and unaffordable credit products. We are not opposed to the loans, just to increasing the current rates.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which regulates these loans, testified in the House about how HB15-1390 would affect these loans. While neutral on the bill, the office said that it would increase the costs of an average $6,000 loan by 38.1 percent. In response to a question, the Attorney General’s Office also said there is nothing to indicate that this credit product is not available to consumers or that consumers are having a hard time accessing this product. [Pols emphasis]

In a legislative session that was supposed to be about the middle class, this bill moves Colorado in the wrong direction. We wish this bill had come up earlier in the session to allow more time for conversations with legislators…

But the extremely limited debate this bill received appears to have been a feature, not a bug. The legislation has its origin with lobbyists for OneMain Financial, a branch of Citigroup that specializes in the kinds of personal loans that would be affected. The bill was rushed through the House with almost no opposition, but the vote today in the Senate was not unanimous after Democratic Senators realized there was a problem. There seems to be an effort now that the bill is causing controversy to make excuses for its plain effect–allowing lenders to hike interest rates on personal loans. Unfortunately, it’s a one-page bill, and there’s no sugar-coating what it does.

Much like the shenanigans we’ve seen in previous years to undo hard-won reforms of the payday lending industry, what we’re seeing here is another ugly brute-force attempt by lobbyists and allied politicians to ram through an undesirable piece of legislation during the final crush. Longtime readers will recall that the payday loan reform battle was fraught with lobbyist-engineered treachery, with several attempts before success in 2010 scuttled by Democrats making “surprise” votes to kill the bills. Sen. Cheri Jahn, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 15-1390, has a long history of this kind of thing, and has little trust among consumer advocates as a result.

Bottom line: lender lobbyists are some of the most audacious under the Dome, but this bill could well be a step too far–for them, and for legislators in both parties who signed on to this ill-advised ploy. There is simply no reason to ram through legislation like this except to gouge consumers and enrich lenders. And the only reason to ram it through at the last minute is to keep it quiet.

In short, it’s one of those situations that makes voters, you know, cynical. Hopefully, Gov. John Hickenlooper will correct what appears to be a major bipartisan mistake.

Are Colorado PERA Negotiations Being Influenced by Federal Politics?

(clockwise from top): U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

(clockwise from top):
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post reported late yesterday on a troubling political strategy from Republicans that intertwines state and federal politics:

Intense negotiations are underway at the state Capitol to try to revive a Denver Public Schools pension bill that critics claim was killed by Republicans because of former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet’s Senate re-election bid.

House Bill 1251 is important for DPS because it would allow the district to quit paying around $23 million more a year into the state pension fund than other school districts…

Three people with knowledge of the bill told The Denver Post that they talked about it with Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, who said national Republicans didn’t want to see a bill passed that potentially could help Bennet. Hill briefly ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014. [Pols emphasis]

Hill responded Thursday that his chief concern is that PERA is a “real ticking time bomb,” but he acknowledged people told him they had concerns about “some bad deals that were cut” when Bennet oversaw Denver schools.

Bennet’s financial dealings at DPS were an issue in his 2010 Senate primary. “Exotic Deals Put Denver Schools Deeper in Debt,” read a headline in The New York Times. Republicans have said they plan to revisit the issue on the campaign trail next year.

For his part, State Senate “PresidentBill Cadman says that he has “never” talked to the Republican Party or “anyone in Washington” about HB-1251, although it’s difficult to say how much people are really listening to Cadman anyway.

We won’t get into the policy discussion of the relative merits of HB-1251 and PERA reforms here (Colorado Pols is a political blog, after all), but the idea that Colorado legislation might be torpedoed because of how it might harm the re-election chances of a U.S. Senator is more than a little troubling. It also speaks, again, to the leadership structure surrounding Colorado Republicans. If this story proves true, it seriously calls into question how much Senate Republicans are even making their own decisions locally.

Get More Smarter on Monday (April 27)

MoreSmarter-RainToday’s forecast calls for rain, or something. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

Opening Statements begin today in the Aurora Theater Shooting trial, nearly three years after the attack at a late-night screening of The Dark Knight Rises. The Associated Press takes a look at what to expect over the next several weeks as attorneys attempt to deal with an “insanity” plea. Aurora Sentinel editor Dave Perry has a very thoughtful take on what is sure to be an unpleasant summer for all involved with the trial.

► The Office of Consumer Counsel is a hot topic this week in the legislature. Democrats in the House have introduced legislation to re-authorize the OCC without stripping it of authority over the telecommunications industry.

► The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a “field hearing” in Denver on Friday to discuss the myriad of problems associated with construction of a new VA Hospital in Aurora. Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) also attended the hearing, which came on the same day as a new report showing that Coffman hasn’t done much “oversight” despite being the Chairman of the House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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The Office of Consumer Counsel: Sonnenberg’s Faustian Bargain

SUNDAY UPDATE: Setting up a late-session battle, majority House Democrats have introduced an alternative “clean” bill to reauthorize the Office of Consumer Counsel without stripping it of authority in telecom rate cases. The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch:

The main differences between the bills are telephones and duration before the next sunset review. Sonnenberg, the sponsor of Senate Bill 271, and other Senate Republicans say there’s no need for the Office of Consumer Counsel to ride herd over phone rates. Those are dictated by competition in the free market, after the legislature deregulated telecoms last year.

Supporters of House Bill 1381 say the office needs to keep a watch on remaining phone services and issues, such as 9-1-1 service and whether deregulation is giving customers a fair shake.

The newest OCC bill sponsored by Reps. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and 28 Democratic co-sponsors preserves the OCC’s telecom oversight. The Senate bill reduces the time until the next sunset review from 11 years to six. The House bill maintains it at 11.

From House Democrats’ presser:

“Extending the Office of Consumer Counsel is a no brainer,” Rep. Esgar said. “It provides critical protections for Colorado consumers and businesses to ensure that big utilities and telecom companies aren’t ripping off hardworking Coloradans to increase their profits.”

HB15-1381 will continue the counsel in its current form for another 11 years. A Senate bill, SB15-271, also extends the counsel, but only for six years and removes the counsel’s oversight over telephone providers, potentially threatening 9-1-1 services and causing unneeded rate increases.

“We know the counsel has prevented telecom rate increases in the past,” Rep. Winter said. “We shouldn’t create a loophole that threatens 9-1-1 services and will cost consumers more money.”

Stay tuned, the classic battle of consumers versus corporate lobbyists is about to resume.

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Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch reports on a deal in the works with Colorado Senate Republicans to prevent the Office of Consumer Counsel from sunsetting–an office important to consumer advocates to represent utility customers in rate hike proceedings.

As Bunch reports, Republicans are seeking a pound of flesh in exchange:

Consumer groups have been fretting the fate of the Office of Consumer Counsel, whose experts have helped convince the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that some of the rate increases requested by gas, power or phone providers are either more than necessary or not necessary at all.

The agency will reach its sunset on July 1, unless the legislature passes Senate Bill 271 or tries to revive the agency early in next year’s session. There’s a provision that allows the office to “wind down” for one year, but a delay would deal it a crippling blow, supporters say.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, is sponsoring the bill and will argue its merits before the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee next week. The bill could be heard and moved to the full Senate as early as Tuesday or as late as Thursday, though it’s not on the committee agenda for either day as of Thursday evening. Despite the late hour of the legislative session, Sonnenberg is confident the reauthorization will face few roadblocks on its way to the governor.

“I don’t see there’ll be much opposition,” he said. “I do understand there’s a little bit of heartburn about taking out the telecom.” [Pols emphasis]

That’s right–the “deal” being offered by GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg would reauthorize the OCC for the purpose of negotiating electrical and gas service rates, but would strip the office’s authority where it concerns telecommunications services. Bunch quotes the director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group warning that “now’s not the time to bench Colorado’s consumer advocate on telephone issues.” So why is this happening, you ask?

It’s simple: CenturyLink and the rest of Colorado’s telecom players have really good lobbyists. There’s nothing about stripping the OCC of its authority in telecom utility service negotiations that helps consumers, but with the legislative session winding down and Republicans in control of the Senate by one seat, this is in all likelihood the best deal consumers are going to get. And if you don’t like it, your alternative is to lose all of your representation before the Public Utilities Commission on rate hikes.

Such a deal, Sen. Sonnenberg.

The nation has to do better than regional standards to combat methane waste

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In case you missed it, and it looks like Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper may have, NASA scientists descended on the Four Corners region of the southwest to discuss the problem of natural gas waste, which is widely believed to be caused in part by venting and flaring.   

Gov. Hickenlooper deserves to be applauded for his administration’s strong commitment to tackling the wasteful methane emissions caused by resource extraction activities.  It’s great that Colorado stepped up, but his recent suggestion that the BLM shouldn’t weigh-in is misguided at best:

“I think if the states can agree, our soles are on the dirt–the soles of our boots are right on the ground. If we can agree among ourselves then I think we have a stronger case to go back to the BLM and say, “You don’t need to regulate methane emissions[.]’”

Most states with a methane waste problem aren’t doing squat and no one is coming close to what Colorado has done. In fact, Colorado and New Mexico have a big problem, as evidenced by the Delaware-sized methane cloud NASA discovered that is hovering over the Four Corners.  

Because most states haven’t been as bold as Gov. Hickenlooper’s Colorado, it’s time for strong national standards from the BLM to combat a problem that clearly crosses state borders, and the borders between federal, state, and private lands.

The BLM also has a financial obligation to the American taxpayer. Wasting methane from flaring and venting means lost tax revenue (about half of which goes to states)—and waste is something that the BLM is legally mandated to minimize. It’s clear that we need a smart, comprehensive approach to methane waste.

Fighting Overseas Tax Havens to Help Colorado’s Schools

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

overseas

It’s gotten to the point where everyone in Colorado wants politicians to find a way, somehow, to tax the money big corporations hide to avoid paying taxes, and then to use the tax revenue from these hidden profits on education. Okay, not everyone wants this but, seriously, most of us do.

But how to do it in a way that’s got a prayer of untying the knot of legal restrictions (TABOR) and divided government?

Democrats in the state legislature may have hit on a way to get this done.

Standing inside the Capitol on the eve of Tax Day, state lawmakers unveiled legislation that would stop Colorado corporations from hiding profits in overseas tax havens, like the Cayman Islands. Closing this tax loophole would generate a tidy $150 million in tax revenue annually that would go to education.

“There are some corporations that don’t pay their taxes, like the rest of us do,” said Rep. Mike Foote at the April 14 news conference, as you can see in a Denver Business Journal video here.

“They do get a chance to use our roads, to take advantage of educated folks to work in their businesses, courts for dispute resolution and so forth. But they don’t pay for the use. It’s not fair to the state of Colorado. It’s not fair to the rest of us. And this bill will address that lack of fairness by closing loopholes that some corporations use by funneling their money offshore in order not to have to pay taxes on it.”

The bill, sponsored by Foote and Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, would not only have to clear the legislature but also be approved by voters in November. So it has a long way to go.

But similar bills became law in Montana and Oregon, picking up bipartisan support along the way, according to the bill’s sponsors.

So you’d think a bill like this would have a chance here in Colorado, where the public is overwhelmingly in favor of such measures, according to a polls.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch reported that the legislation is opposed by The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry:

“We understand the intent to eliminate the shifting of income to tax havens to avoid Colorado taxes,” said Loren Furman, CACI’s senior vice president for state and federal relations. “But, there are many instances where legitimate business is conducted in these countries, and that income may not have been subject to Colorado tax.

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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (April 14)

Forgot to do your taxes? You’ve got a good 36 hours left. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The Obama Administration says it has a plan to fund construction of the troubled VA Hospital in Aurora. Congressman Mike Coffman, the Republican Chair of the Veterans Subcommittee on Oversight, continues to bluster without taking time to suggest an actual solution.

► The State House is finished debating several more attempts to overturn gun safety laws passed in 2013. There was much debate, talking, and blustering, but in the end, nothing changed…though divisions within the Republican Party are growing, as the Colorado Springs-Gazette editorial board writes:

Forget Michael Bloomberg, Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative Democrats for now. The bigger threat to gun rights in Colorado is Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, headed by political operative Dudley Brown.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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