An Open Letter to Donald Trump

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Donald Trump.

Donald Trump.

I am compelled by conscience to respond to your recent hate-filled rhetoric toward immigrants and your call to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States.

I must call out your words for what they are: cowardly and immoral. It is cowardice to categorically attack and dehumanize 11 million people to further your own political ambition. Your words are those of a demagogue—a false ‘solution’ that riles up the worst of our humanity.

I must ask you: Did undocumented immigrants make the decisions to shutter thousands of American factories and send millions upon millions of good jobs to other countries? Did undocumented immigrants pass the ‘free trade’ agreements that have ruined both well-paid manufacturing and, increasingly, service jobs in America?  Did undocumented immigrants pass the massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that have showered further wealth upon them and led to public services cuts and extreme deficits? (I could go on and on.)

No, people with enormous economic and political power made those decisions—Wall Street, CEO’s, members of the 1%, and the politicians whom they have bought made those decisions. I will say that again—people with incredible power made those decisions. Yet, you prey upon the considerable economic insecurity that almost all Americans feel today and blame undocumented immigrants—a group that is a far cry from wielding power over the commanding heights over our economy and our politics. This is not courage, sir—it is rank cowardice.

Worse than that, you are attempting the ugly, dangerous, and age-old tactic of scapegoating. We must look at our history—and the history of the world—and remember just how dangerous scapegoating is. I urge you, and every American, to pause for a moment and reflect upon what has happened every time in history when a group that is different is first made to be the ‘other’ then blamed for that society’s problems? The next step on that treacherous path is always a call for their removal from that society—or much, much worse. This perilous call is what you have just issued.

Already, that peril is becoming clear. Two men, apparently ‘inspired’ by your rhetoric, beat a Latino homeless man in the place of my birth, Boston.  Mr. Trump, can you imagine Jesus Christ uttering the hateful words that you have towards undocumented immigrants? In fact the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Where in any tradition of any major world religion does it call for such hatred and dehumanization of our fellow man? This is why your words are immoral.

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Sorry, Walker Stapleton: Price of Gold Plunges

ChartBuilderIn 2010, as the nation was in the grip of a major economic downturn, right-wing candidates capitalized on uncertainty about the economy by seeking to outdo each other with frightening predictions about the future–and what they would do to save us. In the case of then-candidate for Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton, he responded to a question in a primary debate about the economy by suggesting the state invest in gold to hedge against what he foresaw as a “hyperinflationary environment.”

STAPLETON: The Treasury’s portfolio has not changed markedly in the last eight or ten years under Treasurer Mike Coffman, under Treasurer Mark Hillman and now under Treasurer Cary Kennedy. And that’s been okay, it’s weathered the storm fairly well. The problem is that we, I believe we are entering a hyper-inflationary environment. We’re going to need to shorten the duration of a lot of the state’s investments, the duration of the portfolio to adjust to a hyper-inflationary environment…

And I think hedging, using using gold to hedge against inflation or another precious metal is something the state needs to investigate. It’s something we haven’t done in the past, and it could be an effective method of dealing with a hyper-inflationary environment.

Fast-forward to today’s news:

“We see further downward pressure on gold prices, possibly stabilising at an eventual rate of US$1,000 a troy ounce,” said Mr Howie Lee, a Phillip Futures investment analyst. “It seems to be an end of an era for the precious metal. Even in a crisis, it has not picked up much appeal.”

Amid the recent turmoil in Chinese markets that spread to bourses across the globe, gold prices have remained weak. According to a Bloomberg survey on Jul 29, traders expect gold prices will drop to US$984 an ounce before January next year. That would be the lowest since 2009.

One factor weighing on the outlook for the yellow metal is a US Federal Reserve rate hike expected later this year that will push the greenback even higher and raise the opportunity cost of holding gold, which carries zero interest.

The traditional sales tactic for gold and other precious metals involves spreading fear about the economy to motivate investors to “hedge” their investments against uncertainty. Since Barack Obama became President in 2009 in the midst of a recession he did not create, a natural alliance has formed between Obama’s political enemies and gold trading companies. Republicans set themselves up for victory in 2010 by making voters believe that the world was about to end, which boosted gold trading companies as rattled Americans bought up gold to survive the coming Obamanation.

But between Stapleton’s dire predictions of “hyperinflation” and today, something else happened: the American economy didn’t collapse after all. In 2010, the U.S. economy was already emerging from the depths of recession, a process that has continued to this day. The economic fears that prevailed in 2010 have slowly dissipated, and as a result the price of gold has plunged by hundreds of dollars in the last few years (see chart above right). There are predictions now that the price of gold could fall even more, below $1,000 per ounce and perhaps much farther.

Safe to say, thank goodness Colorado didn’t fill the state treasury with gold!

Now that the price of gold is dropping like a rock, we’d say the question of what Walker Stapleton was thinking in 2010 is even more relevant. Why did this supposed financial expert make such wildly inaccurate predictions about the economy, and then propose a remedy that now appears absolutely foolhardy? We know there are plenty of theories–we want to hear it from Stapleton personally.

Because as much as everyone rushes to excuse yesterday’s “Tea Party” nuttiness, it happened. He said it.

Hickenlooper Steps Up To Sell TABOR “Baby Step”

UPDATE: Although the Denver Post story this weekend represents this proposal as a “revamp” or “fix” to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, commenters note correctly that this is merely a proposed exemption of revenues from the 2009 hospital provider fee from TABOR. The proposal would prevent the fee from busting TABOR’s revenue caps, allowing the state to keep the money.

Not that TABOR’s zealous defenders will like it any better, of course.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is putting his money where his mouth his–or is it putting his mouth where he wants your money to be?–by proposing a small “tweak” to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) that would allow the state to retain several hundred million dollars to fund needed projects:

On the first day of a new statewide tour, Gov. John Hickenlooper found an appropriate venue in this high mountain town for his push to revamp how the state spends money.

The Democrat stood on stage at the historic Tabor Opera House in Leadville and made a lengthy pitch for an overhaul to TABOR — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Hickenlooper wants to exempt the hospital provider fee from state revenue collections under TABOR because it pushes Colorado over the constitutional cap, prompting taxpayer refunds next year even as the state struggles to adequately fund priority areas.

If the fee were removed from TABOR, Colorado’s revenues would fall under the cap and the state would have $200 million more to spend on road projects and classrooms, the governor said.

To be clear, this is not the “grand bargain” that would undo the fiscal chokehold of the combination of TABOR with other constitutional spending caps and mandates to let our elected officials do their jobs as prescribed by the same state (not to mention federal) constitution. The hospital provider fee was passed in 2009 under Gov. Bill Ritter in order to qualify for additional federal matching funds for Medicaid. The program has been very successful, but that success has come with the side effect of pushing the state beyond TABOR’s dreaded revenue caps.

Despite a backlog of funding priorities and money cover them, it’s necessary to hold a statewide vote to simply allow those funds to be retained and used by the state. For citizens who don’t understand TABOR, there’s a widespread assumption that our better economy means more revenue that the state can then use to pay for all the stuff we depend on every day–roads, schools, health care.

But in Colorado, that’s just not the way it works.

“I think giving people the real facts is half the battle,” he said after the first events. “To make sure they understand that … it’s going to crowd out, over the next few years, hundreds of millions of dollars from the things all these people want from their state government.”

We’ve heard some grumbling that Hickenlooper “squandering” an opportunity for a much more comprehensive solution for a smaller-scale proposal like this might make it harder down the road for such a “big fix” to pass muster. But we honestly think that the battle to unwind TABOR’s deviously complex restrictions on raising revenue in our state is a longer-term problem than Hickenlooper or anyone else can solve by 2016. The political backing doesn’t yet exist to make a wholesale repeal viable, and the projections of looming and persistent shortfalls in the future aren’t close enough yet to be real to voters. There is more work to be done educating the public, and more harm that needs to be seen with voters’ own eyes.

In the meantime, Gov. Hickenlooper is doing what he can. The arguments that he’s making for this small-scale proposal apply to the big questions as well–and either Hick or his successor will benefit from his touring of the state to tell this story when TABOR’s judgment day finally arrives.

Beer Wars: Coal, Water, Smelt, and the Great Beer Boycott of 2015

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Forget about buying New Belgium Craft Beer in Craig, Colorado. Most of the liquor stores, and some of the bars, just aren’t selling it anymore. The boycott is a reaction to New Belgium’s support of the work of the Wild Earth Guardians (WEG). WEG has successfully promoted an environmental lawsuit halting expansion of the ColoWyo coal mine in Moffat County near Craig, and some local coal miners fear that their livelihoods will be sacrificed for an environmental cause or an endangered species. In an article in the Craig Daily Press, Lori Gillam, an owner of Stockmen’s Liquor store, said, “We pulled those beers because their support of WildEarth Guardians… who said their ultimate goal is to shut down coal mines. Craig is a coal mine town.”

These fears are being relentlessly inflamed in the right wing blogosphere, and on right wing talk radio. On June 9 and 10, Ken Clark’s Freedom 360 show was all about the so-called “War on Coal” in Craig, Colorado. 

New Belgian Beers on Tap

New Belgium Beers on tap, from National Journal article by Matt Berman. Photo by Quan Ha

 

  

“They’re coming after Colorado!,” Ken Clark breathlessly reported at 8:39 minutes into his 6/9/15 Freedom 560 show. From 5:23 to 8:20, Clark made the following statements about Wild Earth Guardians:

  “These are the same folks that created all this havoc in California. [They] .. are the whack jobs that shut down all of the irrigation to these farmlands in order to protect that smelt, that fish. . . They pretty much killed California and their farm production.  Fresno County – the unemployment rate’s 47%. These are the same guys. . . .They have set their sights on Colorado. They are coming here.  And now they’re coming after us.” 

 

Factually, Clark is just plain wrong here, although he wisely left wiggle room by saying that his “friend told him so”, and he plans to “check it out”. Fresno’s unemployment rate in 2014 was 11%, not 47%. California is obviously suffering from drought, and farmers, tourists, developers, businesses, and wildlife are all struggling and negotiating for the use of the same diminishing pool of potable water. The only reference to environmental regulations and fish in the Fresno Bee article was the mention of how water is being kept in Lake Shasta to keep  salmon and trout alive. 

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Throwback Thursday: Walker Stapleton Says “Buy Gold!”

Five years ago, now-Treasurer Walker Stapleton was locked in a tense primary battle against J.J. Ament, son of longtime Colorado political fixture Don Ament. In 2010, more or less all Republican candidates for office were working hard to prove their “Tea Party” mettle, which in practice meant the enthusiastic embrace of a smorgasbord of really extreme ideas–things that would sound just plain nutty in, say, 2015.

As you can see in the clip above, Walker Stapleton was no exception:

STAPLETON: The Treasury’s portfolio has not changed markedly in the last eight or ten years under Treasurer Mike Coffman, under Treasurer Mark Hillman and now under Treasurer Cary Kennedy. And that’s been okay, it’s weathered the storm fairly well. The problem is that we, I believe we are entering a hyper-inflationary environment. We’re going to need to shorten the duration of a lot of the state’s investments, the duration of the portfolio to adjust to a hyper-inflationary environment…

And I think hedging, using using gold to hedge against inflation or another precious metal is something the state needs to investigate. It’s something we haven’t done in the past, and it could be an effective method of dealing with a hyper-inflationary environment.

It’s important to remember the political climate on the right during the summer of 2010. The recent passage of the Affordable Care Act had been spun into a B-movie nightmare in which your grandmother and Sarah Palin’s disabled son were about to be put to death. The recent recession, which resulted from problems that began long before Barack Obama became President, was viewed as a precursor to a “socialist takeover” of the economy. Glenn Beck, then at the peak of his influence, warned right-leaning Americans of all these things and more–and urged them to buy gold to protect their wealth from destruction at the hands of the liberals subverting America.

And it all sounds…well, incredibly stupid now doesn’t it? Contrary to Stapleton’s dire predictions on the primary campaign trail, a “hyper-inflationary environment” never materialized. In fact, the overall economy has recovered strongly from the Great Recession. And it’s a good thing Stapleton never kept his pledge to buy gold with the state’s money, since gold has lost over a third of its value since its peak in 2011.

In all the years since, Stapleton has never been asked to explain these nutty remarks, but incidents like this help explain his amateurish flopping like a fish over a bill to shore up the state’s public employees retirement system–a bill he supported before the right wing made it known that he shouldn’t have.

There’s a good chance that Walker Stapleton simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and substitutes whatever he hears on talk radio for financial expertise.

At someday, that may well catch up with him.

BREAKING: Hickenlooper VETOES Interest Rate Hike Bill

FRIDAY UPDATE: More coverage in today’s Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel.

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UPDATE #3: The Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela:

“While we certainly see the benefits of offering the loan and credit products that are considered in this legislation, it has not been clearly demonstrated that access to such loans is under threat,” Hickenlooper said in his veto letter.

The governor “was particularly struck” by testimony provided by the Attorney General’s office during a legislative committee hearing. That testimony included an analysis that indicated that changes to interest rate structures would not make these loans more available.

The bill sought to raise the maximum amount of interest charged for supervised loans from 21 to 36 percent for loans up to $3,000. Interest charges would spike from 15 to 21 percent on loans that carry balances of $3,000 to $5,000.

“These changes would result in a 200 percent increase in the loan amount allowed in the 36 percent interest rate tier and a two-thirds increase in the 21 percent interest rate tier,” Hickenlooper said. [Pols emphasis]

And the Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus:

Consumer-interest groups rejoiced on Thursday after Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed legislation that they feared would have hurt low-income individuals applying for small loans…

“Prior to approving any increase in the allowable amount of interest charged, we believe it is necessary to more fully explore and substantiate the claim that a change in the law is necessary for these products to be accessible,” Hickenlooper wrote in his veto explanation. “Colorado’s consumers deserve this clarity as they will ultimately carry the expense that would result from this legislation.”

The governor also pointed out that the legislation moved quickly through the legislative process. It was introduced as one of the last bills of the legislative session – which ended May 6 – and sat on the calendar for only a week before it cleared both chambers. [Pols emphasis]

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UPDATE #2: From the Bell Policy Center, who led the underdog opposition to House Bill 15-1390 from progressive nonprofit groups:

Today Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have increased loan costs for low- and moderate-income Coloradans. The Bell led more than a dozen organizations in asking the governor to veto this bill, Allowable Finance Charge for Certain Consumer Credit Transactions (House Bill 15-1390). We greatly appreciate the governor’s action to protect Colorado consumers.

HB15-1390, which was hurried through in the last week of the 120-day legislative session, would have increased the costs of an average $6,000 loan by 38.1 percent, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The bill would have cost Coloradans more than $25 million in additional interest charges, according to a Center for Responsible Lending analysis of the two largest lenders in Colorado…

The governor’s veto represents a huge victory for hardworking Coloradans. This bill would have dramatically increased the revenues of very profitable lenders at the expense of families struggling to make ends meet. To learn more about why this bill was bad for Colorado, check out our fact sheet.

As the governor’s veto said, any additional conversations about this issue will need to include all stakeholders. If those conversations happen, the Bell will be closely involved and will do our best to ensure that all voices are included.

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UPDATE: Gov. John Hickenlooper has released a letter explaining his veto of House Bill 15-1390. You can read it in its entirety here, and here’s an excerpt:

vetoimage

From a statement by ProgressNow Colorado, one of the groups who opposed this bill:

“House Bill 1390 was bad policy, introduced at the last possible minute to stifle debate, and written specifically to allow big lenders to hike interest rates on consumers who can least afford it,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “Increasing the total cost of a personal loan by almost 40% is not the way to help Colorado families get their finances in order. This legislation was sold to lawmakers in both parties based on misleading arguments and threats by big lending corporations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.”

“At a time when Colorado’s middle class families are just beginning to recover from the recent recession–a recession brought on in part by irresponsible predatory lending practices–the last thing they need is a 36% interest rate to borrow money,” said Runyon-Harms. “The truth is, personal lenders issued hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these loans in Colorado last year, and the subprime lending industry’s profits are skyrocketing nationwide. They don’t need to hike up interest rates on borrowers who can least afford it to ‘stay in business.’”

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loanshark2We’ve just received word that Gov. John Hickenlooper will veto House Bill 15-1390 today, a hotly controversial bill to allow large interest rate hikes on subprime personal loans that passed in the final days of this year’s legislative session. Hickenlooper’s veto comes after an urgent campaign by a few progressive and consumer groups led by the Bell Policy Center against the legislation, after it passed with dismaying speed out of the Democratic-controlled House with most Democrats voting in favor. In the Senate, most Democrats opposed the legislation after advocates were able to sound the alarm.

As for the many Democrats who voted for this bill, the Democratic House leadership who allowed it to be introduced at the end of the session, and Democratic lobbyists who convinced them it would be okay? They’ve all got egg on their faces, and may well draw heat for their actions at upcoming town hall meetings from their constituents.

And you know what, folks? They should. This was truly a low point for Colorado legislative Democrats, a significant breach of faith with their base voters–and there should be a price paid to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We’ll update shortly with statements and coverage–a big victory for scrappy nonprofit groups, over both Republicans and backsliding Democrats in the General Assembly. And also a good day for Gov. Hickenlooper, who showed real independence from the corporate interests he is often criticized for being beholden to.

Sometimes the good guys actually do win. And that’s pretty cool.

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.

(more…)

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.