Questions about the hospital provider fee? Read this

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Reporters have struggled to find a short-hand description for the “hospital provider fee,” because  it’s impossible to describe briefly. And lengthy descriptions of it often require multiple readings. And that’s without trying to understand the intracacies of why it’s such a big deal.

So the Colorado Independent did us all a favor by dedicating a full article to: “What you need to know about Colorado’s biggest political battle. It’s called the hospital provider fee, and it’s complicated. Let’s break it down.”

You should take a few minutes to read the entire piece, by the Independent’s Corey Hutchins, but here are a few paragraphs:

The hospital provider fee is a state program requiring hospitals to pay money each year depending on how many patients stayed in hospital beds overnight and how much outpatient services they provided. That money is then used, among other things, to help Coloradans who can’t afford insurance plans get care, and to help the state pay for people who are on Medicaid, which is a government healthcare program for low-income Coloradans and their families.

Each hospital pays a different amount — some pay a lot, some pay nothing — and the fee hauled in nearly $700 million last year. This money is then matched almost dollar for dollar by the federal government to expand Medicaid, provide health coverage for Coloradans who are using emergency rooms for non-emergency treatment, and reimburse hospitals for care. The more money the fee brings in the more money the feds give Colorado to make sure people who can’t afford healthcare get it. Since 2009, the program has helped more than 300,000 people get insurance coverage….

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who sits on the state’s budget committee, explains it like this: Picture a bucket with water pouring in. The incoming water is state revenues, and when the bucket fills to the top (or hits its TABOR limits) water starts pouring over the edge— and that overflowing water (money) goes back to taxpayers in the form of rebates. Now, picture rocks in the bottom of the bucket. One of those big rocks is money from the hospital provider fee. It’s money that takes up space in the bucket, and those who want to take a big rock out can do so by reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise…

The context of AFP’s [Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the measure] involvement is that it’s a big-time, strategic pressure group with loads of resources and activists that will keep certain lawmakers holding the line on this issue, especially at a time when they need backing to run for re-election.

Meanwhile, the business lobby in Colorado is speaking in a near-monolithic voice for reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise, as have editorial boards at some of the state’s regional newspapers.

Senate President Bill Cadman Might Not Understand the Word “Compromise”

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word "NO."

State Sen. Bill Cadman points to his favorite word in the legislature: “NO.”

On Wednesday, Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) evoked the notions of compromise and collaboration in his opening day speech at the State Capitol:

“Performing our duties to the best of our abilities means finding the best solutions. Leadership means finding solutions. It’s not about partisan solutions. President Kennedy once said, ‘Let us not seek the Republican answer or the democratic answer but the right answer.'”

Just kidding!

On Thursday, Senate President Bill Cadman began the process of assigning some 36% of primarily-Democratic legislation to the Senate State Affairs committee — otherwise known as the “kill committee,” because bills that enter the committee room don’t usually come back out. As of Thursday evening, we counted 39 bills introduced in the State Senate, of which 14 were immediately whisked away to “State Affairs.”

Both chambers of the legislature have a “State Affairs” committee, so Democrats and Republicans can send freshly-drafted bills to their inevitable death without much of a debate beforehand. To be clear, both Parties do this regularly — just not with the same level of frequency.

Again, as of Thursday evening, we counted 78 bills introduced in the State House, 13 of which did not pass ‘GO’ and were sent immediately to the State Affairs committee — a total kill percentage of about 17%. All but two of the House bills sent to State Affairs could be characterized as being largely Republican in nature.

For all of his blustery talk about collaboration, Sen. Cadman has been decapitating Democratic legislation at a rate that is nearly double that of the State House (36% to 17%). Nearly one out of every three Senate bills that could be classified as “Democratic” will be killed off before anyone even gets to talk about them in a serious manner.

When he talks about “compromise,” perhaps Sen. Cadman means that he has agreed to only kill off about one-third of all Democratic Senate bills. Such a nice man.

Top 10 Stories of 2015 #6: Republicans Visit Boulder for a Crowded Presidential Debate

It’s difficult to remember everyone who sought the Republican nomination for President in 2015, but just for fun, let’s see how you fare before you read any further; can you name the 17 (seventeen!) GOP Presidential candidates who participated in the first big debate in early August? We’ll give you a hint: There was something called a “Jim Gilmore” on stage in Ohio in August…

…The October 28 Republican Presidential candidate debate in Boulder was one of the biggest political stories of 2015 in Colorado. The debate generated international news coverage well in advance of Oct. 28, thanks to the Republican National Committee’s strange insistence on allowing only about 1,000 seats in the 10,000-seat Coors Events Center. For nearly two months prior to the debate, there were scores of stories about protests from the University of Colorado student government and other CU students, ProgressNow Colorado, and many other local and national interest groups.

The entire event became quite the headache for CU President Bruce Ben$on and the University in general. It didn’t help that the debate itself turned out to be pretty damn boring. CNBC had built-up the debate as the first to focus on economic issues in 2015. In theory, perhaps, that sounded like a good idea; in reality, two hours of economic discussion ended up being about as interesting as listening to your grandmother talk about who she saw at the grocery store last week.

Nevertheless, the Boulder debate was your last real opportunity to see most of the GOP candidates together in one place; when the lights went on for the final 2015 debate in Las Vegas in mid-December, the GOP field had essentially separated into a top tier of just a handful of contenders. At the time of the Boulder debate, there were still 14 candidates punching it out; 10 were on stage for the main debate, with another four on the dais for the “junior varsity” or “kids’ table” debate.

Oct. 28 GOP Presidential Debate in Boulder, CO.

Oct. 28 GOP Presidential Debate in Boulder, CO.

As the calendar turned to 2016, only 11 Republican candidates are still seeking their Party’s nomination — well, 12 if you count Gilmore, who hasn’t dropped out but doesn’t really need to bother making it official. Of those final 11, there are really only 3-5 candidates who still have a legitimate chance of winning the GOP nomination: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb! Bush and either John Kasich or Chris Christie. Jeb! is still sort-of viable because he has so much money in the bank; Christie could get a boost if he manages to do well in New Hampshire; and Kasich is still hanging around as the last relatively-sane Republican in the race, who could still receive a bump if wealthy establishment Republicans really freak out.

Two candidates bowed out before the Boulder debate (Rick Perry and Scott Walker), and several more have left the campaign trail for good since the end of October (Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki). Several candidates (Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Carly Fiorina) are hanging on by the thinnest of red threads and likely won’t be around for long after the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses; Huckabee, in fact, has already said that he will end his campaign without a Top 3 finish in Iowa. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is still in the race, and he’ll probably hang around until the last campaign dollar is spent or until FOX News gives him a talking head contract.

For Colorado politicos, the Boulder debate was also their first (and in many cases, only) opportunity to see the GOP candidates live and in-person. By Oct. 28, most of the Republican field had not made a public appearance in Colorado, and the majority still have not put loafers on the ground on the 38th state. With the top tier of candidates pulling away from the rest of the field, we may not see more than a couple of the Republican candidates making a stop in Colorado. Of course, the fact that Colorado Republicans won’t hold a preference poll at their March caucus makes Colorado largely irrelevant in the delegate roundup.

For one night in late October, Colorado – and Boulder, of all places – was the epicenter of the Republican Presidential race.

Poll: Whither To Buy Your Beer and Wine?

grocery-storeThe Your Choice Colorado campaign kicked off last month, hoping to bypass the gridlocked Colorado General Assembly and take a question directly to voters next year to overturn one of Colorado’s last remaining Prohibition holdovers–the requirement that all alcoholic beverages over 3.2% alcohol content be sold in standalone liquor stores. As the Denver Post reports:

A coalition led by retail powerhouses is drafting ballot language to give Colorado voters a chance to decide whether to change Prohibition-era laws and allow full-strength beer and wine sales at supermarkets.

The effort — backed by King Soopers, Safeway and Walmart — is the most substantial push in recent years to expand sales outside liquor stores in one of the nation’s top states for beer.

A direct appeal to voters with a ballot initiative would come after years of gridlock at the General Assembly, where entrenched special interests battled in what lawmakers dubbed a “beer war.”

It’s a bit paradoxical that Colorado, one of the nation’s foremost craft brewing states, does not allow that marquee product to be sold in grocery stores as 42 states already do. On the other hand, small liquor store owners say they do just fine meeting the market’s demand for convenient alcohol sales, and that the effect of allowing full-strength beer in grocery stores will be directly measurable in lost jobs and closed small businesses. We’ve seen conflicting reports as to whether hard liquor would be included in the proposal from grocery stores, but that could be a big factor for existing liquor stores as well.

What say you, Polsters? Vote whether you would support a ballot question legalizing full-strength beer and wine, and/or hard liquor after the jump. As consumers (generally) without a dog in the fight, we’re curious to know what our readers think about an idea that presumably lots of money is about to get thrown at from both sides.

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Ken Buck Speaks For GOP Delegation Against Budget Deal

Rep. Ken Buck.

Rep. Ken Buck.

As the Greeley Tribune reports, Colorado’s foremost right-wing ideologue in Congress, Rep. Ken Buck, is not happy about a long-term fiscal deal reached between congressional Republican leaders and the White House to put an end to the pitched battles over the federal budget that have caused major upheaval and uncertainty for several years. Buck’s statement is leading local stories about the deal despite the fact that all four Republicans in Colorado’s congressional delegation voted against it:

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., voted against H.R. 1314, the budget deal negotiated by Congressional leadership and President Obama, which passed Wednesday 266 to 167 with solely Republican opposition.

The deal, released near midnight on Monday, was rushed to the floor for a vote on Wednesday, the news release from Buck’s office stated. The legislation increases the debt limit without any entitlement reform and adds an additional $80 billion in discretionary spending over the next two fiscal years.

In a statement, Buck expressed his vexation with the process and the outcome:

The deal, released near midnight on Monday, was rushed to the floor for a vote on Wednesday. The legislation increases the debt limit without any entitlement reform and adds an additional $80 billion in discretionary spending over the next two fiscal years.

“This budget deal blows through the debt limit and the spending caps we fought hard to implement in 2011,” Congressman Buck stated. “We’re trading short-term spending for the promise of long-term savings.”

And unceremoniously throwing outgoing Speaker John Boehner under the bus to the Washington Post:

“This is John Boehner’s deal,” said Rep. Ken Buck (Colo.), a conservative freshman and a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. [Pols emphasis]

New Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has publicly washed his hands of this agreement, claiming “we are not going to run the House this way.” In private, however, it’s been suggested that even many of the Republican “no” votes on the deal are highly relieved by its passage–even in abrogation of the once-sacred “Hastert Rule” that no bill could come to the floor without the support of “the majority of the majority.”

The budget deal may have needed Democratic support for pass in a Republican-controlled Congress, but it’s Republican “no” votes like Rep. Mike Coffman who stand to benefit most from an end to the years of open warfare between Congress and the Obama administration over the budget. The uncertainty and quantifiable economic damage done by years of government shutdown and debt-limit brinksmanship have manifested as one of the GOP’s greatest liabilities with the broad American center electorate, even as the “Tea Party” fringe has demanded ever more confrontation.

In short, even as this deal is panned by the Ken Bucks of the world, it could be the GOP’s political lifeline going into 2016–a lifeline that, looking at the actual vote yesterday, they do not deserve.

Hopefully the fact-checkers are taking notes.

Mike Coffman Backs Paul Ryan Agenda Against Colorado’s Middle Class

Following Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) election by his fellow Republicans as Speaker of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, called on Rep. Mike Coffman to stop supporting Ryan’s disastrous budget proposals and stand up for the needs of his own constituents.

“Rep. Mike Coffman has voted for every terrible budget proposal hatched by Paul Ryan,” said ProgressNow Director Amy Runyon-Harms. “Coffman has repeatedly voted in favor of Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare, slashing taxes for the wealthiest Americans, and cutting key priorities like college investment for middle class families.”

Since Republicans took control of the House, Coffman has offered his vote every year in support of the budgets designed by then-House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. These budgets have been denounced for their radical overhauls of Medicare, throwing millions of Americans off the health care rolls, slowing economic growth, and handing a tax break to the wealthy. [1] Rep. Mike Coffman has himself called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” [2]

“In recent years, Republicans in Congress have given the country a choice between chaos, shutdowns, and even default–or Paul Ryan’s agenda to dismantle the institutions America’s middle class relies on,” added Runyon-Harms. “Mike Coffman stood with Paul Ryan every time, voting to hurt his own constituents. The people of Coffman’s diverse and competitive congressional district deserve better.”

Fake Reporter Art Kane Back With Another Bogus Story

Art Kane.

Art Kane.

Local freelance “journalist” Art Kane came under heavy criticism last year after writing a series of news articles for the Denver Post that inaccurately disparaged the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare, in Colorado. And these weren’t small inaccuracies, either, but wild factual exaggerations and totally unsubstantiated hearsay horror stories that fell apart under casual scrutiny.

Since then, Kane has taken up with a “news” outlet much better suited to his particular brand of hackery: the conservative Watchdog.org website run by the Franklin Center for Public Integrity. The stories may not be any more accurate–but Kane’s new bosses aren’t concerned with, you know, accuracy.

Today’s Art Kane feature story on per diem pay for Colorado state legislators at Colorado Watchdog is an excellent case in point:

Colorado lawmakers who live outside the metro area will get a bump in their per diem next session, making that state’s reimbursements the second highest in the country and costing taxpayers an additional $35,000 next year…

The per diem rate for lawmakers living outside the metro area will go up to $195 a day next session; state law sets it at 85 percent of the federal government per diem for the Denver Metro area, which also increased this year. The cost to taxpayers is an additional $35,000 a year, legislative staff wrote in an email exchange with Watchdog.org.

Colorado Union of Taxpayers president Gregory Golyansky said he was upset when he learned from last week’s Watchdog.org story the per diem expenses cost taxpayers so much money, and that raising the costs next year isn’t appropriate.

Gregory Golyansky.

Gregory Golyansky.

Setting aside Colorado Union of Taxpayers president Gregory Golyansky’s major credibility problems, with which our readers are very well acquainted, there’s a very large part of the story of this increase in per diem that Art Kane isn’t telling you:

National Conference of State Legislatures data shows the increase will skyrocket Colorado to the second highest per diem after Alaska, which pays lawmakers $235 a day if they live outside the capital area…

This year, Kentucky, Alaska and Tennessee had higher per diems, but Colorado will surpass those states unless their per diem rates increase. Expensive states such as Hawaii, New York and California reimbursed their lawmakers less than Colorado, NCSL data shows. [Pols emphasis]

As we read this story claiming that “expensive states” like Hawaii, New York, and California “reimbursed their lawmakers less than Colorado,” we remembered something very important: in Colorado, legislators don’t even make enough to survive. Here’s what the National Conference of State Legislatures really says about the salaries of lawmakers in the states listed above:

Base Salary

California: $90,526 per year
Hawaii: $57,852 per year
New York: $79,500 per year
Colorado: $30,000 per year [Pols emphasis]

This list doesn’t take into account which of these legislatures are “part time” versus “full time,” but that really doesn’t matter: Colorado legislators routinely draw per diem pay for events they attend throughout the year. Most of our lawmakers in either party will tell you that serving in the Colorado General Assembly is very much a full-time commitment. And that means except for the very young and very rich, it’s a huge financial hardship.

And in terms of their total compensation, which is of course the bottom line, Colorado lawmakers earn a tiny fraction of what legislators in these other states make. And that makes Art Kane’s latest big story…well, another steaming pile of bullshit.

Back in 2012, we were critical of a bill to raise per diem pay for legislators, mostly because at that time state employees had not received a raise in several years due to recession-forced pay freezes. Then-majority House Republicans rushing the bill through with no debate didn’t help the optics either. With that said, there’s no question that pay for lawmakers in Colorado is, at this point, a major disincentive to public service.

If Art Kane would like to write a factual story, perhaps he should start there instead.

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:

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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…

(more…)

“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.