Longtime Local Political Fixture Katy Atkinson Dies

2010katySad news today from Lynn Bartels, blogging from the Secretary of State’s office:

Political consultant Katy Atkinson, who started out working for Republicans and eventually handled high-profile nonpartisan ballot measures, died today.

Atkinson was a sought-after spokesperson by reporters because she knew Colorado politics and she quickly returned phone calls.

“Katy Atkinson was smart and witty and just a delight to be around,” said Dick Wadhams, the former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and a veteran political consultant. “That’s what made her just a great person to work with in politics. In the most intense situation, she could laugh.”

Atkinson had a long career in supporting roles for innumerable local political campaigns and stories. Generally associated with Republicans, Atkinson was a key part of a moment of bipartisan common sense in 2005 that culminated in the passage of Referendum C–a five-year timeout from the worst impacts of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) that helped the state recover from the post-9/11 economic downturn. Atkinson also helped a bipartisan coalition successfully fight the so-called “Bad Three” Doug Bruce-backed anti-tax ballot measures in 2010, Amendments 60, 61, and Proposition 101.

She’ll be missed on both sides of the aisle.

Facing pot holes and dilapidation in CO Springs, Suthers campaigns against TABOR refund

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

John Suthers is rocking the GOP boat in pot-hole ridden Colorado Springs.

The Republican mayor is calling for a sales tax to fix pot holes, but more significantly, he’s backing a ballot initiative allowing the city to keep funds that otherwise would have been returned to taxpayers under TABOR.

Suthers sounded the alarm yesterday, saying in his state of the city speech, as reported by KKTV:

Suthers: “When companies are looking around, they’re looking for the level of investment the community is making for infrastructure and we need to show them that investment.”

Suthers says the sales tax would cost the average household about $100 per year.

And on KVOR radio over the weekend, here’s how Suthers explained his support for the TABOR ballot initiative:

Suthers: Now, as to the issue that is on the ballot, let me explain what that is. In 2014, the city, as total revenue, took in $2.1 million more than it was allowed to take in under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights—the cap. Well, how did that happen? It happened because in 2014 the city got a number of state grants to deal with fire and flood disasters that occurred in the previous couple of years. And that revenue has to be counted against your TABOR cap. And that —those grants — took us over the TABOR cap for 2014. So the question is: Do we refund it to the voters at approximately $11 per household, or do we retain it?

Listen here to Suthers on KVOR 9.9.15

Sounds a lot like the argument Hickenlooper has been making for changing the definition of the “hospital provider fee” under TABOR, a move that would free up over $150 million for transportation and other projects.

Suthers wants to keep taxes for stuff people want, like trails and parks! He’s touting a poll showing he’s got the support of the people–even if Americans for Prosperity is pissed.

Like the Republicans who backed Referendum C, Suthers is showing, however faintly, that anti-tax ideology doesn’t work when you have to govern. Maybe it’s a sign that our state’s tax crisis can actually be solved through a combination of compromise and necessity.

Doug Bruce Sues Top Defense Attorney, Epic Hilarity Ensues

Doug Bruce.

Doug Bruce.

As the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader reports, convicted felon tax evader and author of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights Douglas Bruce is going back to court–this time to sue his former defense attorney, the renowned David Lane of Denver, for not moving Bruce’s appeal of his convictions fast enough through the courts:

Douglas Bruce has filed a civil suit against his former attorney David Lane seeking $165,000 in damages for misconduct in handling Bruce’s appeal of his 2012 felony convictions.

Bruce, a Colorado Springs anti-tax crusader, hired Lane in 2012 to represent him at the sentencing of a tax evasion trial with a $75,000 retainer to handle the appeal of three guilty convictions. Bruce said Lane delayed filing the opening brief of his appeal for almost two years, then refused to refund his money when Bruce lost patience and hired a different attorney. The case was filed in Denver District Court in early July…

Lane’s response to Bruce could be one of the greatest smackdowns of Colorado’s least-ingratiating anti-tax activists ever recorded.

“That’s not a particularly long time,” Lane said of the delay for the opening brief. “We met every single deadline imposed upon us by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The fact that the court doesn’t move as fast as Douglas Bruce wants it to is probably because there are not enough dollars to adequately staff the Colorado Court of Appeals due to the TABOR Amendment.” [Pols emphasis]

Wham! But seriously, Lane continues,

“It was very difficult dealing with Douglas Bruce because I believe him to have a mental illness,” Lane said.

That’s not a sentiment we expect anyone with an interest in defending Bruce’s “gift” to our state, TABOR, will want to see repeated. But the fact is, Bruce’s personal conduct, from his bizarre violent outbursts to his felony conviction for tax evasion, have done almost as much to discredit TABOR as the deleterious effects of the law itself. TABOR’s labyrinthine provisions, not just requiring votes on tax increases but tightly regulating every aspect of the process to ensure such proposals are almost impossible to pass, make a great deal more sense in the context of their authorship by a tax cheat. TABOR is supported by conservatives not because it requires citizen participation in the decision, but because it skews the process to make a no vote the most likely outcome.

At one time, we would have described TABOR as the product of an evil genius. But seeing what has become of Douglas “Mr. TABOR” Bruce in recent years, “genius” is not a word we would use to describe either Bruce or his handiwork.

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.


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.

Local GOP Operatives (Still) Can’t Get Their Facts Straight

In response to contemporary political events both nationally and here in Colorado, Republican message operatives have started off the week…well, badly. We’ll take just a brief moment to correct two laughably inaccurate opinion pieces from the last 48 hours–the first being a column defending GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, penned by 2013 Colorado Senate recall spokesperson Jennifer Kerns:

They say numbers don’t lie.

Then neither does Donald Trump when it comes to illegal immigration.

While Donald Trump continues to make waves with his recent comments regarding illegal immigration, FBI crime statistics and other data reveal an interesting revelation: Donald Trump was right.

GOP spokesperson Jennifer Kerns.

GOP spokesperson Jennifer Kerns.

No doubt Donald Trump is looking for (and most likely paying for) defenders in the wake of his highly controversial remarks about Mexican immigrants during his campaign launch speech. But as our readers know well from the 2013 recalls and subsequent tall tales about marijuana “crack babies,” Jennifer Kerns is not really a devotee of, you know, accuracy.

As she amply demonstrates defending Trump:

According to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement report provided to Congress, just 1,000 illegal immigrant criminals tracked by ICE “had amassed nearly 88,000 convictions among them including 193 homicide convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions, and 16,070 drunken- or drugged-driving convictions.”

Folks, this statement is factually ridiculous. The report Kerns links to in truth says that of some 36,000 undocumented immigrants released by ICE, 1,000 re-offended. The 88,000 figure was for the original offenses committed by this much larger group (and keep in mind that many convictions involve several offenses). The truth is, this is a much smaller rate of recidivism than that of the general American public–a study by the National Institutes of Justice found that among released prisoners in America, fully 67% of prisoners were re-arrested in three years, 56% of them within the first year. That’s rather worse than 1 in 36.

In short? Jennifer Kerns is absolutely, utterly full of shit. Either she misread the report she cited, or she didn’t care if she got her facts right. Judging from her previous work, we suspect the answer is both.

Jonathan Lockwood of Advancing Colorado.

Jonathan Lockwood of Advancing Colorado.

Our second example of conservatives screwing up their most basic facts comes from Advancing Colorado, a relatively new conservative front group operated by Koch-funded activist Jonathan “Stop Being Poor” Lockwood. From a press release yesterday, lamenting the Colorado Supreme Court’s refusal to take up a case challenging the 2009 FASTER road and bridge fees:

“The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to not review the case is disappointing,” said Advancing Colorado Executive Director Jonathan Lockwood. “This decision shows how important it is for us to defend the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because without it we would have little to no protection from government using us as unlimited ATMs. The more that government seeks to exempt itself from TABOR, the more concerned Coloradans should be.”

In 2009, Gov. John Hickenlooper created the CBE through the “Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act” (FASTER)… [Pols emphasis]

Now, we could spend some time deconstructing Lockwood’s vacuous argument about how the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is the only thing stopping Big Bad Gubmint from turning you into an “unlimited ATM.” After all, that hasn’t happened in the states that don’t have TABOR, which if you haven’t heard is, well, all the other states. To be honest, we’re not sure what exactly Lockwood means by that at all.

But one thing we do know is this: John Hickenlooper wasn’t governor in 2009. And we feel like we can stop reading right there.

Bottom line: Colorado has emerged as a critically important swing state. Large amounts of money and human capital flow into our state every election cycle now as Colorado has become a competitive battleground at every level, from school boards to the presidential race. And we consider this overall to be a very good thing.

But please, please make sure the people you hire are not clueless.

So You Don’t Like Toll Roads? Well…

U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project.

U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project.

The Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela has a story up today about the long-term shortage of federal funds for transportation projects, and what that’s forcing states like Colorado to do to provide for the infrastructure needed to sustain economic growth–not to mention keeping your commute from driving you totally insane:

Congress faces a July 31 deadline to pass legislation addressing the country’s transportation needs. But recent history suggests lawmakers will fall short of passing a long-term funding bill, instead opting for yet another stopgap measure.

Over the last six years, Congress has passed short-term transportation funding extensions 33 times.

The temporary funding measures are unsustainable, Mendez said, if Congress intends to repair roads and bridges…

[Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez] called on Congress to take action on the Grow America Act, a six-year, $478 billion highway funding bill supported by President Obama and Mendez’ boss, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

According to Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, passage of the Grow America Act would bump Colorado transportation funding up 20%, with an even bigger increase for transit projects. As you can imagine, though, the measure is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congress:

“There’s difficulty getting it through the Republican House right now, which is sort of par for the course,” said Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents the 7th Congressional District.

The U.S. Senate has introduced a more modest bipartisan proposal, cosponsored by GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, that would increase transportation funds by a smaller amount via a relatively gimmicky incentive for corporations to repatriate overseas earnings at favorable tax rates. Anything would help, of course, but the huge long-term deficit in funding for transportation projects, both to maintain current infrastructure and to provide for the future, is much bigger than what Gardner’s bill would provide for.

But there’s another big difference between the two proposals: the President’s bill relies on provisions that Coloradans may not like, even though they are being embraced by cash-strapped Colorado transportation officials right now. The Grow America Act would significantly ease restrictions on tolling of existing interstate highways, as well as encourage so-called “public-private partnerships” to build new transportation projects. In Colorado, the new U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project is an example of what the future would look like under the Grow America Act–new infrastructure, but at a significant long term cost and loss of control:


Koch –funded “Nonprofit” Stomps Down Hard on Health Care Initiative

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

You’ve probably never heard of Initiative 20….unless you listen to right wing talk radio, or hang out on right wing websites. Then, you might believe that Initiative 20 is a Communist plot to ration your health care, run all private insurors out of Colorado, take away your Medicaid, and generally make your life miserable.

Colorado Care? Yes!

Initiative 20, the ColoradoCareYes plan, is the beginning of the end of the Federal Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) in Colorado, and Koch-funded attack groups are trying to stop it before it begins.

Republicans, after having tried to repeal the ACA 54 times, (but still having no plan to replace it) should be rejoicing that a coalition of groups in Colorado, inspired by Senator Irene Aguilar, M.D, is promoting an alternative to the ACA.  I mean really…the end of mandates? The end of Obama’s name on your health care plan? No price discrimination against rural consumers? No deductibles? It’s a Tea Party dream!

In the original ACA legislation is an “innovation” provision, article 1332, which allows states to opt out of the ACA, if they can prove that their own programs have as good or better outcomes for consumers. The ColoradoCare plan as written would be simpler, more fair, and less expensive than the ACA.

Instead of rejoicing that Democrats are accomplishing their goal of replacing the ACA, however, Republican operatives and organizations quickly stomped on the rollout of Initiative 20 with a Koch-brothers funded website, and talk radio diatribes about how the ColoradoCareYES Initiative must be stopped.

Some background information: (more…)

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 8)

MoreSmarter-RainWe’ll be happy to break down the ramifications of elections in the United Kingdom as soon as we figure out how the whole thing works. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).



► With the 2015 Colorado legislative session now officially in the books, all eyes turn to Gov. John Hickenlooper and, more specifically, his writing instrument of choice. As John Frank reports for the Denver Post, Hickenlooper may veto two red-light camera bills and is taking a close look at a few more pieces of legislation. The House Speaker, meanwhile, joined Hickenlooper in voicing displeasure over the demise of TABOR reform efforts:

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder said she will keep alive a Hickenlooper-endorsed plan to remove the fees paid by hospitals from state revenue collections to make room for more transportation and education funding within the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights spending limits.

“That’s one of the things I’m the most sorry about that did not pass out of the Senate,” the Boulder Democrat said. “We are facing a budget crisis without finding a way to address our revenues coming up against the TABOR cap.”

► The Associated Press has its own take on the 2015 legislative session, calling it “among the most sharply partisan in recent memory.”

 ►Colorado Senators Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) are calling for more congressional oversight in the Aurora VA Hospital project. Once again, we remind you, that Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is the CHAIRMAN OF THE NONOVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE under the House Veterans’ Affairs committee.

Get even more smarter after the jump…


Are Colorado PERA Negotiations Being Influenced by Federal Politics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug “Mr. TABOR” Bruce Strikes Again–Literally

Doug Bruce.

Former Republican Rep. Doug Bruce, author of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, has been in the news a great deal lately as allegations of shady real-estate deals and unmaintained rental properties pile up around himself and his associates. Bruce’s handoff of property for which he owes the city of Colorado Springs thousands of dollars in a court judgment to city councilwoman Helen Collins has caused a significant scandal, recently compounded by revelations about blighted apartment buildings in Kansas City owned by Collins and “managed” by Bruce.

Earlier this month, Bruce was in court for multiple alleged probation violations stemming in part from the above-described events. “Mr. TABOR” was convicted in 2011 of felony tax evasion, and among other offenses his business dealings with Helen Collins may well constitute violations of the terms of his release. Bruce has his next court hearing in June to face those allegations.

But as the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, Bruce’s court visit on April 10th has netted him fresh legal troubles of a different kind:

An arrest warrant for assault has been issued in Denver for Douglas Bruce, the author of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, after an incident following a court appearance earlier this month.

The warrant was signed by a judge and issued out of the county’s court on Sunday, records show. The court clerk’s office says the warrant is for a municipal assault offense.

Bruce is accused of assault at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse on April 10 where a video shows him grabbing a cell phone out of the hands of Dede Laugesen, executive director of Colorado Springs Government Watch. Bruce was leaving the courthouse following a hearing in which prosecutors accused him of violating his probation in his 2012 tax evasion conviction.

During Bruce’s brief tenure as the representative of Colorado House District 15 back in 2008, he was given a rare censure by the House after kicking a Rocky Mountain News reporter on the opening day of the legislative session. That incident was a major factor in the later GOP primary against Bruce won by Rep. Mark Waller.

As we’ve said on a number of occasions, Doug Bruce is not a nice man.

In a perfect world, the ongoing legal problems faced by the author of the Colorado GOP’s most treasured constitutional amendment, TABOR–especially his felony conviction for the highly ironic crime of tax evasion–would be a major credibility problem for anyone tasked with defending his handiwork. TABOR’s many Byzantine government-throttling provisions, which can’t even be undone in one initiative due to the subsequent passage of the state’s “single subject” rule for ballot measures, were carefully crafted to hobble the most basic functions of government Coloradans rely on. Nobody knew in 1992 that TABOR was written by what we know now is a criminal mind–and today, no Republican can admit this either, since blind support for TABOR is an article of faith in GOP circles.

But we’ll say it again: the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is a convicted criminal. A criminal felon tax evader. A criminal slumlord. And pending how this latest assault case turns out, a criminal thug too.

We’re grateful to have no political obligation to defend this man, and we’re sorry for those who do.

In Colorado Springs, They Love Their Slumlords

SUNDAY UPDATE: Shocking video of Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins and Doug Bruce walking out of court Friday, a brief exchange that appears to end with Bruce violently ripping the camera from the hands of the questioner:

He’s not a nice man, folks. Original post follows, updates undoubtedly forthcoming.

Because that’s assault, right?


UPDATE: The Colorado Springs Independent sheds significant light on the apparently extensive business relationship between Doug Bruce and Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins:

Evidence suggests the two are more than just political allies. According to a lawsuit filed in 4th Judicial District Court, Bruce and Collins have been working on land transactions together across the country, including in North Dakota, South Carolina, Illinois and Oklahoma, besides Collins’ 2013 acquisition of two apartment buildings in Kansas City for which tenants say Bruce has been in charge…

[T]enant Heather Dugger was scrambling to gather up her family’s belongings and get out on Monday. She said she, her husband and three young children, ages 11, 7 and 3, lived without water for about a month before the notice was posted.

“The water got shut off about a month ago,” Dugger says. “Somehow, the water was still on [at the other building] so we were going next door and filling buckets of water.”

She says she paid rent to a property manager who worked for Bruce. “He’s the one who hired the property manager,” she says, adding that Bruce was supposed to be paying for trash removal and water service and that she paid rent of $450 a month by money order made out to Douglas Bruce. She quit paying rent about three months ago, she says, because the property manager “quit coming by.”

Dugger then cut the interview short, because she was trying to load a U-Haul trailer. “There’s a lot of cuss words [for Bruce],” she says. “All the rent we paid and the water got shut off, and it’s just crazy, knowing they’re taking money away from people.” [Pols emphasis]



Today’s Colorado Springs Gazette reports on the continuing trouble City Councilwoman Helen Collins is running into with her real estate investments. This week, Collins survived a recall attempt related to a case currently before the city’s ethics commission, alleging she helped conservative activist and convicted tax cheat Douglas “Mister TABOR” Bruce avoid paying a court judgment in excess of $7,500 owed to the city of Colorado Springs. Bruce has owned a number of residential rental properties, and has frequently run afoul of the law for failure to properly maintain them.

Well, as Gazette reporter Billie Stanton Anleu writes today, Colorado Springs Councilwoman Helen Collins is a slumlord in her own right:

One of two Kansas City, Mo., apartment buildings owned by Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Helen Collins was boarded up and closed Wednesday, a city inspector there confirmed.

Repeated violations, including no water in the building for more than four months, more than $7,000 in unpaid city water bills, multiple fines and the inability to provide a local property manager, led to the closure, said Kansas City inspector Marja Nolan…

In Kansas City, residents in one of two seven-unit buildings, which Collins bought in November 2012, had gone more than four months without water, Nolan said.

Violations dating to Oct 14, 2014, cite an unprotected exterior surface; litter, trash, refuse and rubbish; unapproved storage; failure to register; lack of water; peeling, cracked, blistered paint; rank weeds or unattended growth; and limbs and brush ordered to be removed, the city’s records show.

Doug Bruce.

Doug Bruce.

The report on Collins’ apartment building in Kansas city reads like an urban decay horror story: area residents described how the building was taken over by squatters and subject to drugs raids prior to being boarded up by city officials this week.

But considering who Collins had “managing” her properties in Kansas City, it’s possible that none of this is a surprise:

[Neighborhood leader Tom] Ribera said Collins never returned his calls, but “Douglas Bruce, her acting manager, [Pols emphasis] said he was trying to get a property manager over there. … It’s beyond maintenance; they need a contractor.”

Mystery solved! If you were wondering where Helen Collins got her awesome property management skills from, you can stop wondering. She learned how to be a slumlord from Doug Bruce! Who, in addition to being the Colorado Republican Party’s patron saint of tax policy as the author of the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), is one of our state’s more notorious slumlords.

Perhaps the worst part of this touching story of civic pride and urban renewal is the fact that the voters of Councilwoman Collins’ district didn’t care about any of this–or were at least kept in the dark about Collins’ landlady follies in the “Paris of the Plains” long enough to keep it from factoring in the now-failed recall attempt against her. It might seem unthinkable that a slumlord would be allowed to serve on a city council at all, even if the worst of the blighted properties in her possession are located in another city. But in conservative Colorado Springs, it’s apparently no hindrance to one’s political career.

And next time they vote to turn off the streetlights, it’ll make more sense.

Steve House’s First At-Bat: Swing and a Miss

Steve House.

Steve House.

As the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels reports, newly elected Colorado Republican Party chairman Steve House got right to work last week, firing up the Republican faithful to oppose the rascally agenda of those villainous “Denver Democrats” in the state legislature.

The problem is, House’s appeal for donations to the Colorado GOP to stop the “Denver Democrats” appears to rely on making stuff up.

House, who beat Ryan Call for the chairman’s post earlier this month, outlined the “common sense conservative bills” that “Democrat obstructionists” in the state House have killed. (Republicans control the Senate; Democrats the House.) The chairman included in the list of dead bills Senate Bill 1 from Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, “which puts TABOR money into the pockets of the working families.”

Really? That’s news to everybody else at the Capitol:

Senate Republicans are waiting until the legislature passes the budget before taking up the measure which, by the way, the left-leaning Colorado Fiscal Institute actually likes. [Pols emphasis]

Got that? Not only is Senate Bill 15-001 still alive, there’s bipartisan support for it. That means not only does Steve House look foolish to mourn the bill’s death prematurely, he could be making it harder to pass by needlessly injecting partisanship into the debate over the bill. Either way, it’s an inauspicious start for the man who just kicked Ryan Call to the proverbial curb on a wave of “we can do better.”

Because “better” should include having your facts straight.

Congratulations–A Piddly TABOR Refund!


9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman:

Colorado taxpayers could be in for state tax refunds between $15 and $89 per person next year, depending on household income.

Those were the predictions from economists for the governor’s office and state legislature presented Wednesday to the state’s joint budget committee.

Colorado is collecting more and more tax revenue due to an improving economy…

In the minds of most Government 101-level citizens, an improving economy would ipso facto mean revenue to plow back into all the priorities the state needs to fund: health care, education, transportation, law enforcement. It would mean no more, or at least fewer quibbles about money to fund programs already on the books like driver licenses for undocumented residents, and properly funding the Colorado Bureau of Investigations for concealed-weapons background checks.

But in Colorado, with our 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights tying the hands of elected officials, that conventional wisdom is turned on its head. AP’s Ivan Moreno:

The state’s quarterly forecasts released Wednesday from legislative and governor’s office economists showed lawmakers they will have to refund anywhere from $70 million to $220 million in tax year 2016. Those refunds are triggered by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which calls for refunds when revenue exceeds the combined rate of inflation and population growth…

Democrats have long blasted TABOR spending limits as restricting government’s ability to make investments in services, particularly when the economy rebounds after years of cuts during recessions…Republicans, meanwhile, favor TABOR and see it as a needed check on overzealous government spending during economic booms.

If you ask the average Colorado citizen what TABOR does, if they have an answer at all it will usually be limited to its most famous provision requiring votes on tax increases. Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of a long, long iceberg. TABOR’s arbitrary limits on spending, restricted to the rates of inflation and population have made things even worse. The state has not fully restored the major cuts forced all over the budget during the recent recession–but without a statewide vote to allow “excess” funds to be retained and put to beneficial use, the benefit citizens naturally expect to realize from improving economy and government revenue is squandered.

Squandered so taxpayers can get a check for between $15 and $89. Yes, every dollar in your pocket counts. But the value of programs and services Coloradans rely on every day counts too, and in this case there is a strong argument that the personal benefit of properly funding our public institutions is worth more to a taxpayer than dinner at Chili’s.

Or at least it should be.

Something For Everyone In Hick’s 2015 State of the State


As the Colorado Independent's Tessa Cheek reports:

Governor John Hickenlooper used his fifth State of the State speech today to paint his legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House, with a Colorado-ness that reaches beyond party priorities. He touted the new first-ever statewide water plan, quoting Thomas Hornsby Ferril, whose poetry is engraved in the Capitol and that emphasizes common interest: “Here is a land where life is written in water.”

“Representatives of urban areas recognized that locally sourced dairy and food is vital to all of Colorado; while the agricultural areas realized that they could not simply allow urban areas to dry up,” Hickenlooper said of the water plan, noting it involved “the largest civic engagement process in state history.”

Lawmakers and leaders should come together, Hickenlooper suggested, to apply similarly high standards of public input and cooperation to tackle tough questions surrounding topics like oil and gas development and government funding under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR)…

The Denver Post's John Frank on Gov. John Hickenlooper's measured comments on the controversial so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR):

Hickenlooper capped his speech by addressing the state's budget situation — which he labeled a "financial thicket" in his inaugural address Tuesday. It's a reference to the possibility of refunds under the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, despite underfunded state programs.

"There is a legitimate debate of whether government should be a bit bigger or a bit smaller," the governor said, according to prepared remarks. "But that misses the point. Regardless of size, government must work."
But he stopped short of asking for an overhaul of TABOR and avoided taking a direct stance on how to address the issue.

"Some people want to get rid of TABOR, some want to get rid of Amendment 23, others want to get rid of Gallagher. There is no shortage of thorns in this fiscal thicket," he said. "And while we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting. "

The Denver Business Journal:

Referencing the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper emphasized the number of environmental protections he has added through collaboration with the industry during his first term, then said he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that a task force examining the role of local government in regulating the industry will deliver later this session. But he did not give any parameters as to what kind of increased regulations he may be willing to back in the Legislature.

On the issue of local control of oil and gas drilling, an issue that caused intense infighting among Democrats last year, Hickenlooper didn't offer much in the way of specifics–but the language that he used to describe those proposals, and the competing interests of surface and subsurface property owners, is unlikely to make conservationists very happy. From the speech:

As part of a compromise to keep economically-devastating initiatives off the ballot, [Pols emphasis] we have worked with the Keystone Center and brought long-polarized interests to the same table…

I look forward to the recommendations of this task force, and pledge to work with you and other stakeholders in developing our energy resources, protecting property rights and our natural environment and public health.

The insistence that increasing local control over oil and gas drilling, in particular the setback and "environmental bill of rights" initiatives put forward during last year's debate, would be "economically devastating" broadcasts our Democratic governor's bias on the issue. There is a legitimate conflict between the rights of surface landowners and mineral rights holders needing resolution, but Hickenlooper still appears firmly on the side of mineral rights owners against local communities based on his comments today.

We wonder how politically tenable that position will be for Hickenlooper throughout his second term, as more research on the effects of "fracking" near residential neighborhoods comes out, and the plummeting price of energy caused by OPEC's price war on the frackers eats away at the already-overblown estimates of the economic impact of the industry in Colorado. Might the same changing economics that led Hickenlooper to endorse President Barack Obama's threatened veto of the Keystone XL pipeline soften Hick's hard line against communities worried about fracking in their boundaries?

That's one of the biggest of many questions awaiting Hickenlooper in his "legacy term."

Hickenlooper Hints at TABOR Reform in Inauguration Speech

As Charles Ashby reports for the Grand Junction Sentinel, the winds are a swirling around TABOR reform in Colorado after Gov. John Hickenlooper's inaugural speech on Tuesday:

The governor didn’t offer specifics on issues he intends to address in his second four-year term, possibly intending to save that for the State of the State speech he will give to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday. Still, he hinted at a few, not the least of which are the revenue caps mandated under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Under that constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992, revenues that the state collects that exceed the current year’s budget, plus inflation and population growth, are required to be refunded to taxpayers.

But some state legislators are considering asking the voters if the state can retain some or all of those TABOR surpluses to put toward things such as K-12 education or transportation, saying both had dramatic cuts during the recession and aren’t yet fully restored.

Our state Constitution mandates that we increase our expenditures and simultaneously cut taxes,” Hickenlooper said. “If that does not sound like it makes much sense, that’s because it doesn’t. Nothing can grow and shrink at the same time. However, it is also true that careful pruning can allow for quicker, stronger and more effective growth.” [Pols emphasis]

Reporter John Frank of the Denver Post added some more TABOR-reform flavor from yesterday's festivities. Gov. Hickenlooper invited former Governors of Colorado to offer advice on his second term in office, and former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer got right to the point:

“My advice is, governor, lead a movement in this state to repeal the TABOR amendment,” he said to cheers from the crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium, where guests paid $100-a-plate to attend. “We need to invest in the future of our children’s education and the infrastructure of this state. We need to return that power, that authority, that decision, to the people’s representative, the legislature and the governor.”

Romer kept at it. “We need to revise this tax system and do what the conservatives do — invest in the future of this state,” he continued. “We need to revise the TABOR amendment and get a better tax system it needs not a political election, it needs a movement. Governor, lead that movement.”

As much as Republicans will be squawking about any suggested reform to TABOR, there's reason to suggest that this is more than just a talking point. Republican Senate President Bill Cadman's first piece of legislation this session deals with TABOR adjustments — though certainly not on the level that Colorado really needs. We couldn't sum up the problem any better than Hickenlooper did last night, when he said, "Nothing can grow and shrink at the same time." Will Republicans heed that reality?