Hickenlooper To Kick Off School Finance Campaign Thursday

Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!

Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

The announcement went out from the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign moments ago–no word yet on how Gov. John Hickenlooper plans to arrive (see photo right), but regardless assuming the public face of the campaign to significantly revamp Colorado's income tax structure to properly fund the state's public education system:

Please join Gov. John Hickenlooper and supporters of the Colorado Commits to Kids campaign for our official kick-off on Thursday, August 15 at 1:00 p.m. Full details are below.
Colorado Commits to Kids is working to provide vital funding needed to improve our state’s schools and ensure a quality education for every child in Colorado…

Who: Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Commits to Kids supporters
What: Statewide Campaign Kick-off
Where: Green Mountain High School
13175 W. Green Mountain Dr.
Lakewood, CO 80228
When: 1:00 pm

Backers are glad to have Hickenlooper's persuasiveness on their side however it arrives, of course, but we're suckers for a good stunt. And Green Mountain High School's football field is big enough to land on, right?

“Colorado Commits to Kids” Turns In 160,000+ Signatures

Photo courtesy Colorado Commits to Kids

coloradocommitskidsThat's the news in a press release a short while ago from proponents of Initiative 22, the school finance ballot initiative headed for this year's statewide ballot with nearly double the required number of signatures:

Backers of the Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative on Monday turned in to the Colorado Secretary of State signatures from more than 160,000 people who support placing a school-finance measure on the November ballot.

“We’re not just delivering petitions today,” said Gail Klapper, director of the Colorado Forum, which has been working with business, civic and educational leaders for nearly two years to craft an initiative with broad, bipartisan support. “We’re delivering a message to our students and our businesses that Coloradans understand the best investment we can make in their economic futures is through our education system.”

The Colorado Commits to Kids Initiative will ask voters to approve a two-step state income-tax rate increase to pay for reforms that would make Colorado a national model for P-12 education…

Details after the jump. 


School Finance Ballot Initiative Raises $1 Million

FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

Lawmakers passed legislation last session, hoping to change the way Colorado funds its schools, directing additional money to full-day kindergarten across the state and distributing more money per pupil to districts with higher percentages of at-risk students.

But none of it will take effect unless voters approve $950 million in new tax revenues to pay for it.

Initiative 22 would set a flat tax rate of 5 percent — up slightly from the current 4.6 percent rate — for all incomes of less than $75,000 a year.

But the proposal those earning more than that would see their income taxed at two different rates:  the 5 percent flat rate for income up to $75,000 annually and then a 5.9 percent rate for all earnings above that threshold.

And the Denver Post reports today:

Colorado Commits to Kids surpassed the $1 million mark in overall contributions with $739,250 taken in during the July reporting period. Combined with more than $260,000 raised in June, the effort moved to $1,081,550 primarily with the help of a few deep-pocketed donors.

The Post reports diverse funding sources for this campaign, ranging from Democrat Pat Stryker and Sam Gary of the Piton Foundation to the right-leaning education reform group Stand for Children. Along with backing from Gov. John Hickenlooper, Initiative 22's hefty war chest should underscore the seriousness of this effort compared to 2011's Proposition 103–which failed after attracting only tepid support. It's worth noting that some of the lack of support for Proposition 103, particularly on the left, can be attributed to concerns that it doesn't raise enough revenue to address the problem. This latest initiative is no "band-aid," but a real attempt to solve the longstanding and growing problem of paying for public education in Colorado.

And unlike two years ago, this campaign will have the resources it needs to succeed.

Concerns Over Fixing Aging Infrastructure Continue

Whether they will admit it or not, most people understand that the government (and yes, taxes) are a necessary part of our everyday lives when it comes to basic things like firefighters, police officers, and roads. It can be difficult to continue your daily commute if a giant freakin' hole opens up in the middle of the road — Sheridan Blvd., for instance.

Infrastructure needs

Continue on for a half-mile, then turn left at the GIANT FREAKIN HOLE IN THE STREET.

(via TheDenverChannel.com)

As 9News reports, Colorado's aging infrastructure needs some love:

It is the hidden problem waiting to happen. Beneath the streets and highways, all across this country, pipes carrying water to residents are aging and getting a day closer to failing.

"The system was designed for about a 50 to 100 year lifetime and many of them were put in shortly after World War II," said Ross Corotis, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "They've reached really the end of their aging life span."

A ruptured 12-inch water main on Sheridan Boulevard between Fourth and Fifth Avenues is representative of the problem. The pipe was installed in 1952. The pipe ruptured and created a sink hole approximately 27 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep on Sheridan Boulevard. It forced the closure of northbound Sheridan between First and Fifth Avenues and southbound Sheridan between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Denver Water expects the repairs to be completed and the road reopened by midnight. The water main break left one building and 16 residential customers along Sheridan without water.

"You see this and you say this is a shame. But it is not unexpected. In a statistical sense it is going to happen," Corotis said. [Pols emphasis]

Events like this are a good opportunity for elected officials and community leaders to remind the public that you can't fix roads and bridges without money. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but there is a difference between desire and understanding that some things we take for granted are pretty damn important.

He Can Skydive Later, That’s Fine

See you in October.

See you in October.

The Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reports on the word yesterday by Gov. John Hickenlooper that he will, as fully expected, support the school finance ballot measure set to dominate Colorado politics for much of the rest of this off-year:

The governor already had committed to supporting a ballot initiative this fall to fund reforms to the school-finance system that he signed into law in May.

But he has been silent since education advocates settled on Initiative 22, which raises income taxes and creates a two-bracket income-tax system. It was one of nearly two dozen options that the campaign had filed as possible ballot initiatives…

“I’m not sure it is my exact preference. You know, the bottom line is you’ve got to have something on there that’s winnable,” he said. “In that sense, in all that array of ballot language that could win, I think this is the best.”

Adds FOX 31's Eli Stokols (who first reported the news about Hickenlooper's "official" support):

“The governor has been talking to business leaders about how transformative the new school finance law will be for Colorado kids,” said Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s chief strategist, in a text message to FOX31 confirming accounts from other sources who heard Hickenlooper’s remarks Wednesday.

Salazar called Hickenlooper’s support for the proposal, however tacit, “probably the worst kept secret in town.”

Republicans are making as much as they can out of Hickenlooper's "quiet" announcement to business leaders yesterday, but the truth is his endorsement was never in doubt. It took time for proponents to settle on the one initiative everyone could agree on. Now that they have, there will be a united push for Initiative 22, a much more ambitious education funding proposal than 2011's failed Proposition 103. And unlike Proposition 103, Gov. Hickenlooper and a broad coalition–including some of those same business leaders–are on board. It's increasingly clear a repeat of the stillborn Proposition 103 is not in the cards: maybe the next Referendum C, the 2005 "TABOR timeout" measure that passed with Hickenlooper's charismatic support (above right)?

Either way, Hickenlooper can wait until Labor Day, when voters start paying attention, to turn on his fabled charm.

The Right to Destroy Ourselves?

Garrett Epps has an interesting column in The Atlantic about Colorado's TABOR battles and the legal effort to overturn it, specifically Kerr v. Hickenlooper. The issue is laid bare in the headline: "Does a State Have the Right to Self-Destruct?"

TABOR makes as much sense as this does

If you think TABOR is a great idea, you probably understand this picture.

As public policy, TABOR is bad enough. The legislature, though, could always ask the people to repeal it. However, in 1994, another initiative limited future constitutional amendments to a "single subject." Since TABOR covers such a wide area of revenue policy, it thus can no longer be repealed except by a laborious string of statewide referenda. In other words, the controls are now smashed. Colorado's legislature can no longer effectively govern, and can't even effectively ask for authority to do so. This is the most radical limitation on state taxing authority anywhere in the country.

The plaintiffs in Kerr, a group of present and former legislators and officials, argue that this radical change violates the Guaranty Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article IV § 4. The Clause requires the United States to "guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government." Whatever a "republic" is, the plaintiffs argue, it must have power to tax and spend funds for the public benefit. TABOR, in effect, takes Colorado out of its status as a state…

…Even if the state wins on standing, its argument ought to disquiet advocates of "state's rights" and an aggressive reading of the Tenth Amendment. If the Guaranty Clause is a promise to the federal government, then nothing would stop the Justice Department from bringing a suit to void all or part of a state's constitution as not "republican" — or, for that matter, stop a majority in Congress from repealing a state's constitution that displeased it. In our time, as in the years before the Civil War, we hear voices insisting that the "true" meaning of the Constitution involves state sovereignty and state dominance over federal power. It's a curious notion. What sort of "sovereign" can be overthrown at will by its "creature?" [Pols emphasis]

Such a "sovereign" isn't sovereign at all. And a "republic" that has no government isn't "republican." The control-mashing "friends" of state government are fighting for the states' "right" to commit suicide. It's a bleak quest, and one that bodes ill for the future of the country.

The ins and outs of TABOR are certainly difficult to understand, and some parts are worse than others, but it's hard to argue that TABOR has been a benefit to Colorado overall. That's what makes this legal case so fascinating, as Epps explains brilliantly. Whatever your opinion on TABOR, it's curious to consider whether the Founding Fathers would have wanted to a system of government that could essentially destroy itself.

“Smaller Government, Lower Taxes” Mantra Hurts GOP with Young Voters

Politico reports on the findings from extensive polling and focus groups made public by the College Republican National Committee, which sought to understand how the GOP has lost "young voters." The full story, and the report, are worth reading because it brings to light new concerns with several longtime Republican talking points. For example, it's no surprise that Republicans are losing young voters because of their opposition to gay rights — but far more interesting is that the old "smaller government, lower taxes" approach is increasingly perceived as a negative as well:

Turning to a key talking point during the election, the report found that while Republicans during the 2012 cycle invoked jobs and the economy at every turn, the younger age group was put off by the way the GOP presented those issues.

“Policies that lower taxes and regulations on small businesses are quite popular. Yet our focus on taxation and business issues has left many young voters thinking they will only reap the benefits of Republican policies if they become wealthy or rise to the top of a big business,” the report says. “We’ve become the party that will pat you on your back when you make it but won’t offer you a hand to help you get there.” [Pols emphasis]

Younger voters — especially those in the Hispanic focus groups the CRNC conducted — are deeply familiar with the challenges posed by a less-than-robust economy, the report said, citing struggles with student loans and people who are delaying marriage because of financial issues. But the study said the party must explain how its policies translate into chances for economic advancement and should seek to do so in a more “caring” tone.

“If we don’t believe that Republicans are the ‘fend for yourself’ party, then it’s time for us to explain why — and to show our work,” the report said. “This will go a long way overall, but particularly with Latino voters, who tend to think the GOP couldn’t care less about them.”

The college Republicans warned that the party’s primary message of cutting taxes and reducing the size of government failed to resonate. In fact, one of the CRNC’s polls found that 54 percent of young voters said “taxes should go up on the wealthy” while only 3 percent said “taxes should be cut for the wealthy.” Bashing Big Government also didn’t play well and was even damaging, according to some of the focus groups, the study found. [Pols emphasis]

It's one thing to advocate for a smaller government and reduced spending when the economy is humming, but eventually people start wondering how roads and schools are going to get funded — particularly as the economy slows down. As it turns out, it doesn't take voters very long to figure out the disconnect.

That’s The Point, Scott Tipton

Always the last to catch on.

Always the last to catch on.

As the Durango Herald's Stephanie Dazio reports:

The U.S. Senate passed the Marketplace Fairness Act by a 69-27 vote last week. The bill generally would subject online shopping to state sales taxes. The taxes would be sent to the state where the purchaser lives.

Current law says states can force retailers to collect sales taxes only if the company has a physical presence in the state.

That can give online companies a leg up over brick-and-mortar stores that must collect taxes on all transactions.

A few years ago, Colorado tried to "encourage" online retailers to collect and remit Colorado's state use tax, which has always technically been owed on online purchases under Colorado law but uncollectible in practice due to federal restrictions on state sales tax remittance dating from the Sears Catalog era. Local retailers led by the Colorado Retail Council supported this legislation, citing the years-long drop in sales for local "brick and mortar" retailers at the hands of online merchants–who enjoyed a competitive advantage for local consumers, and use the same taxpayer-funded infrastructure for product delivery that local retailers do. What's more, local retailers are often used by consumers as "showrooms" for products they then buy online tax-free, adding insult to injury.

Colorado Republicans energetically fought against the so-called "Amazon tax" bill, claiming the measure would "hurt Colorado business," when it in fact was intended to level the playing field on behalf of local business. Ultimately, though, Colorado's attempt to push online merchants to collect and remit Colorado sales tax wound up mired in court. Meanwhile, the push for a federal solution began as other states pressed the issue–which led to passage in the Senate of the Marketplace Fairness Act last week. A key change was on the part of Amazon, the same internet retail giant who fought the Colorado tax legislation at all costs. With Amazon on board, taxation of online purchases in every state seems closer than ever.

But don't tell that to Colorado's Rep. Scott Tipton, folks.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, will oppose it, said his spokesman Josh Green.

“Do we really need to be raising taxes?” Green said. “It’s going to impact local businesses.” [Pols emphasis]

Now folks, as we've just explained, and as local businesses throughout Rep. Tipton's district would tell him if he listened to them, a measure of fairness for local brick and mortar retail is the point of the legislation. That's why local retailers have pushed for this for years at the local and federal level. In addition to boosting revenue for the state of Colorado, brick-and-mortar retail can finally begin to recover from a competitive disadvantage they have suffered from against large internet retailers for over a decade.

So yes, dunderhead! It's going to "impact local businesses." As in positively.

Attention CACI: New Mexico Is Not a Role Model

A brief side note from our neighbors to the south, as reported by the AP yesterday:

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is in Colorado to raise money for her re-election campaign and speak to a business group…

Martinez will attend a reception by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry at Coors Field. The owner of the Colorado Rockies baseball team will speak at the event and Martinez will talk briefly about an economic development package of tax cuts that was approved by the Legislature and signed into law.

We haven't seen any post-event coverage of New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez's fundraiser yesterday hosted by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI), where she presumably touted her policies as governor of New Mexico on economic development. To be honest, we don't know exactly what she said. What we do know is that the state of New Mexico is no role model for "economic development." 


Chutzpah: GOP Wants $1 Million To “Dispel” Gun Law “Myths”

Almost lost in the day-long debate Thursday in the Colorado House over the "Long Bill" General Fund budget was one of some two dozen unsuccessful amendments proposed by Republicans. Offered by freshman GOP Rep. Bob Rankin, Amendment 12 sought $1 million additional dollars for the Colorado Tourism Office. The purpose? We'll let Rep. Rankin explain, but once you realize what he's asking for, it's really quite astonishing.

Can't see the audio player? Click here.

KAGAN: Representative Rankin, to the amendment.

RANKIN: Mr. Chairman, this um, this bill moves one million dollars from the so-called ‘accounting fund,’ eight million dollars, to the Colorado Tourism Office. And since the amendment doesn’t clearly explain it, I should probably discuss what I intend to be done with that one million dollars.

First of all, let me say I do not intend this discussion to be a return to the debate over gun control. However, what I would like to point out is that we have a current and evolving problem that I think we can easily solve. And that is that the perception of the hunting community about what’s going in, going on in Colorado is causing a significant problem. I mean, I have a whole stack here of emails,  and press releases that you may have seen. I mean recently, we just had our first two cancelations of shooting clubs who were coming to Colorado, there was one in Montrose for July, had about three hundred people showing up and they just canceled. And this is not, you know this is not a problem based on reality, it’s really a problem based on perception and misunderstanding. [Pols emphasis]


Back To The Ballot For Education Funds

The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:

Supporters of increasing state funding for K-12 education have filed more than two dozen proposed ballot measures with the Colorado Legislative Council.

While only one is expected to actually make the ballot this fall, each asks taxpayers to accept an increase in the state’s 4.65 percent income tax rate to raise about $1 billion, all of which would go toward funding public schools.

The proposals are tied to a measure pending before the Colorado Legislature designed to reform the way the state funds education, a bill that guarantees that all 178 of the state’s school districts will see more funding, said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

“We know people don’t like property taxes, and sales taxes are quite regressive, so income seems to be the right structure,” Johnston said. “We’re working on getting the policy right in the (Capitol) building, and outside the building all of those coalition groups will spend the next month or two fighting over which one of those (ballot measures) they can get a coalition behind.”

Since the failure of Proposition 103 in 2011, which would have raised a relatively small amount of money for education with a short-term reversion to the tax rates in place before they were cut by GOP Gov. Bill Owens in 1999 and 2000, supporters of education funding have realized that a small-scale proposal like Proposition 103 won't attract enough support from Democrats to pass. In retrospect, it's understood that this was a major factor in the drubbing Proposition 103 received at the polls. While conservatives argued against any increase in taxes, liberals were peeled off from support of the measure by arguments that it wasn't enough–and that passing it would make the more comprehensive measures actually needed harder to pass down the road.

This time, however, it's expected that a more comprehensive proposal, one that can really generate the revenue needed to recover from years of cuts to an already unequal and inadequate school finance system in Colorado, is going to fare much better. Most importantly, this campaign will, or at least should, have the support of major players like Gov. John Hickenlooper, whose unwillingness to support Proposition 103 helped doom it.

As for which one of these two dozen different proposals will have the winning formula that heads for the ballot this fall? With apologies to Gov. Hickenlooper's marketing geniuses, that's "TBD."

Screwing Public Employees, Paying Private Prisons: Long Bill Time!

The Colorado economy continues on a path to recovery, with a larger-than-expected revenue projection of an additional $256 million for FY 2013-2014. But the question remains, as Colorado WINS Executive Director Scott Wasserman asked Eli Stokols of FOX 31 today:

“Can’t we have just one budget year in which public services and those who provide them are not used as a straw man for a partisan agenda?”

Judging by statements made during the recent figure setting for the 2013-2014 budget at the Joint Budget Committee, it appears the answer is "no." Republicans on the JBC say they are prepared to vote against the "Long Bill" General Fund budget–to oppose badly needed raises for state employees, and to protect for-profit prisons over state jobs. As FOX 31 continues, they are determined to plant the flag on this issue even though the fiscal picture is looking much better:

This year Democrats control both the state House and Senate, along with the governor’s mansion, and will be able to pass the budget it wants. In addition, they’ve got a lot more money in the bank, with next year’s general fund anticipated to be roughly $1 billion higher than the current fiscal year’s thanks to an increasingly optimistic revenue forecast. 

With that improved revenue forecast for 2012 and beyond, state employees are counting on a 2 percent across-the-board raise plus additional incentives for high-performing workers.

And as the state’s prison population declines, they are also asking the state to prioritize public facilities and close for-profit prison beds.

With regard to keeping private prison beds open, On March 14, after the discussion of the closure of 318 for-profit prison beds, Rep. Cheri Gerou told the JBC, “I know that I have at least two members of my caucus that will probably vote against the budget just on this basis, because it will directly impact their communities, and I think Sen. Lambert has a colleague in his caucus who will probably vote against the budget based on this.”

And after four years without a raise for all state workers, everyone from corrections officers to staff at state veterans’ homes, both Rep. Gerou and Sen. Kent Lambert stated on March 20 that applying a 2% across the board baseline pay increase would be the thing that makes Republicans vote against the budget. “That may have cost all the votes on my side of the aisle,” Gerou said.

Neither of these stands make Republicans look particularly good.


Sen. Owen Hill Commendably Kiboshes Fact-Free Twitter Tantrum

An "incident" in the Senate Education Committee last week involving Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak and Republican freshman Sen. Owen Hill turned into a major, albeit short-lived kerfluffle Friday after being clipped and circulated nationally by conservative media sites and social media personalities. Sen. Hudak, as you know, has been under intense fire from conservatives after a gaffe in testimony about a gun bill that later died. It appears that Friday's "Twitter bomb" of this audio clip was meant to further trash Sen. Hudak's character–an odd level of attention given to a term-limited lawmaker, but far be it from us to tell GOP operatives how to spend their time.

At issue was the debate in the Senate Education Committee Wednesday of the new School Finance Act proposal from Sen. Michael Johnston. It's a major piece of legislation, and Republicans are not favorably predisposed due to its linkage with a significant revenue measure that would appear on the statewide ballot. To make a long story short, Sen. Hudak is chair of the Education Committee. Due to scheduling, it was necessary to release committee members to their other committee obligations by 1:30PM. This put the Education Committee in the position of having a lot to cover, and not a lot of time to cover it. Sen. Hudak tried to get the committee through a long series of amendments, and probably was a bit short with Republicans who, true to form, wanted to "slow down" and debate the amendments in greater detail.

Near the very end of this hours-long proceeding, Sen. Hudak told Sen. Hill to "flip a coin" to decide how to vote on a Republican-introduced amendment to the bill. What she really wanted Sen. Hill to do, of course, was vote–and the outcome was not in question. But she was a bit rude about it, and from the audio it's clear that Sen. Hill wasn't real pleased.

The incident is what it is–probably not Sen. Hudak's most statesmanlike moment, but hardly a front-page story. Until, that is, out-of-state conservative pundits and their massive social media entourages–which have been lurking in Colorado social media channels since the gun debate–got ahold of an out-of-context recording of the incident made by a local right-wing blog


Why is Corrections Corporation of America still sucking down Colorado taxpayer money?

(Corporate welfare of the worst kind? – promoted by Colorado Pols)

prisonmoneyRight now, the prison population in Colorado, as it is nationally, is declining. The inmate population growth in the 1990s that resulted in for-profit prisons popping up like mushrooms to absorb the overflow is receding.
Which begs the question: why are we still sending taxpayer money to Corrections Corporation of America and subsidizing their economic race to the bottom for jobs? If you work at a state facility in Colorado, you make a decent living, staring in the $40,000 range, with health insurance and PERA.
CCA pays entry-level guards $12.66 an hour, about $25,000 a year – low enough wages to qualify for public assistance. And that doesn’t include even lower-paying administrative jobs. It’s the Walmartization of the public safety sector and it comes will all the short-cuts we’ve come to expect from that trend. 


Lobato vs. Colorado at the Colorado Supreme Court

9NEWS reports, a portentous set of oral arguments just finished before the Colorado Supreme Court:

It will be months before the Supreme Court issues a ruling, which could have a major affect [sic] on the state budget…

"We're a wealthy state," said Kathleen Gebhardt, founder of Children's Voices, a non-profit law firm which advocates for education. "We're in the top 10 for wealth and in the bottom for funding our students."

Gebhardt is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit of Lobato vs. the State of Colorado. The lawsuit, which has been initially upheld in district court, states that school funding is not equal across the state of Colorado and that is a violation of the state constitution. The case is currently under appeal.

According to the Colorado Department of Education and Gebhardt, schools receive an average of $6,474 per pupil in tax dollars.

"And, that puts us well into the bottom quadrant of all other states," Gebhardt said. "That worries me greatly about Colorado."

The district court ruling, which we discussed when it was issued back in 2011, was a thorough 180+ page indictment of the present state of Colorado's education system. District Judge Sheila Rappaport found that Colorado's public education funding system is not "rationally related" to the increasing requirements imposed on it–and that the state is unconstitutionally violating the Education Clause in the Colorado Constitution, which requires a "thorough and uniform" public education system.

If plaintiffs prevail, what could follow is a massive and court-mandated shakeup of not just education funding, but just about every other publicly-funded program in the state of Colorado as priorities obligatively shift to comply. The potential major upheaval this could create is a big reason why Gov. John Hickenlooper and others, even many who would support a large systemic change in support of public education, to oppose plaintiffs and argue that creating a "thorough and uniform" education system is a responsibility of the elected legislature–not the courts.

Recognizing the difficulty in striking a balance between these competing rational arguments, but mindful of the stories of severe hardship in many chronically underfunded school districts around the state, we've been anticipating this showdown for some time.