The Paradox and the Long Game

John Creighton of Longmont, a leadership consultant and president of the St. Vrain school board, wrote a surprisingly thoughtful analysis of the stark budget realities faced by Gov. John Hickenlooper–and the choices Hickenlooper made–for the Washington Times this weekend:

Governor Hickenlooper’s budget proposals are, in many ways, far more dramatic than those of his colleagues in Wisconsin and New Jersey because of Colorado’s starting point.  According to the Tax Foundation, New Jersey has the highest tax burden in the Nation.  Wisconsin ranks ninth. By contrast, Colorado ranks 34th on the Tax Foundation’s list.

Colorado spends much less than these states, too. Take K-12 education funding as one example. According to Education Week, New Jersey spends a whopping $17,620 per student. Wisconsin spends $10,791 per student. The national average is $10,297. Colorado, meantime, spends just $9,152 per student. (Colorado readers will find this number high. Per pupil funding for ongoing instruction and operations will drop from $6,823 this school year to $6,326, if Governor Hickenlooper’s budget is adopted)…

Governor Hickenlooper is giving Colorado voters what he believes they want. Most public opinion polling reveals that the public wants low taxes and robust public services. A Pew Research Center poll indicates that, by more than a two to one margin, people are opposed to cuts in funding to K-12 education, public colleges, health care or roads and public transportation. In short, people don’t want any public services reduced.

The same Pew poll indicates that large majorities also oppose increases in sales taxes, personal income taxes and new taxes on business. Politicians are avid readers of polls. Not wanting to offend, many politicians try to accommodate people’s desire to have their cake and eat it, too. Governor Hickenlooper said no to that type of pandering.

The truth is, Hickenlooper is only giving the voters half of “what they want”–the Pew survey Creighton mentions exposes a major contradiction in voter sentiment; one that could be responsible, more than any other factor, for the diffcult situation Hickenlooper finds himself in today. Simply put, the voters want it all: they want all of the services from the state that they take for granted, like good schools, roads, and health care.

But they don’t want to pay for them.

Here you see, in our view, the fruit of years of assault on the legitimacy of government by the far right, especially in Colorado: voters no longer have a realistic understanding of what is required to fund the basic services they use every day. The dogmatic campaign against taxes and for “small government,” well past any reasonable assessment of services or appropriate funding, has succeeded to the point where the linkage between the two has been fundamentally broken.

So what does this mean? Creighton continues:

Here’s the rub. Governor Hickenlooper’s budget proposal for the state may be the first honest attempt to reconcile a desire to keep taxes low at all costs (for which he deserves credit). But, his budget lacks vision. One or two years from now, after public services have been dramatically rolled back, people are likely to ask, “What now?”

What now, indeed? As we’ve discussed repeatedly, this isn’t the first year that state revenues have been falling. For the last few years, cuts to essential services like K-12 education were offset by a variety of short-term fixes, tax exemption repeals, cash fund transfers, and other…well, even their proponents called them “gimmicks.” But the point is, these moves in many cases shielded the voters from the damage that was being done. Mostly because the situation this year is significantly worse, and the quick fixes have generally been used–but also, we think, out of a desire to be honest about the situation, Hickenlooper did not attempt to conceal or forestall the pain this year.

Which, as the reaction he’s gotten should tell you, has been a rude shock. But for all the anger Hickenlooper is seeing today, primarily on his left, if you take a longer view…is Hickenlooper making a real solution to the state’s chronic shortfalls and inadequate support for essential services more likely in the long run? By first being honest about the unworkable tradeoffs the voters expect? Because we’re beginning to think, for all the desire to minimize the short-term pain, that this is where any successful attempt to solve the problem must start.

How’d We Get to Where We Are? … The Road to 2011

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Comments accompanying yesterday’s post on the state budget indicate some folks have a hard time sorting through Colorado’s many fiscal constraints — which is completely understandable. We’ve summarized them in a handy two-page pdf that we call The Road to 2011, but we’ll post it here, too.

Almost three decades of constitutional amendments, legislative acts and economic ups and downs …

To understand how Colorado finds itself in its current fiscal condition, it is helpful to look back at some critical decisions made by legislators and voters over the last 29 years, and at some of the economic and political factors that drove those decisions.

In 1982, near the end of a period of strong economic growth, voters passed the Gallagher Amendment to shield homeowners from significant property tax increases due to rapidly rising home values. The amendment ensures the overall share of statewide property tax revenues paid by homeowners remains at roughly 45 percent of the total, with commercial property owners paying the other 55 percent.

Since Gallagher passed, the total value of residential property in Colorado has grown three times faster than the total value of commercial property. To maintain the 45-55 split, the assessment rate for residential properties has been cut repeatedly while the commercial rate has remained the same.(1)

In 1991, the legislature passed Arveschoug-Bird, a statutory 6 percent cap on annual growth in General Fund appropriations to operating budgets. This provision, named for its legislative sponsors, is usually referred to as a spending limit. It is better understood as a spending formula because it directed where money could be spent rather than limiting how much could be spent. General Fund revenues collected above the 6 percent could still be spent by the state — just not for operating expenses, such as educating students or paying for medical care. For the last dozen years, revenues that topped the 6 percent limit have been largely used to fund transportation and capital construction needs.

In 1992, voters approved the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, a constitutional amendment with wide-ranging implications for all levels of state government. TABOR requires voter approval of tax increases. It also limits revenues, which at the state level cannot increase from one year to the next by more than the increase in population plus inflation. Over time, these limits have been shown to force cuts in government services,(2) and they can be overridden only by a vote of the people. Another of TABOR’s provisions bars the weakening of spending limits without a vote of the people — a provision that until recently many interpreted to mean Arveschoug-Bird, originally passed by the legislature, could be changed only by popular vote.

Among the most far-reaching effects of TABOR is that it shifts the most important fiscal decisions (taxes and spending) away from elected representatives and to the voters. For the most part, state fiscal policy is no longer made by 100 elected legislators and the governor — it is made by more than 3 million registered voters.

In 1997, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1 to allow General Fund revenue to be used for transportation projects once the 6 percent Arveschoug-Bird formula had been reached. For several decades, revenues from the gasoline tax and other sources traditionally used for transportation have not kept pace with need. This is largely due to increased fuel-efficiency of automobiles — motorists pay the same amount of taxes per gallon of gasoline but drive further on that gallon. Once the Arveschoug-Bird cap was reached, SB 1 allowed a little over 10 percent of state sales and use tax revenues to move to the Highway Users Tax Fund, an amount meant to represent the share of those taxes attributable to purchases of vehicles and related items such as tires and auto parts.

During the 1990s, Colorado and the rest of the nation experienced unusually strong economic growth. From 1991 to 2001, Colorado was the third-fastest-growing state as measured by state gross product and by employment growth. State revenues grew with the economy, far exceeding the state’s TABOR limit. Between 1997 and 2001, TABOR required the state to rebate a total of $3.2 billion in revenues that came in above the TABOR limit.

At the end of the decade, the legislature cut sales and income taxes by as much as $800 million. The goal, based on an assumption of continued strong economic growth, was to stop collecting revenues that would just have to be returned.

In 2000, voters passed Amendment 23, a constitutional amendment that requires per-pupil funding for K-12 education to increase by inflation plus 1 percent each year through FY 2010-11. The 1 percent kicker expires in FY 2011-12, but per-pupil K-12 funding still must increase each year by inflation thereafter. The purpose of Amendment 23 was to help Colorado’s funding for public schools catch up to the national average.

Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the stock market bust in 2001-02, the nation (and Colorado) experienced a significant economic downturn. This, combined with the effects of the tax cuts enacted by the legislature, resulted in an unprecedented drop in state revenues. Because the Colorado Constitution requires a balanced budget, this in turn forced the state legislature to slash state services.

Meanwhile, faced with a continued gap in transportation funding, in 2002 the legislature passed HB 1310 to transfer two-thirds of the General Fund excess reserve to the Highway Users Tax Fund. The other third was set aside to build, repair and maintain state buildings. The General Fund excess reserve is what was left over after overall revenues satisfied all other obligations, including General Fund operating budgets, the 4 percent statutory reserve, and transfers to Transportation under SB 1.

Interactions among these and other constitutional and statutory provisions have often produced consequences beyond those intended.

The interaction of the Gallagher and TABOR amendments, for example, caused a major decline in the local tax base for public schools, requiring significant backfill from the state. From 1989 to today, the local share of education funding has dropped from 57 percent to 37 percent – a historic shift toward state funding for public schools.(3) In part to counter this, in 2007 the legislature voted to remove a provision of the 1994 School Finance Act mandating that local school districts reduce their mill levies whenever they experienced TABOR surpluses. This move was challenged in court, but the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the Legislature was acting within its authority.

The decline in the local property tax base in turn helped spur passage of Amendment 23. By 2000, Colorado had slipped well below the national average for funding its schools. By requiring funding for public schools to increase faster than inflation, Amendment 23 was designed to help Colorado’s schools catch up.

Protecting public school funding from cuts during the economic downturn, Amendment 23 exacerbated the problem for other parts of the budget. As a result, budget cuts fell heavily in other areas. By 2004-05, appropriations to colleges and universities were 21 percent below where they were in 2001-02, despite continued inflation and enrollment growth.

The tax cuts enacted by the legislature before the economic downturn contributed to the severity of the revenue shortfall in 2002-03. While the intention may have been to stop collecting excess revenues that would have to be returned as the economy grew, the actual effect was to greatly exacerbate the decline in revenues as the economy stalled out.

And as revenues finally started to recover with the economy in 2004, Colorado began to feel the full effects of the so-called ratchet mechanisms in both TABOR and the Arveschoug-Bird formula, which lowered both the state revenue limit and the General Fund allocation level by roughly $1 billion during the economic downturn. The effect was to lock in recessionary spending levels. It was comparable to a reservoir that could not be refilled after severe drought, making the low-water mark from the drought the new high-water mark for the future.

In 2005, voters passed Referendum C to bypass TABOR’s ratchet effect and allow state revenues to recover with the economy. Ref C allows the state to retain all revenues it collects for five years (FY 2005-06 through FY 2009-10), regardless of the TABOR limit. For FY 2010-11 and beyond, Ref C lets the state government retain all revenues up to a new “excess state revenues cap” – a cap that still is based on growth in population and inflation but that no longer has a ratchet effect during downturns.

In its first three years, Referendum C allowed the state to retain an additional $3.6 billion, or about 14 percent more than it otherwise would have. Roughly 60 percent of that could be spent on General Fund services, allowing the budgets for K-12 schools, higher education, health and other programs to partially, though not entirely, recover from the downturn.(4)

But because Referendum C did not address the ratchet in the Arveschoug-Bird formula, nearly 40 percent of the revenues it generated (or $1.4 billion) was automatically transferred to transportation ($1.17 billion) and capital construction ($243 million).

In 2008, the nation entered its second major economic downturn in a decade, with state revenues expected to drop by at least $1 billion from previous projections. And while the new revenue limit established by Referendum C will allow revenues to recover with the economy, the ratchet that remained in the Arveschoug-Bird formula was expected to reduce the amount of these revenues that could be spent on General Fund programs by $1.2 billion in FY 2012-13.

To avoid this ratchet effect, in 2009 the legislature passed SB 228, removing the 6 percent formula in Arveschoug-Bird but leaving in place its other provision limiting General Fund expenditures to no more than 5 percent of total state personal income. The removal of the 6 percent formula also effectively eliminated the trigger for SB 1 and HB 1310 transfers to transportation and capital construction. To compensate, SB 228 also committed the state to transfer some General Fund revenues to transportation and capital construction starting 2012. And it created a mechanism for increasing the General Fund reserve or rainy day fund, which has proved inadequate during the last two economic downturns.

That is how we got to where we are today. One clear lesson from the recent past is that an attempt to address a specific problem will often have unintended consequences – and often in areas seemingly unrelated to the original purpose of the measure. As Colorado moves forward from here, we need to be especially attentive to the effect of our actions on all areas that matter to our future.


This summary is adapted from Looking Forward, Colorado’s Fiscal Prospects after Ref C, the Bell Policy Center, Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, 2007.

End notes

1) Colorado Division of Property Taxation 2006 Annual Report, Section II, pages 10 and 14.

2) Ten Years of TABOR, The Bell Policy Center, 2003.

3) Understanding Mill Levy Stabilization in Colorado, Colorado Children’s Campaign, April 9, 2007.

4) Looking Forward, Colorado’s Fiscal Prospects after Ref C.

Time For McNulty to Keep His Promise?

The Craig Daily Press reported Tuesday on yet another FASTER-undoing bill, this one from Rep. Randy Baumgardner–you’ll recall that GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty has basically ruled the repeal of FASTER, and its badly-needed, already bonded revenue for transportation projects, a nonstarter despite it playing a central role in many Republican legislative campaigns last year.

The Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, along with other House Representatives, introduced Colorado House Bill 11-1084 on Jan. 20. Baumgardner is the prime House sponsor of the bill, which has been sent to the House Committee on Transportation.

The bill aims to repeal a late vehicle registration fee enacted through Senate Bill 09-108, also known as FASTER, and would reinstate the optional $10 late fee, credited to county governments, previously in effect.

And Baumgardner’s HB11-1084 passed the House Transportation Committee a short while ago today on a party-line vote. This would appear to set up a challenge for Speaker McNulty–is he a man of his word? Is he willing to follow through on his promises to set aside…well, even set aside his own campaign plank, and that of freshman representatives like Kathleen Conti who pounded the issue all the way into office? Because that’s what he said he’d do, right?

It goes without saying that the best choice would have been to not make campaign promises you either can’t or never intended to keep, but clearly we and Speaker McNulty are past that. It wouldn’t take much effort for McNulty to see that this bill, with no chance of survival anywhere but the House, dies quickly; if that’s what he wants. And if that’s not what he wants, he’s got a bit of a truthfulness problem–and people more formidable than Kathleen Conti to answer to…

How Should Teachers be Graded?

Yesterday, in a CoPols back and forth about if and how DPS teachers should be evaluated, I said that if DPS was only relying on CSAP scores to evaluate teachers, DPS is missing the point.

Even as I wrote that, I was skeptical.

Turns out DPS leadership has not missed that point, and has not concluded that CSAP scores is the only way to measure teachers.

Teachers should be graded.  Of course, principals and other leadership should be evaluated too. How?

SB191 requires it and defines what that should look like, but does not define how to do it.

Forget the anecdotes – they are not persuasive.  I can recall teachers in my own experience who were so well liked by their students, we would have done anything for them.   And teachers who were so weak that any performance in the class was based on student effort alone. (Including, of course, that student’s family, peers, and other support.)

Yes principals and other site leadership need to lead.   Principals should be able to tell who is performing and who is not. And they should be empowered to work with teachers that are not, and  severance teachers when necessary.

Likewise, administration leadership should  be able to tell which principals and site leadership are performing and which are not. And they should be empowered to work with principals that are not, and  severance them when necessary.

From the Denver Classroom Teachers Association  

…in partnership with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), the 16 schools that will be piloting the new teacher performance-assessment system called  LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), starting in January 2011.  …. improving and strengthening our systems of feedback, coaching, evaluation and professional development, with a simple goal of enabling all teachers to be the best professionals they can be.  The LEAP system, as designed by teachers and principals, has student achievement at the center, and is focused on developing, recognizing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers.

To be clear, LEAP is not yet set up  to be the SB191 evaluation tool. But it is clear that LEAP could become the evaluation tool that SB191 requires and the kind of tool that every district should be using already anyway.

SB 191 requires .

…evaluation system that would “provide a basis for making decisions in the areas of hiring, compensation, promotion, assignment, professional development, earning and retaining nonprobationary status, dismissal, and nonrenewal of contract.”

Every teacher is evaluated using multiple, fair, transparent, timely, rigorous, and valid methods. The recommendations developed pursuant to this subparagraph (I) shall require that at least fifty percent of the evaluation is determined by the academic growth of the teacher’s students and that each teacher is provided with an opportunity to improve his or her evaluation and level of effectiveness to professional development opportunities. The multiple measures to determine effectiveness of teachers shall include, but not be limited to, measures of student longitudinal academic growth that are consistent with the measures set forth in section 22-11-204 (2) and achievement levels on any statewide assessment in the relevant subject and grade level or any locally adopted interim assessments approved by the state board to assess student academic growth in the relevant subject and grade level.

Teachers achieve “nonprobation status” with three years of a grade “demonstrated effectiveness” and lose it based on two years of “demonstrated ineffectiveness”.

LEAP does not yet include any SB191 type negative consequence for a less-than-effective rating.  And if or when it does, perhaps it should be stricter than the two years of demonstrated ineffectiveness just to get probationary status.  Perhaps after one year of less than effective,  probation  and training and other “intervention” to get that teacher back to demonstrated effectiveness.  

Perhaps SB191 is too strict and should be modified.  The data could persuade me either way, but as a parent, I know when my students have had less than effective teachers, I don’t want to wait two years to address anything.  I want it fixed yesterday, before my kids even get there.

Which, of course, begs a discussion to answer the questions What makes a good teacher? principal? How do we measure their performance?  What do we do with  the measurements?  

And how do we account for the fact that in some districts, teachers have mostly students who are native English speakers,  well fed and clothed, with solid transportation solutions, who have parents and family that are supportive of their child’s educational and classroom performance. But in other districts, there are gangs, and drugs, and apathetic or absent parents and family, limited and inconsistent transportation and etc and so on.

Clearly  “less than effective”  staff in the former district could appear to be outperforming even the otherwise “effective”  staff in the latter.

The measure is supposed to be “longitudinal growth”. Ie, in a year does the student demonstrate a year’s worth of growth, less than a years’s worth of growth, or even more than one year of growth. CSAP measures that for students (with varying degree of success depending on who you ask).    

But even in districts where the students tend to do well on CSAP and show annual growth, it is not hard to find agreement that CSAP is not an ideal measure of teacher performance.  However in those districts, not many are too concerned about using it that way.

So how much of the growth is because of the quality of instruction? And how much is just the student?  

No one is “worried” about the students who make a year’s worth of progress  or more (a topic for another day).  And while everyone is concerned about the students who have less than a year of growth in a year -CSAP does not measure how much of the students’ growth or lack thereof can be attributed to the quality of instruction  Or at least not well and maybe not at all.

I agree CSAP should not be used for more than it is designed to do  and that it should not be used as a sole measure to evaluate teachers.  But SB191 does not require districts to use CSAP that way. It  requires Districts to come up with evaluation tools and it appears DPS leadership  and staff are trying to do that.

One Small Step Toward a FASTER Recovery

(Where the rubber meets reality – promoted by Colorado Pols)

In an early victory this legislative session, we are glad to see that Rep. Jon Becker decided today to pull his anti-FASTER bill (HB1075). The bill faced strong opposition from a broad spectrum of Coloradans including the very county governments who were the purported benefactors of the bill.

Call it an unwanted solution looking for a non-existent problem. The bill would have taken away $15 million of transit and bike funding.  In fact, the money is already going to local communities and creating jobs, clearing road congestion and also aiding in promoting tourism throughout Colorado.

One of the bill’s targets is new and updated bike lane construction. Many of our smaller mountain towns rely on bike lane construction to not only attract tourists, but to also sustain job growth. Many citizens also count cycling as their primary mode of transportation.

Throughout the metro area, whether it is next to the Platte River or Cherry Creek State Park, bicycle paths provide a leisurely way to see Colorado. These are an economic boon to help rebuild local business.

Anyone who has sat in ski traffic on I-70 can tell you the congestion is a real and growing problem. A study to address the corridor’s congestion was also targeted by this bill.

The funding targeted by House Bill 1075 is also being used to build park-and-ride facilities in local communities like Fort Collins, Wolcott, Thornton and La Plata County.  Park-and-rides are key tools in easing congestion and improving air quality.

Pulling this bill is a step in the right direction, but only one step. The demise of Rep. Becker’s bill should serve as a signal that the political fortunes of the other bills targeting FASTER are rocky at best. Legislators should recognize that repealing FASTER means greater congestion, less transit options, deteriorating highways, fewer jobs and a weakened economy.  

Suzanne Williams’ Political Situation Deteriorating

Lynn Bartels of the Denver paper Tweeted this evening that Sen. Suzanne Williams of Aurora will not take the position of chair of the Senate Transportation Committee when the session begins Wednesday. Our best understanding of the situation would have prefaced that with “probably,” but this has been a development increasingly likely in the past few days.

The reason for this is simple enough; there is a growing sense among many Democrats that Sen. Williams is not responding to questions following her head-on collision in Texas, which killed a pregnant mother and injured several others, in a way that suggests she understands either the criminal or political gravity of her situation. Sen. Williams now faces a grand jury probe in the Texas county where the collision occurred, and whether or not that process will be conducted fairly given the obvious political implications is an unknown question.

But the facts of the accident as they have been disclosed so far, particularly as they relate to seat belt laws that Sen. Williams pushed for here in Colorado, and as-yet unresolved actions by Sen. Williams immediately following the crash, in all likelihood do make it politically infeasible for her to serve as chair of the Transportation Committee. It’s not really possible to forecast beyond that, but there is a growing recognition that this might not be all Sen. Williams loses.

Governor Ritter – The Last Four Years, and Some Thoughts on the Next Twenty

This was a very sad interview for me. Governor Ritter has done a superb job and I hate to see him go. We’ve been really lucky to have him as Governor. As always, he was very straightforward as he answered questions, both looking back at his term and looking forward at Colorado’s future. So with that, on to the interview.

I started with pointing out that he’s now had two jobs where you get no thanks for doing well, get pounded on for everything done poorly, and there are times where you can say yes, but the best thing to do is say no – and you get major drama. So my question is – which is harder, being a parent or Governor?

Governor Ritter replied that it’s a tie. There are days when there’s nothing better, and there are low moments. He went on to talk about how he appreciated the opportunity to serve as Governor and every day was a good challenge for him. He continued that he enjoyed it, although he did not enjoy the fundraising or politics parts. He then went on to discuss how he absolutely enjoyed moving the agenda forward and that requires politics to accomplish that.

The Governor went on to discuss how running for office is not a picnic anymore. But the governing part, the policy and thinking about the future of the state – that he has really enjoyed. He lit up when talking about being about to change where the state is headed.

I next asked about the Oil & Gas regulations. The Republicans claimed that the regulations had a major impact on how many wells are drilled, so I asked if he agreed that his regulations are the cause of the present boom in drilling. Governor Ritter responded with a Latin phrase that means “after(?) the fact means because of the fact” (or as I’ve often heard it – correlation does not imply causality). He then went on to discuss how the price of natural gas tanked after the rules were passed does not mean the rules had any impact on that price or amount of drilling.

He then went on to discuss what is presently occurring vindicates his approach to the new regulations, modernizing the rules to protect the environment and communities, and at the same time the industry can thrive here. Even with hindsight he thinks the new rules are a very good balance for everyone involved. He went on to say that he thinks they came up with a well-balanced set of rules because they brought everyone in to the process to craft the rules and listened to everyone. And the end result is we now have other states looking at Colorado as we’re now the model for effective, efficient, fair regulations on this.

Governor Ritter then said something that I think defines not just this issue, but his policies across the board – “We took the long view in so many things where we knew that we were going to have some pain at the front end of things but that it was the right thing to do for the state.” He then discussed how doing a good job governing requires that you take the long view.

I next asked him what is his proudest accomplishment. He started off saying that they made the quality of life better under very difficult circumstances. He then immediately dived in to specifics starting with education policy. He talked about the package of education policy bills that have been passed and how that is of dramatic importance for the future of our state, especially to address the drop-out rate and achievement gap. He next discussed healthcare policy, calling out in particular the healthcare availability act. He completed his list with sustainable transportation funding (FASTER).

He then switched gears and discussed what he thinks the history books will say. He thinks history will remember his administration for changing the energy culture in this state. He talked about how Colorado is now a world leader in new energy, both in where we get our energy, in the R&D facilities in the state, and in the manufacturing to provide items like wind turbines to the rest of the country. And another nice payoff of this is it has generated new jobs.

My $0.02: I think he’s right points above. The history books will credit Governor Ritter with transitioning our state to green energy use and making us the silicon valley of green energy R&D and manufacturing – because that’s a much simpler story. And I think his greatest legacy, if the education bills bear fruit, will be making this state competitive in the world economy. We can have a great future even if we trail on green energy, but our future would be bleak if we don’t significantly improve our educational system.

Next I told Governor Ritter he gets a time machine, but gets to go back 4 years for 10 seconds to tell Governor-elect Ritter one thing. What would it be. He immediately answered that he would tell himself to pay more attention to the relationship between labor and the business community. He then said he would go back 5 years before the campaign started and stop himself from over-promising where was then not able to deliver. He later said that this was his biggest regret.

I then asked the Governor what was the biggest surprise over the last 4 years. He said it was how difficult it was to reach across the aisle to find common ground. He thinks a large part of that was a giant shock to the Republican party to lose so much ground since 2004 that they decided to focus on harming him politically as much as they code for electoral advantage rather than focusing on what is best for the state. (Gee, I’m shocked, repeat shocked.)

He then went on to discuss how fortunately we Democrats had a majority in both houses and so we were able to get legislation through on a party line vote. But he clearly found it frustrating that at times Republicans would vote against what they knew was in the long term interests of the state merely to gain a political advantage. He then observed that once he announced that he was not running for re-election, it suddenly became a lot easier to craft bi-partisan bills, because there was no political win in handing him a defeat. Governor Ritter also gave props to the Republicans on educational reform saying that the Republicans consistently supported education.

He went on to say that elections mean a lot. If you don’t win elections, you don’t get to govern. He also discussed how the same thing happened with Governor Owens, once it was clear he was never going to run for political office again, it was a lot easier for both Governor Owens and the Democrats in the legislature to find common ground.

I asked if he was still comfortable with his decision to not run for re-election. He replied with an emphatic YES! He went on to discuss how this has improved his relationship not just with his family, but with a lot of people he knows. He talked about how this is an all-consuming job (and that’s understating it) and relationships suffer from that. He also made a really good observation that it not only is good for his family, but it’s good for him personally.

He then added that he thinks there are a lot of people who are able to do both, do a good job in office and put in the time required to have a strong relationship with family & friends, “but I wasn’t one of them.”

My $0.02: I think it speaks incredibly well of Bill Ritter that he put family before political office and that he is totally upfront about it. I think he’s wrong though that some people can do all of it well – an all-consuming job does negatively impact your relationship with your family because there are only so many hours in the day.

Next question for Governor Ritter was “what next?” He said he has not decided yet but he is in discussions with a number of folks and will probably make a decision shortly after the first of the year. I asked what type of job and he said he hadn’t decided on that yet – but he will definitely stay in Colorado (which makes sense as elsewhere would have an impact on the family).

Next I asked what is the big issue Colorado will face in 20 years (assuming we are a green energy center and education is better). Governor Ritter replied “that we can get more for less money” (he’s right – people who say that are lying!). That we can get more services, more jobs, and at the same time we can shrink government. He said that yes we need to always be fiscally prudent, but there are a number of things that would be better for the state that would cost money.

He went on to say that higher education is a good place to start. We are underfunding higher education and we cannot continue to underfund it without losing an edge. We’re 5th in the country for jobs that require a college degree. Yet our most rapidly growing segment of the population is Latino/Latina and we’re doing a lousy job providing them education. That we need to fund the programs that get people through K-12 ready for college, get them in to college, and get them to successfully graduate from college.

He went on to say “if we haven’t figured this out 20 years from now, we’ll be in real trouble.” He says the people of this state have to figure out what they really want going forward. And they have to understand the impact higher ed has on the quality of life, economic development, etc.

I asked if the root problem is that a significant chunk of the populace doesn’t care about the benefits higher ed brings, or if it’s that people think they can keep taxes low and should be able to get the services they want. He replied both. First that people don’t know, or that they haven’t made the case to the people, about how key higher ed is to the future of this state.

Governor Ritter then said that an equal problem is the cynicism people have for the government. They look at the federal government with the deficit spending and the debt to GDP ratio is worrisome. And that reflects on to the state government. And with that comes people’s lack of trust in the government to do these things, and do them well.

My $0.02: Governor Ritter is spot on about this. The biggest limit my company faces is finding qualified people to hire. And we’re a software company that sells world-wide, we’re exactly the kind of company Colorado needs more of for a better future. But without employees to fill the jobs, we’re limited in our growth. This is a problem today and it’s getting worse at present.

I next asked if he was only about to give Governor-elect Hickenlooper one piece of advice, what would it be. He replied that while he has talked to Hick, he is keeping his advice to him private.

So I flipped to, if he got to give one piece of advice to the upcoming legislature, what would it be. He immediately answered “they have to reach across the aisle.” With a split between the legislative houses and a 3:3 split on the JBC they will have to work together to create a budget that is balanced both literally and figuratively. That no one group bears the brunt of the cuts.

I next asked how he managed to handle the significant budget cuts required by the economy and do so in a way that there was no drama and everyone was pretty accepting of how the cuts were allocated. Governor Ritter first pointed out that there was push back from the business community. (Note: Just the greedy I’ve got mine so screw you businesses.) He said it was due to their warning people what was coming, that the state was in better shape than other parts of the country, and that they did their best to do it in as fair and low-impact a way as possible.

So that led to my asking if TABOR is truly a problem. Governor Ritter first spoke to how we should have built up a rainy day fund when the economy was booming but instead refunded taxes due to TABOR. He then said it is not an issue in the near future because of the Ref C adjustments, especially how the base year is now the best year rather than the last year. But he sees it being a serious issue again by 2016 because of all the necessary things we don’t fund. The state can’t survive without investing in the future.

My $0.02: I think fundamentally what has occurred over the last 15 or so years is the cutbacks have forced us to stop investing in our future and instead run out the previous state investments. In other words we’ve been spending our principal, running up the credit cards, and you can only do that for so long. Now we not only have to get back to investing in our future, but we have to invest even more just to get back to where we were.

Last question – I asked him about the money we spend on prisons and should we treat drugs as a mental health issue instead of a criminal issue. Governor Ritter first talked about how he started the state’s first drug court. But he then said we cannot legalize drugs. He then went on to say that 75% of violent crimes are committed because people are intoxicated. He then continued saying we have to continue to educate kids about the problems that come with drugs, we have to spend money on treatment, and you have to address those people who won’t obey the law. But you cannot legalize it because if you do then drug use will become normative. He then went on to discuss how crime has dropped over the past two years and with that the number of people in prison has dropped.

Saying Goodbye Sucks

Family should come first so I have to agree that Governor Ritter made the right decision to not run for re-election. But he’s done very well for this state. Minimizing the damage during economic cratering does not get the accolades that building during economic booms gets, yet the tough times are the much harder job. Getting us through the depression as well as he did makes Ritter a really good governor. Setting in motion efforts to significantly improve K-12 education and making us a green energy center, on top of handling the terrible economy, makes Governor Ritter an outstanding governor.

I have every expectation that Governor-elect Hickenlooper will also do an outstanding job. But I hate to see Governor Ritter go. I respect him a lot as both a Governor and as someone who puts family first. So I’ll leave it with this message to him.

Thank you

Recording at Governor Ritter – The Last Four Years, and Some Thoughts on the Next Twenty

Lots of Eggs in the Lame-Duck Basket

UPDATE: Bill Martinez has been confirmed for the District Court bench in Colorado by the Senate, reports the Denver Business Journal, filling an 18-month old vacancy.

A flurry of activity at the end of the lame-duck session of Congress–KUNC reports:

Senator Mark Udall praised the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the military’s ban on gays serving openly in armed forces, but says it was part of a larger defense bill that’s still pending.

“It would increase pay for service members and it contains a provision I authored to allow military families to include adult children on their TriCare health insurance policies until the age of 26, just as civilian families can now do through the Affordable Care Act we passed this year,” says Udall.

The Colorado Democrat says he’d like to see that passed before the senate adjourns. And he will keep pushing for the passage of several public lands bills that would affect the state…

Sen. Mark Udall is also reportedly trying one last time to win confirmation in the Senate of Bill Martinez to the U.S. District Court, a nomination that, like many around the country, has been stymied by GOP holds and procedural stalling for almost two years–despite the fact that the vacancies on the federal court for Colorado are considered an emergency situation.

The Durango Herald reports on some of the specific priorities that the Colorado delegation is working on with local support as apart of the omnibus lands bill–a bill we’ve heard is unlikely to move at this point, meaning the list of protections for Colorado natural areas they had hoped to see passed will be left for incoming Rep. Scott Tipton and the new House majority.

Have we mentioned recently how “hopeful” Tipton’s new constituents are that he will do the right thing on forest protection in his district, or transportation funding, or any of the issues he’s telling people not to sweat in the wake of his triumphant “cut the government in half” campaign? The public lands protection that local governments around his district support is just one of a range of issues where Tipton has the choice of pleasing the stakeholders of CD-3, or the “Tea Party” ideologues who boosted him into office. Because he won’t be able to please both.

House Democrats Announce Committee Assignments

The full list in a press release after the jump.

House Minority Leader Sal Pace today announced the Democratic committee assignments for the coming legislative session that opens on January 12, 2011.  Democrats hold 32 seats in the House while Republicans hold 33.  

Included in the announcement were appointments for the Democrats’ nine newly-elected (and appointed) members, Representatives-elect Crisanta Duran (Denver), Rhonda Fields (Aurora), Deb Gardner (Boulder), Millie Hamner (Summit County), Matt Jones (Louisville), Pete Lee (Colorado Springs), Dan Pabon (Denver), Angela Williams (Denver), and Roger Wilson (Garfield County).  

Pace praised the newest members of the House, calling them “extraordinarily promising lawmakers.”  Rep.-elect Roger Wilson, who was appointed to the Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, said “I’m excited to be on a committee that is a key economic component to the district I serve.”  

Rep.-elect Angela Williams, a small-business owner, said she would use her assignment to the Economic and Business Development Committee, “to focus on creating jobs, fixing the economy and creating small business opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

Newly appointed Rep.-elect Millie Hamner was selected to be on the Education Committee and on the Transportation Committee, where she has vowed to, “work on behalf of our local economy by fighting for scarce transportation dollars and keeping the Western Slope a beautiful place that continues to attract visitors from all over the globe.”

Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources

Ranking Member: Rep. Randy Fischer, Fort Collins

Rep. Wes McKinley, Baca County

Rep. Su Ryden, Aurora

Rep. Ed Vigil, Alamosa

Rep.-elect Matt Jones, Louisville

Rep.-elect Roger Wilson, Glenwood Springs


Ranking Member: Rep. Mark Ferrandino, Denver

Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Gunbarrel

Rep. Andy Kerr, Lakewood

Rep. Jim Riesberg, Greeley

Rep. Judy Solano, Adams County

Rep.-elect Dan Pabon, Denver

Economic and Business Development

Ranking Member: Rep. John Soper, Adams County

Rep. Joe Miklosi, Denver

Rep. Max Tyler, Golden

Rep.-elect Deb Gardner, Boulder

Rep.-elect Angela Williams, Denver

Rep.-elect Roger Wilson, Glenwood Springs

Education Committee

Ranking Member: Rep. Judy Solano, Adams County

Rep. Andy Kerr, Lakewood

Rep. Cherylin Peniston, Westminster

Rep. Sue Schafer, Wheat Ridge

Rep. Nancy Todd, Aurora

Rep.-elect Millie Hamner, Summit County

Finance Committee

Ranking Member: Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, Gunbarrel

Rep. Daniel Kagan, Arapahoe County

Rep. John Kefalas, Fort Collins

Rep. Jeanne Labuda, Denver

Rep.-elect Crisanta Duran, Denver

PLUS Rep.-elect Dan Pabon, Denver

Health and Environment

Ranking member: Rep. Jim Riesberg, Greeley

Rep. John Kefalas, Fort Collins

Rep-elect Rhonda Fields, Aurora

Rep. Beth McCann, Denver

Rep. Cherylin Peniston, Westminster

Rep. Sue Schafer, Wheat Ridge

Judiciary Committee

Ranking Member: Rep. Claire Levy, Boulder

Rep. Daniel Kagan, Arapahoe County

Rep. Su Ryden, Aurora

Rep.-elect Crisanta Duran, Denver

Rep.-elect Pete Lee, Colorado Springs

Local Government

Ranking Member: Rep. Ed Casso, Adams County

Rep. Beth McCann, Denver

Rep. John Soper, Adams County

Rep.-elect Rhonda Fields, Aurora

Rep.-elect Pete Lee, Colorado Springs

State, Veterans, and Military Affairs

Ranking Member: Rep. Nancy Todd, Aurora

Rep. Lois Court, Denver

Rep. Claire Levy, Boulder

Rep. Joe Miklosi, Denver

Transportation Committee

Ranking Member: Rep. Max Tyler, Golden

Rep. Randy Fischer, Fort Collins

Rep. Matt Jones, Louisville

Rep.-elect Deb Gardner, Boulder

Rep.-elect Millie Hamner, Summit County

Rep.-elect Angela Williams, Denver

Capitol Development Committee:

Rep. Ed Vigil, Alamosa

Audit Committee:

Rep. Joe Miklosi, Denver

Rep.-elect Deb Gardner, Boulder

Frank McNulty: Hates Your Car, Too!

Before we get to the main subject of today’s story in the Denver newspaper regarding incoming GOP Speaker Frank McNulty, which is his apparent reversal on the repeal of the 2009 FASTER transportation revenue measure, we think it’s useful to take a step back and think about the rhetoric directed against FASTER and its proponents in the last two years.

In July of 2009, the Colorado Independent covered the heat of FASTER outrage:

[T]he hikes have rallied state Republican lawmakers like Colorado Springs Republican Kent Lambert. He’s tweeting all about it. He calls the hikes “Ritter’s illegal car tax” and is encouraging people to come out and protest.

“Governor Ritter hates your car!”

In his weekly newsletter, House Minority Leader Mike May urged citizens to pressure Ritter to revise the law in reaction to “the public backlash” and provided phone and email contacts for the governor…

The same month, news reports breathlessly told the tale of extra police offers posted at DMVs, and terrible plight of then-gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis and the $100 late fee he owed on his “sheep camp” trailer. And let’s not forget the Moffat County clerk’s taxpayer-funded protest cards to the governor. Conservative columnists and radio hosts demonized the “car tax” at every possible opportunity, to the extent that it was arguably the most visible Democratic policy at the state level going into the 2010 elections.

Reporter Tim Hoover of the Denver newspaper does a good job today recounting some of the bellicose rhetoric about FASTER that McNulty and others freely employed on the campaign trail this year–unquestionably, the strident promise to repeal FASTER won Republicans some votes, in any number of the many close legislative races decided last month.

You see where we’re going with this, don’t you?

If you’re a “Tea Party”-sympathetic conservative reading this story today, you can pretty much only feel betrayed–the secondary considerations about practicality, bond ratings, none of that is likely to move you. If you supported FASTER in 2009 as a necessary measure to partially fund repairs to Colorado’s decaying roads and bridges, there are two ways to look at this. You can applaud McNulty for his apparent change of heart toward the reasonable, perhaps recognizing that McNulty is more likely simply choosing his battles–FASTER may quickly become small potatoes compared to the looming fights over redistricting and health care implementation.

However, you might also make sure, while appropriately thanking McNulty for ‘coming to Jesus,’ that every voter in Colorado knows something fairly important: the whole campaign to undermine FASTER, more to the point the Democrats who passed it, was a sham.

It seems to us that the two are not mutually exclusive; but Democrats have a tendency to be so giddy that a Republican is suddenly agreeing with them after the election, they blow off priceless chances to hold Republicans accountable for what they said before the election.

Scanlan Joining Hickenlooper’s Office

Vacancy Committee, assemble!

According to a press release from Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper:

Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper announced today Rep. Christine Scanlan will join his senior leadership team as Director of Legislative Affairs and Strategic Initiatives. Scanlan will lead the administration’s legislative strategy and help oversee statewide initiatives on issues such as economic development, education reform, I-70 transportation and forest health…

…Scanlan’s appointment will bolster Gov.-elect Hickenlooper’s legislative team, which includes R.D. Sewald, who will serve as Scanlan’s deputy, and Alan Salazar, who will coordinate and oversee policy, communications, scheduling and legislative operations in the Governor’s Office.

Scanlan was just re-elected in November, so Democrats will now have to scramble to fill her seat via a vacancy committee.

Full release after the jump.

Gov.-elect Hickenlooper names Rep. Christine Scanlan as Director of Legislative Affairs and Strategic Initiatives

DENVER – Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010 – Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper announced today Rep. Christine Scanlan will join his senior leadership team as Director of Legislative Affairs and Strategic Initiatives. Scanlan will lead the administration’s legislative strategy and help oversee statewide initiatives on issues such as economic development, education reform, I-70 transportation and forest health.

Scanlan is widely regarded as a bipartisan leader and consensus builder who has worked with Republicans and Democrats to pass meaningful legislation in the areas of education, job creation and tourism. Her moderate approach has earned the support and endorsements of both the business and labor communities, which have credited her for putting politics aside and doing what is best for Colorado.

Scanlan’s appointment will bolster Gov.-elect Hickenlooper’s legislative team, which includes R.D. Sewald, who will serve as Scanlan’s deputy, and Alan Salazar, who will coordinate and oversee policy, communications, scheduling and legislative operations in the Governor’s Office.

“It is extremely difficult leaving a job I love representing people who I deeply respect,” Scanlan said. “But I plan to continue serving the hardworking people of my district while working for a Governor dedicated to turning Colorado around and positioning the state for great things in the future. It is an honor to join this administration.”

Scanlan was appointed in January 2008 as State Representative for House District 56, representing more than 75,000 Coloradans from Eagle, Lake and Summit counties. She was elected Nov. 2 to a full term in the Colorado House of Representatives. Scanlan will resign her seat in the coming weeks; a date has not been set. A vacancy committee will then name her replacement in the House.

Scanlan was Majority Whip and a member of the House Education Committee after her appointment in 2008. In her first year at the statehouse, she carried a landmark education reform bill which ushered in a complete redesign and realignment to Colorado’s education system, from pre-school through college. The reforms included overhauling the state’s curriculum content standards so they were more relevant, and making student assessments both more meaningful and aligned with college admission requirements.

She has also led efforts to reform teacher and principal evaluation systems while promoting educator effectiveness and leadership in schools, and she worked aggressively to address the devastation in Colorado caused by the bark beetle.

Scanlan co-authored a legislative agenda made up of more than a dozen bills and resolutions in the past three years to assist mountain and Front Range communities implement forest health management and fire reduction strategies; expand protections for Colorado’s watersheds, local communities and vital infrastructure; and provide grants and economic incentives that foster market-based and local business solutions to the bark beetle epidemic to reduce the overall threat posed by wildfire and downed-trees.

Scanlan earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Regis University in Denver. She has served as President of the Summit School District’s Board of Education, President of the Mountain Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) serving 10 Colorado school districts, and was an invited expert and member of Gov. Bill Ritter’s P-20 Council’s sub-committee on Preparation and Transitions.

UPDATED: You be the RTD Board

(From the earliest days of this state, major decisions on transportation infrastructure have driven land-use decisions and ultimately economic development.  Polster Redstateblues now asks us to play the role of the RTD board and ponder how to rescue the Fastracks plan from the economic doldrums. – promoted by Voyageur)

Wednesday Update: Kevin Flynn from RTD e-mailed me this morning about this diary. He wanted to point out, just like a few of the comments below, that this is not new money, and that it cannot be used for operating expenses (or to help shoulder the cost of fare prices.) It must be used to fund one or some of the unfunded FasTracks projects. Another important bit of information that he added was that in 2009 RTD was given full authority by the legislature to gather petitions to pose tax increase questions to the voters in the form of a ballot initiative. His e-mail follows, along with the original diary below the fold.

I appreciate the coverage in your post from Monday, “You Be The RTD Board,” but I’d also like to clarify some of the information in it. Foremost, the figure of $305 million is not a budget surplus, but rather a reduction in one project in the FasTracks program that allows for that amount to be reallocated elsewhere within the FasTracks program. It is not “new money” or extra money, as some have been reporting.  In August the winning bidder on the Eagle Project (combining the FasTracks rail lines to DIA, to Arvada-Wheat Ridge and to Westminster) came in $305 million below our budget estimate, which simply means that we can now re-allocate that amount to the partially funded FasTracks corridors. This is the decision on which RTD is now seeking stakeholder input.  Please note that FasTracks revenues cannot be reallocated to other areas such as RTD operations, they must remain within the FasTracks program..

Secondly, RTD has stated very publicly since 2007 that FasTracks needs additional funding to be completed by the original schedule.. We have been pursuing other funding since then, including the successful public-private partnership agreement on the Eagle project that brought the $305 million in deficit reduction, and will continue to do so prior to – and even after – reaching a decision on whether to ask voters for additional tax revenue.

RTD does a complete budget re-evaluation on the entire FasTracks program every year. The 2010 evaluation released last January showed a projected capital funding shortfall of approximately $2.5 billion through 2019, the currently assumed completion year.  But with this shortfall, we know we cannot complete the program in 2019 as currently assumed without new revenues. With only currently identified resources and no increase in sales taxes, revenues won’t provide for full program completion until 2042. RTD ran the financial model looking at varying levels of new sales tax.  With a one-tenth of a percent sales tax beginning in January 2012, the additional funding would result in a projected full program completion in 2035 – seven years earlier. An increase of two-tenths yields a completion year of 2027; three-tenths brings completion in 2022; four-tenths permits completion in 2018.

Finally, you stated that it is unlikely for the legislature to refer an RTD sales tax increase to metro area voters. While it used to be the case that RTD could not directly place tax referendums on the ballot, relying instead on the General Assembly to authorize it as it did in 2002 (which allowed the 2004 vote), that is no longer the case. The legislature amended RTD’s enabling statute in 2009, giving the RTD Board of Directors the authority to place tax increases on the ballot at its own discretion.

Please continue to cover this issue and feel invited to contact me for information as needed. As we all know, matters of long-term finance can be complicated and we would welcome the opportunity to clarify or provide details as these matters arise.

Thank you,

Kevin Flynn | Public Information Manager

Recently the Regional Transportation District announced that they are projecting a more than $300 million budget surplus in savings on transportation projects. Among the plans for the money are to fully fund the Gold Line–the light rail line that would run through Aurora from the Tech Center up through Fitzimmons, and up to DIA.

What do you think they should do with the surplus money?

More after the jump

Another development from the last board of directors meeting was the revelation–less surprising to those with knowledge of the project–that FasTracks won’t be completed for decades unless the voters approve another sales tax increase. RTD has a plan that calls for anywhere from a .1% to a .4% sales tax increase, a plan which could double the current FasTracks tax that was approved by voters in 2004.

Given the current appetite for tax increases among the  Republican majority in our newly elected State House of Representatives, the likelihood of such a plan being referred to the voters by the state legislature is somewhere between an ice cube’s chance in the Mojave and a Dan Maes presidential bid.

But all things being equal, what’s your plan for rescuing these badly needed transportation projects? Will the voters approve a tax increase if it appears on the ballot in the near future? Will the economy turn around in enough time to make a tax increase unnecessary? Does the state even need more rail, or is an increase in mass transit bus service the answer?

Governor Hickenlooper – ask for this money!!!!

An interesting thing is going on in the states where Republican Governors are being sworn in to replace their Democratic predecessors.

From Meteor Blades on DKos

Governor-elect Scott Walker of Wisconsin doesn’t want to build the high-speed rail line from Madison to Milwaukee that the federal government has granted his state $810 million for.  Governor-elect John Kasich of Ohio doesn’t want to spend the $400 million in federal grants his state is slated for a high-speed line connecting Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Governor-elect Rick Scott of Florida doesn’t want to spend the $2.05 billion the feds have granted his state for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. Add in the $3 billion in federal dollars for the Hudson River Tunnel that Gov. Chris Christie rejected and you’ve got a substantial pile of dough.

(These Governors)… want to spend it on “traditional” transportation projects, mostly highways. The U.S. Department of Transportation has told them no go, as greendem notes in the diary Obama Admin: Rail Money is for Rail, Use it or lose it.

So why not give that $6.2 billion to California and Illinois, states with Democratic governors who actually favor the idea of high-speed rail?

An excellent idea. If Republican Governors are going to reject High speed rail in their states, send that money to states with Democratic Governors.

I am pretty sure that people in Boulder and Aurora that had their hopes for light rail delayed by budget shortfalls would love to have a chance at this money for our state.

So Gov. Elect Hickenlooper – make the request please…and let’s show Republican led states what Democratic led states have in terms of superior infrastructure, transportation and green jobs for our workers. I am sure Jerry Brown is going to be doing so.

In doing so, you’ll not only be helping us here in Colorado, you’ll be able to show voters nationally that Democrats and the President are smarter than obstructionist politicians.

McNulty: Let The Games Begin?

As of this writing, control of the Colorado House is narrowly in the hands of the Republican Party, who according to unofficial results won a 33-32 majority last week. That result is still pending complete counts in two districts–HD-61 and HD-29, where final outcomes favorable to Democrats could still flip control back to them before the legislative session begins.

In either case, what you’ve got is an extremely closely divided House, where one would presume both sides would use care in apportioning all-important committee sizes, schedules, and partisan proportions that reflect this close division. Since Democrats retook control of the state legislature in 2004, there hasn’t been a major kerfluffle over committees–if anything, some partisan Democrats complained that leadership was being more accommodating to Republicans than Democrats would expect, or received themselves in the minority.

There are signs that presumptive Speaker Frank McNulty is about to prove their worst fears, belying any pledge he made in the last week to work in a bipartisan manner.

There’s nothing definite yet–what we’ve heard is that McNulty has been making inquiries about historical ratios of GOP to Democrats on committees, as well as his latitude to consolidate, rename, recategorize, and set the total membership of them. McNulty has reportedly let it be known that House committees may not necessarily be proportional, and could well through various changes be gamed toward partisan dominance. McNulty technically has the power to set committee categories to make participation in more than one by Democratic issue specialists impossible, and make unfavored committees so large as to be unwieldy. And all of that before we even get to what a difference a 6-3 committee makes over a 5-4 committee.

It’s not the power that’s the problem–it’s the misuse of it.

There is still the possibility that McNulty is merely putting out feelers to see what he can get away with here, and the final decisions he makes will be more reasonable than the scenarios described to us. But with the House the only chamber the GOP controls, and redistricting looming? Don’t count on anything, folks–and be aware of how bad this could get.

UPDATE: So it begins: McNulty just released his list of committee chairs (after the jump), revealing the names of the new committees. And apparently the words “Labor” and “Energy” have been excised from the Colorado House’s vocabulary? That doesn’t bode well…

Speaker Designee McNulty Names GOP Committee Chairs

Speaker Designee Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, today named his picks to head the committees of reference for the Colorado State House of Representatives.

“In these appointments, you will see a wide range of experience and leadership skills and a recognition of Colorado’s geographic diversity,” McNulty said. “These appointments send a strong message that the House Republican Caucus is committed to strengthening Colorado’s economy, reinventing government, and putting Coloradans back to work.”

“The House Majority leadership team and committee chairs represent all regions of Colorado and more than half of Colorado’s counties,” McNulty added. “As we take the reins of the House, Coloradans will notice that this is not time for business as usual at the Capitol and that will be reflected in our decisions on the important issues facing our state.”

The following is a list of State House of Representatives committees of reference with the newly appointed Chair:

House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee

State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling

Vice Chair, State Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs

“Yes, I did appoint a real farmer as chairman of the Ag committee, there is no one better suited to head it up,” McNulty said. “As Ag Committee chairman, Jerry will be a tireless advocate for Colorado’s agricultural community and will capably navigate the complex natural resource issues Colorado faces.”

House Appropriations Committee

State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen

“Cheri will bring respect and concern for taxpayer dollars to her role as chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee,” McNulty said. “She will be a leader on the Joint Budget Committee and in the Appropriations hearings.”

House Economic and Business Development Committee

State Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs

Vice Chair, State Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial

“As a successful businessman and one of the more experienced legislators in the House of Representatives, Larry brings extensive experience and knowledge to the table,” McNulty said. “Colorado’s current economic climate has made the House Economic and Business Development Committee an important piece of our economic recovery. I am certain that Larry will bring the same skills and leadership that served him well as a businessman to the decisions that will ultimately be of great importance to our economic recovery.”

House Education Committee

State Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs

“Tom has earned a reputation at the capitol for being a strong advocate for education and also as someone who has a proven ability to bring together diverse groups in order to make great policy,” McNulty said. “Tom will be a strong advocate for Colorado’s education system as Chairman of the House Education Committee.”

House Finance Committee

State Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland

“As a small businessman and entrepreneur, Brian has the experience and knowledge to evaluate complex financial issues and promote sound fiscal policy on behalf of Colorado families,” McNulty said. “Brian has proven himself to be a thoughtful and effective legislator who has always been concerned about the importance of the people’s role in our legislative process.  He will bring that same passion to his work as chairman.”

House Health and Environment Committee

State Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood

“With his experience as a leader in the non-profit community, Ken will be a strong voice as we find solutions to Colorado’s health care challenges,” McNulty said. “Ken’s experience will be a great help in shepherding Colorado through what will be some of the most complex health care issues of our time.”

House Judiciary Committee

State Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs

“Bob is a successful attorney and is known for his understanding of the law and his deep compassion for our fellow Coloradans,” McNulty said. “His background and experience will make him a remarkable leader of the House Judiciary Committee.”

House Local Government Committee

State Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran

“Hailing from Western Colorado, Laura understands the importance of local issues and the consequences state level decisions have on local economies,” McNulty said. “Armed with that knowledge, Laura will serve as a strong voice for Colorado communities that make up the backbone of our state.”

House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee

State Rep. Jim Kerr, R-Littleton

“Jim has spent his time in the legislature cleaning up government, reducing waste, and promoting efficiency,” McNulty said. “This focus is exactly why I have appointed him to head up the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee.  He’ll bring that same focus and tenacity to his new post.”

House Transportation Committee

State Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead

Vice Chair, State Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan

“With more than 30 years working on transportation issues on behalf of Coloradans, Glenn is eminently qualified to head up our Transportation Committee,” McNulty said. “Glenn has always been willing to propose creative solutions to transportation issues and I am certain that he will bring that same creativity to his work as chairman.”


Another Buckpedal; Could there be any more in 22 days?

Election day is 22 days away.

And Michael Booth, recently discussed reporter for the newspaper of record in  Denver, reports that there is another issue that Ken Buck has “clarified” or reversed position  since the primary.

Ag subsidies to farmers.

Federally funded, taxpayer funded payments to farmers; wealth transfer to farmers to stabilize agriculture prices.

Link text

I’m not saying ag subsidies are good or bad. This is a complicated subject with a complex history.  

They used to be loans, now they are grants.

(I will acknowledge that when people who defend them discuss it, the picture is Ma & Pa farmer huddled in the meager farm house, trying to fight off the winter and worried about taxes but most of the money goes to mega corps like Monsanto, Cargill, etc.)

The point is here is another legislative issue where Primary Buck (PBuck) said one thing, and General Election Buck (GEBuck) says something else.   His campaign, and most ardent shills here on CoPols have taken to describing this  as “clarifying.” Sort of a traditional euphemism.   The rest of us have been describing this a little more creatively as Buckpedalling.  The most careful outside observers (MSNBC, NYT, Colorado print and tv media) have been calling it reversing himself, or more gently, “running to the middle.”


“I’m against price supports generally,” Buck said, “and I think that’s basically what they’re talking about in the dairy industry.”

An audience member noted, “Dairy’s been price-supported for decades.”

Buck responded: “No doubt. And I’m against price supports generally.”


“…it’s important that our country have domestic sources of energy and food,… (Buck) supports working with farmers to reform the system to help both farmers and taxpayers.”

It’s perhaps the best example yet of the PBuck vs. GEBuck dissonance where the voters just shoose to hear what they like and ignore the statement they don’t like.

From the same Booth article linked above

Eastern Plains Republicans echo Bennet’s words even while supporting Buck.

Out on the eastern plains, and other farming communities in Colorado 15 of 20 voters vote R.  And a like number get direct payments and 19 of 20 households understand the value of ag subsidies to their communities and don’t want them cut.

Also can’t cut fuel subsidies, it takes energy to run the modern farm and it’s expensive enough in rural Colorado. Can’t cut transportation spending cause rural Colorado needs roads and bridges and they gotta be maintained.  

So PBuck says price supports are a bad idea and need to go. GE Buck says yeah, but not for the hardworking farm communities in Colorado , And once again votes are left to wonder what would IOBuck (in office Buck) do.

Would he stick to his primary ideology, allow the market to do what it does best? Or would it be his general election conversion the gov’t shouldn’t pick winners and losers unless we’re picking my voters to win?  Or a third option?

The only thing we know for sure so far is Buck has said  whatever  it appears the audience in the room wants to hear when they are in the room.  Deny the past (“I never said a consumption tax was a good idea” vs. the recording of him  saying it was a good idea;  alter the past What I meant to say was …..up is down or flat out run from his past statements I support the Personhood amendment  vs  I’m not commenting  on the local issues

Mr. Buck, just tell us what you think  and let the voters decide if we agree with you.

This say anything approach and let the voters believe whatever they want is offensive and dishonest.

I know your boots are full of bullshit.  But that doesn’t mean you have to be.