Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ref C pickle

In baseball, when a runner is caught between two bases he is said to be in a pickle. He can’t decide what base to run to, and he’s usually caught and tagged out.

The Democrats at the State Capitol are in a bit of a pickle themselves now on the budget.

They really want to raise taxes and fees this year, both to shore up baseline program spending and implement new programs, but they know that if they raise too much revenue, they will trigger a lower TABOR revenue cap in the near future.

The TABOR revenue cap sets the amount of money that the state can keep and spend each year.

When Ref C passed in 2005, one of its provisions eliminated the annual resetting of the TABOR revenue cap. During the Ref C timeout period, a new cap was going to be set at the highest level achieved in that period and then future caps would always grow from that newly established high point. Never declining, or ratcheting down, but always growing at inflation plus growth from the highest point reached during the timeout.

That new high point was achieved in 2007-2008 at $10 billion. This year, 2009-2010, the total projected revenue is estimated to come in at $9.65 billion.

If the Democrats raise too many more fees or taxes this year, and the economy recovers a bit by the start of calendar year 2010, the total revenue collected for this year could exceed that $10 billion from 07-08.

If that happens a new revenue cap will be established and the growth will come from the new cap giving up two years of inflation and population growth from the 07-08 cap.

Confusing? Yes, it is, but here’s what it means in dollars. If the new cap is established this year at the old level plus one dollar, in 2010-2011 the revenue cap (which represents how much the state can keep and spend) will be $10.254 billion. If, instead, the old cap is used, the 2010-2011 revenue cap will be $11.313 billion. So if they increase taxes too much this year, they lose the opportunity to spend an extra $1.1 billion next year!

Now that’s a pickle.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

cell phone ban

It’s all about liberty and logical thinking.

HB09-1094 would make it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving unless you use a hands-free device. It also bans texting while driving and, I suppose, sending emails from your crackberry.

Set aside the texting part – yes, I do it, but only on the mostly deserted highways in Eastern Colorado and sometimes while riding my bike.

The banning of cell phone usage is an affront in three ways.

It’s folly to pass a bill that will be summarily ignored by a vast majority of the citizens of the state. Come on, be honest, you will still talk on your phone. And 99% of the time, or more, you will do it responsibly. Liberty cannot be surrendered without careful consideration. Society must benefit greatly from the surrender of liberty and in this case society doesn’t, so it is just an unwanted and unnecessary infringement.
As drafted, it actually makes us less safe. If you agree with the studies that say distracted driving is dangerous, and that using cell phones in particular is bad, you have to also admit that the conversation is the distraction. That’s what those studies show, that the conversation is the distraction. The conversation will be LONGER if you are speaking with a hands-free device than it will be if you are forced to hold the handset to your ear for the whole time. Think about it. For me, having my Bluetooth on makes speaking easy; I will hardly talk on the phone without it, but with it, I can go on for a long time. The longer the conversation means the distraction of the conversation will be longer too, increasing what risk there is.
It’s unnecessary. There are already plenty of laws that can be invoked to address careless or reckless driving (before someone gets hurt) and to affix blame after the accident. Singling out one type of distraction, cell phones, over all the others, food, kids, scenery, etc. is just a bad idea.

The question is, will the Senate pass the bill on emotion (someone died) or defeat the bill on logic?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Freight Law Improvement


After almost seven years in the legislature, I’m about to pass a bill that implements about half of what I tried to do in 2003.

It’s related to trucking and really benefits farmers and ranchers.

Back in ’03 when I was a freshman in the House, I introduced a bill that sought to modernize freight rules in Colorado, allowing multiple axle combinations and harvest permits for agriculture. I had cut corn in Nebraska and knew that their freight laws were better than ours.

It seemed like a great idea to me, but the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) hated it.

The reason why they didn’t like the idea boils down to, in my opinion: they don’t like to be told what to do. No, really, that’s it. And if you think they are bad, you should take on the Division of Wildlife – now those guys are serious about their bureaucracy.

HB09-1318 by Sonnenberg, Brophy and Shaffer will allow people to haul divisible loads, like corn, wheat or cattle, that weigh more than what is currently legal if they get a permit and stay off of certain bridges. It also allows triple axle trailers to be used for these same “harvest” permits.

The bill makes it cheaper to haul products in Colorado. On a farm, ranch or feedlot, that could mean the difference between profitability and losses.

Score one for the good guys.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Budget Update April 26th, 2009

For the first time since I have been at the Capitol, the General Assembly passed a budget that wasn’t balanced.

It is a work of fiction or prayer and since the folks in charge don’t seem to be the prayerful type if you know what I mean, it must be fiction.

The Pinnacol seizure fell through. There aren’t many significant cuts to anything except higher education, and the budget is still a couple hundred million dollars out of balance.

The plan is to pass a whole passel of bill that raise taxes, institute some transfer gimmicks and use some of the stimulus money to fill in the $200 million gap.

The tax increases, besides the senior homestead property tax exemption, are elimination of sales tax exemptions that are in place for cigarettes and vending machine sales.

The cigarette tax is expected to yield $30 million and the vending machine tax $8.7 million.

I doubt that the cigarette tax increase will result in the full $30 million being collected because the Feds also raised cigarette taxes and they have reached level where people will either cut back or buy on the “gray” market – cigarettes from places with low or no taxes. People make rational choices like that all the time.

The vending machine tax will likely be eaten by the folks who have those machines as it is hard to increase a vending machine coke by three cents, or maybe they will raise the price by a quarter and see if the market will bear it.

No matter what, this saga is far from finished as the fiscal year is just starting. I expect further bad news and our reserves are too low to withstand another $200 million reduction in state revenue.

Can you say special session?

Friday, April 24, 2009

ACLU license plates

A very funny story ran in the Post a couple weeks ago where the Department of Revenue (DOR) decided to deny a personalized license plate to a lady from Parker.

Apparently the lady really likes tofu instead of real food so she tried to get a license plate that said she loves tofu – ILVTOFU.

The dirty minded guys at the DOR, namely my friend Marc Chair (fictional name) decided to deny the plate because they never let a plate go with the letter F and the letter U in order.

There are a ton of letter combinations that they won’t allow and the list grows as more people create clever ways to say things for text messages for instance.

But now it’s reported that the ACLU has decided that they might have to take on the DOR over the tofu license plate!

Yes, the same ACLU that goes all over the country trying to find the Ten Commandments in a public place so they can insist that the Ten Commandments be taken down are about to argue that FU should be allowed on license plates in Colorado.

How about this plate: ACLUSUX, or maybe one that puts the new letters F and U on a plate with ACLU?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Second Amendment advance

A small step forward for the Second Amendment.

HB09-1180, if passed, will simply allow a person who has a conceal carry weapons permit (CCW) to skip the, so-called, instant background check when he or she decides to buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer.

Think of it as getting pre-approval.

The rigorous background check that a CCW permit applicant goes through by far exceeds what happens with the current “instant” check. You submit your fingerprints and wait for six to twelve weeks while your background is thoroughly explored.

As a side bar, the whole process is offensive to me. When has limiting the constitutionally protected right of a law abiding citizen ever kept a criminal from doing something evil? Can you imagine the howling if any other God-given and constitutionally protected right was so limited by government? Try making a newspaper editor, reporter or publisher pass a background check before distribution. That would go over really well.

I always put “instant” in quotes because the current system used in Colorado for background checks is anything but instant. In some cases the wait for approval has exceeded 24 hours! In a lot of cases, the wait extends to four hours or more. That is completely unacceptable and this bill will help significantly in reducing those waits by allowing some people to get approved in advance.

I also think it will encourage more people to apply for a CCW permit. And I think that will make criminals think more than twice about some of their activities in Colorado.

All in all, it’s good for law-abiding citizens and good for our state.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


There is a bill going through the legislature this year that will force the Denver Public School Retirement System (DPSRS) to merge with Colorado’s Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA).

In the past, the legislation that has been passed just encouraged the two groups to merge. The last such legislation passed in 2008, but the two entities couldn’t come to an agreement on a merger, so this year the legislation just directs them to merge and designs the merger.

I guess the Colorado General Assembly knows best.

The hearing for the bill came through Finance Committee, lasted three hours, and had no testimony against the bill.

As a side bar, it is not at all uncommon for bills in finance to only have testimony in favor. A study a few years ago found that 95% of those testifying in Finance supported the bills. I think that’s a classic example of concentrated vs diffused interests. The concentrated interests always show up, after all, that’s how they get paid.

The fix is in on the bill and it is going to pass, but I voted against it.

I am positive that before ten more years go by, the taxpayers of the State of Colorado are going to have to pick up the tab for the unfunded liability that DPSRS has. It may not even be that long. The liability that the state already has for PERA is bad enough; adding to it is folly.

The other significant attraction for DPSRS is the ability to shift the blame for any future benefit cuts to those dirty rascals at the Capitol. It became apparent during the testimony that this is a significant benefit being sought by the folks from DPS. They know that benefits will have to be cut; they want to be able to blame someone else for it. “There are strength in numbers,” one witness said during testimony. I guess so.

At some point the Piper is going to have to be paid for these defined benefit retirement plans. Guess who gets to pay the Piper?

For the record, I signed up under the defined contribution plan that the State offers.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Denver Tea Party

I think there were 5000 or more people at the Capitol for the Tea Party on Wednesday.

It was exceptionally cool for the second time in a week to see actual working people show up and show an interest in what is happening in state government.

Someone left a teabag under the wiper of my car! It’s pretty funny because I drive a Prius, plus I have a Share the Road license plate on the car. No doubt, the protesters assumed that the car belonged to some liberal from Boulder.

If they only knew.

I was appalled by the coverage of the left-stream media of the various tea parties around the country. It appears to be increasingly difficult for them to maintain even a semblance of impartiality.

I did learn a new definition for a common phrase though.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Budget - my prediction

Now that the budget has passed the Senate, I’m going to make a prediction for how this will come to a conclusion.

I don’t think that the Democrats are going to be willing to use their Supreme Court “hall pass” to thwart the Constitution again so soon. It’s a pretty big risk and four of the seven justices are up for retention vote in 2010; even they have to be aware of that fact.

The Pinnacol raid will turn into a loan. It’s really the only way to ensure that the Democrats can actually get their hands on the cash for sure this year. The Democrats will pay back the loan through increased taxes – the Supreme Court gave them the green light in the mil levy freeze case to take away any tax credit on the books.

So let’s take a look at where they can go to get the money:
food bought at the grocery stores
cigarette sales
agriculture equipment sales
Internet access
livestock sales

The list goes on and on. In total, there are 81 different tax exemptions or credits that the majority party can go after totaling almost $2 billion.

That’s my prediction; we’ll see soon enough if I am right.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Budget

The Colorado Senate will pass a budget on Monday.

For the first time in my memory, it will be a pure work of fiction.

Colorado’s Constitution requires a balanced budget for each year. This one will be balanced by taking money $500 million from an insurance company. Money that will never show up because the insurance company won’t just hand the loot over.

I won’t bug you with all the details of the budget. It’s really a mess with Constitutionally mandated spending increase requirements in some areas, Constitutionally protected revenues in other areas and everyone wanting more.

The key take away is this: the money from the insurance company (Pinnacol Assurance) is never going to materialize. They aren’t just going to hand it over and I don’t think the court will let the state take it. Ultimately, we’ll have to come back and balance the budget again and this time truly hard choices will have to be made.

The immediate fall back provision is to cut colleges by another $300 million. That’s on top of the $100 million reduction in the rate of growth that they’ve already taken. A $300 million dollar cut would be a real cut and would probably lead to the closure of several schools. That’s completely unacceptable; we offered rational alternatives, but the other side turned them down.

This won’t be over for a while.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pinnacol raid

Here’s the problem: state revenues are down, expectations for state spending are up (sounds like my family budget situation too).

So what are we going to do? Rob a bank? No, lets seize the money in an insurance company’s accounts, after all it looks like the insurance company, Pinnacol Assurance has more assets than liabilities.

Pinnacol is a workers compensation insurance company that was originally created by the state and then finally turned loose in 2002. At the time, their liabilities exceeded their assets by about $200 million. Now, their assets exceed their liabilities by about $600 million.

They are paying big dividends and have cut premiums by 42% over the past four years.

So the Democrats in Colorado (and two Republicans) have decided to take their “extra” money. That’ll teach them for being successful.

Two other states have tried the same thing in very similar situations and the courts in those states have sided with the insurance company. No telling what our activist Supreme Court will do, but I am positive the insurance company won’t just write the check because the Governor signs the bill that steals their money.

Expect a long protracted battle so ensue. The majority party has no plan for dealing with the defeat, except to close have of the colleges in the state.

I expected more from them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Wednesday the Democrats in the Senate, in particular, Senators Romer and Tapia, pulled a fast one.

It was April Fool’s Day, but this was no joke.

They found out that a key Republican Senator, Ted Harvey, had to be out of town Tuesday through Thursday to help move his Father-in-law who has Alzheimer’s to Colorado from another state.

So on Tuesday, they changed the Senate calendar of business and moved the bill that grants in-state tuition to illegal aliens (SB09-170) up to Wednesday from Friday. They knew that with Harvey present, their normal 6-4 advantage would not help them, because one Democrat was committed to vote against the bill setting up a loss on a 5-5 tie vote.

The solution was to run the bill when Harvey was gone and pass it 5-4 which they did.

Hats off to them for the brilliant move taking advantage of an opponent’s absence. It’s underhanded and it makes everyone mad, but it’s a smart use of the circumstances and the system to achieve a goal.

Or is it?

This issue, granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens, is opposed by 80% of the people in some polls. In no poll is the opposition less than 68%. In other words, no one likes this. And now, everyone in the Senate is going to have to vote on the bill.

Senators are going to have to prove that they are either with the 80% or against them. It will be interesting to see if an 80-20 issue to real Coloradoans becomes a 40-60 issue in the Colorado Senate.

We’ll see if only 40% of the Colorado Senate agrees with 80% of the citizens of the state. Given their history of blatant disregard for the will of the people, I expect them to pass it.

Blatant Disregard

We see another attempt by the Democrats to exert their will over the will of the people in HB09-1299.

It’s a bill that would lead to tossing out the electoral vote for President in return for a national popular vote.

It’s not that it would happen overnight. First more states would have to pass a similar bill; enough states to reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes have to pass bills to join the movement for it to go into effect.

So far four states have passed bills enacting this agreement into law. Colorado is poised to become a fifth.

I’m not sure if the Democrats are still sore about the 2000 election or what.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone in Colorado would throw away our swing-state status in favor of a national popular vote. Right now, Presidential candidates come to Colorado because there is some question where our nine electoral votes will go and through most of the election cycle, you can draw a scenario where our nine will make the difference in determining who will win.

Take away our nine and no one will care about our votes; no one will come here to campaign. The candidates will stick to the major population centers on the coasts and ignore “fly-over country”.

It’s really a horrible idea that has so many unintended consequences that everyone on the left seems to ignore.

Just like they ignore the will of the voters. In 2004 Coloradoans roundly rejected a change to our electoral college system 66-34.

That’s the blatant disregard.