by Jon Caldara
In 2005, the political fight over Referendums C and D was an epic battle, one for the Colorado history books. Sold as a “five-year timeout” of our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Ref C was narrowly approved by Colorado voters. Its debt-package companion, Ref D, was narrowly rejected by voters.
I fought Ref C hard, not just because it was a massive tax increase, not just because of the “five-year timeout” fib, but because the real cost was a permanent ratcheting up of TABOR’s spending caps. English translation — it would raise spending (and taxes) more and more every year for eternity, without ever asking permission again. So, 12 years into our “five-year timeout,” Ref C has cost Coloradans about $16 billion (roughly $12,000 per family of four) and is spiraling up yearly.
In 2005, then soon-to-be-term-limited Gov. Bill Owens broke party lines and joined Democrats to craft and sell this massive taking. For that the outgoing guv was rewarded gobs of “really maturing in office” praise from the media, this newspaper especially, and earned lots of “good will” from the business interests supporting the “yes” vote, with whom he’d be fishing for private-sector work soon enough.
The small-government party faithful were understandably livid. To this day in many corners the name Bill Owens elicits the same response as the name Dick Nixon.
What Republicans just did on Senate Bill 267 makes Owens look like Barry Goldwater.
The “grand compromise” of SB 267, something worse than Ref C and Ref D and without a public vote, is the largest “grand betrayal” from Republicans I have ever witnessed in my more than 25 years in Colorado politics. And that says a lot.
Yes, yes, I know. They’ve matured in office.
Let me thank Owens for treating the voters and taxpayers of Colorado with respect and transparency for bringing his tax increase and debt proposals to the ballot, where the people were asked for consent. I hadn’t realized until today what deference Owens insisted for the families he represented.
Our current governor, who jumped out of airplanes to push C and D, has said in speeches if raiding the nearly $800 million-a-year Hospital Provider Fee/tax went to the ballot, polling showed it would lose. Uh, hello? (Oh, and did you also know that by state law, hospitals can’t show this fee/tax on your hospital bill? Transparency advocates including reporters and editorialists should be horrified by this. Their silence reinforces the distrust of the media.)
The SB 267 scheme was hatched to go around us voters with the false narrative of “rural hospitals.” Because it’s just impossible to find money for hospital in a state budget that has more than doubled in a decade.
So, what did the Dems give up in this grand betrayal? Instead of taking the entire nearly $800 million-a-year Hospital Provider Fee/tax, they carved out $200 million that they wouldn’t take.
Apparently, tough negotiation from Republican leadership means giving the Dems 75 percent of their desired tax increase without voter consent.
Similarly, Republican leadership caved on a $2 billion debt package.
You might want to think twice before bringing Senate President Kevin Grantham or Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg with you to haggle over your car purchase.
Ah, but the left did give up so much more! They agreed to raise Medicaid co-pays by a whole dollar, and allowed a small business personal property tax credit to be paid for by a hike in marijuana taxes. But not only does that “tax credit” need to be reauthorized yearly by future legislatures, tax revenue increases, like this pot tax, need to originate in the House, not Senate. Like several Republicans in their coming re-election bids, this business tax credit isn’t long for the world.
I am left wondering why Grantham, who pronounced this raiding of the Hospital Provider Fee/tax dead on arrival at the beginning of the session in multiple outlets, including on my Colorado Public Television program, and to my face privately at least twice, “matured” on the issue.
What he and eight other Republican senators did fully earns them the title of “politician.”
Eight others, not seven? Owen Hill voted for SB 267 in committee, but went all Pontius Pilate on the Senate floor and voted against, something I’m guessing will come up in his primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.
Let me thank the courageous Republican senators who stood up to leadership and the pressure cooker of the takings coalition and voted no: John Cooke, Chris Holbert, Kent Lambert, Kevin Lundberg, Vicki Marble, Beth Martinez-Humenik, Tim Neville, Ray Scott and Jim Smallwood. Heroes all.
This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, May 12, 2017.