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Legislators unhappy with Dems’ fiscal direction

Baumgardner, White oppose general fund spending bill

K.C. Mason

— The two Republican men who represent Northwest Colorado in the state Legislature aren’t happy with major fiscal policy directions the majority Democrats seem to be taking.

First-term Rep. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, a retired Colorado Department of Transportation employee, is especially upset with Senate Bill 228, which removes the 6 percent limit on growth in general fund spending. Currently, any state revenue collected over 6 percent goes to highways and capital development.

“Once that limit is gone, the money that was there for transportation won’t be there any more,” Baumgardner said. “Every special interest that’s out there came and testified for that bill because once that limit is gone, the money will be there for them to cherry pick. Whoever screams the loudest will get the money.”

The bill passed the House on Wednesday on a mostly party-line 35-29 vote and was sent back to the Senate for approval of significant amendments. The rewritten bill, which contains several formulas and timelines for growing a reserve fund and eventual earmarking for transportation, sets a new limit on spending based on personal income growth.

“Senate Bill 228 does not increase taxes, does not increase state revenue and does not increase the size of state government,” said Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, who has been roundly criticized by fellow Republicans for sponsoring the bill. “The state limit in growth does not account for changes in economic conditions.”

Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, voted against SB 228 when it passed the Senate the first time and was expected to oppose it again.

White also opposed a bill that was the subject of a three-hour Republican filibuster on the Senate floor this week. Senate Bill 291 would prevent the state from backfilling any education funds to any school district that readopts the spending restraints of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, introduced the bill in the wake of last month’s Colorado Supreme Court ruling that upheld the 2007 property tax mill levy freeze imposed by Senate Bill 199.

The high court ruled that because all but three of Colorado’s 178 school districts already had exempted themselves from the TABOR revenue limits – the so-called deBrucing process named for TABOR author Doug Bruce – another election was not required to collect more revenue under the mill levy freeze.

The bill states that any school district that chooses to re-establish the TABOR limits in a reBrucing election would lose any state aid to make up the difference for the lost revenue.

“That bill is just wrong,” White said. “The voters have a right to deBruce and the voters have a right to reBruce, depending on what happens to taxes in the interim. If they feel like taxes have gotten too high as a result of the action they took, they should have the opportunity to reverse that. Why should it be a one way street?”

Neither Bacon nor any other Democrat chose to respond to a 3-hour Republican rant against the measure, during which Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield talked non-stop for two hours and 40 minutes.

“The originators of this bill are perpetrating an act of treachery,” Mitchell said during his tirade, which included reading large portions of the 60-page Supreme Court ruling. “Now you want to punish the districts that want to have an informed vote now that the rules have changed. This is a treacherous double-cross.”

Southwestern Colorado Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, said he wasn’t impressed with Mitchell’s filibuster.

“It was an awfully lot to do with very little,” Isgar said. “We spent three hours that didn’t add to the debate.”

The Senate passed the bill Tuesday on a 21-14 straight party-line vote and sent it to the House for consideration. Afterward, Isgar said the measure was about stopping the shift in education funding to the state.

“Senate Bill 291 was a reinforcement of 199,” he said. “It says you can’t get around the free by shifting more of the burden to the state.”

White also is opposed to a couple of Democrat-sponsored bills that repeal tax credits that have been on the books for many years.

The bills introduced in the waning days of this year’s General Assembly also stemmed from the Supreme Court ruling in the mill levy case. The court’s March 13 pronouncement that a public vote isn’t required for tax policy changes that don’t increase revenue beyond what TABOR already allows opened the door to bills repealing existing tax credits.

House Bill 1342, which repeals the state sales tax exemption on cigarettes for two years, passed the House on Tuesday on a mostly partly-line vote and was sent to the Senate for consideration. Removing the exemption would add an estimated $30 million a year to cash-strapped state coffers.

Republicans en masse also opposed House Bill 1355, which would eliminate a 15-year-old income tax deduction for Colorado-source capital gains derived from the sale of assets held five years or longer and purchased before May 9, 1994. To qualify for the deduction, the property must be located in Colorado, or the stocks or ownership interests that are sold must be in a Colorado business.

“I think it’s hasty for us to jump on trying to make these bills happen this year,” White said. “We just got that information (from the court decision) and it needs to be considered in light of TABOR.”

“The universe of TABOR is a large one, but the core is an insistence by the citizens that they be offered approval for any tax increase,” White continued. “What we are talking about here are tax increases.”

Isgar said Colorado’s law allowing the capital gains deduction may be in violation of interstate commerce laws by giving preference to in-state investments.

“Farmers and ranchers may benefit from that (capital gains deduction) when they sell breed stock, and that could be problematic,” Isgar said. “I’ll point that out, but if it’s in violation of a U.S. commerce clause, I’m going to have a hard time arguing against it.”


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