To say this was a whirlwind of a week would be an understatement. This week the state's financial analysts showed the strength of the Colorado economy, the budget was completed, there were changes in leadership, major compromises on transportation and state pension plan (Public Employees Retirement Act (PERA)) reform were achieved and, there was the expose of yet another "scandal."
On Monday afternoon, the Office of State Planning and Budgeting (OSPB), under the direction of Henry Sobanet, and the Office of Legislative Legal Services, Each department (think delete what I bolded) made a presentation to the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) detailing how the state's economy was doing. An improvement in the state's fiscal outlook of nearly $850 million from the previous forecast was the message delivered and the JBC was left to finish their work with the budget.
By Wednesday, the JBC was expected to be completely finished with the appropriations bill (the long bill), but late nights in the Senate kept them from finishing. Senators worked late into Wednesday night to work out a deal on SB18-001, the transportation-funding bill. Democrats managed to get an amendment onto the critical bill, trimming the request from the state budget to $250 million a year from $300 million for bonding and delayed sending the request to the voters until November 2019.
Moving the referred ballot initiative to 2019, an off-year election, would relinquish a decision to ballot initiatives being planned for this November. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (DMCC) is leading a statewide alliance that wants to ask voters for a sales tax increase.
There are two other ideas being floated as well.
One is being considered by business interests other than the DMCC and led by Colorado Concern. That group wants to ask voters to changes the Specific Ownership Tax in order to pay for transportation needs.
The second is being pushed by the Independence Institute - ran by Jon Caldara and Amy Oliver Cooke. Their preference would be to force the legislature to pay for the improvements. This request seems far from possible given the $9 billion in transportation needs and the other expenditures that are mandated to ensure the state continues to run.
On Thursday, budget writers were able to commit more than the $250 million currently requested by SB18-001 for transportation, finishing the budget with a $495 million dollar transfer to the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF). On the same day, JBC members also dedicated $225 million to fund PERA.
Although those promises should have been worthy of some earnest celebration, members and media were distracted by the state legislature's harassment scandal this week that resulted in Sen. President Grantham (R-Canon City) filing a harassment charge against Sen. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills), the resignation of Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) as Minority Leader and the dismissal of Sen. Jim Smallwood's (R-Parker) aide, Andrew Knarr.
Earlier this week it was reported that - and no, I can't believe that I am writing this - Sen. Kagan was caught using the women's restroom by a fellow Senator. This wasn't the first time for this apparent accident and to make a statement about discomfort in the workplace, President Grantham filed a formal complaint against Sen. Kagan.
Two days later, Sen. Guzman announced she was stepping down from her Democratic leadership post expressing frustration following the Kagan reports and over frustration she held against Republican leadership and their handling of the harassment scandals.
"My moral compass says that is a breaking point for me," Guzman told the press.
Her resignation happened on the same day that that some capitol staff were receiving harassment training. One aide did not seem to take the issue with deserved weight posting an awful comment to Snapchat about grabbing women, which prompted Sen. Smallwood to immediately dismiss him.
On Friday, the JBC finished their work. Major investments were made as follows:
Session Highlights Provided By: