Category: Legislative Updates

Vote No on CC

Great opinion piece by Mark Hillman.

VOTE NO: State government hasn’t earned our trust for Prop CC
Colorado voters will soon be asked to approve an innocent-sounding ballot measure asking us to “just trust” state government to spend our tax dollars.

Proposition CC reads like a greeting card, not a serious question: “Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend . . .?”

That makes it sounds like money is falling from the sky, but state officials can’t spend it.

Oh, please!

Colorado state government will spend about $31 billion this year – $15,000 for every household in the state. Less than half of that money is subject to the TABOR spending limit that Prop CC would eliminate forever.

TABOR stands for Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a provision in Colorado’s constitution that limits how much government spending can increase each year and requires a public vote on new taxes. TABOR allows government spending to grow, just not faster than the population growth and inflation.

Since the last recession, TABOR has allowed government budgets to rebound to pre-recession levels. In those 10 years, the state budget has grown by 55% from $19.9 billion to $30.9 billion. During that same time, our state’s population has grown by just 15% and inflation has raised prices by 23%.

But in the next few years, if the economy continues to grow, the state may be required to refund a very small portion (less than 1% of the total budget) back to taxpayers.

TABOR does allow the legislature to ask voters’ permission to keep that money. However, Prop CC is a one-time ask that, if approved, means politicians never have to ask again.

So, while making promises to spend the money on popular programs, sponsors hope voters don’t notice that, if they say yes, they will never get to vote to limit government spending again.

That’s a bad deal for hard-working Coloradans who pay the bill for government.

Lawmakers made this promise once before. In 2005, they asked for a limited, 5-year timeout from the TABOR limit and a permanent change to allow spending to rebound after a recession. They promised to spend the money on education and health care.

But after that measure passed, spending on education and health care actually grew less than everything else in the budget.

Prop CC is far worse because it’s not merely a 5-year timeout. It’s forever.

Backers of Prop CC tell us they still won’t raise taxes without voter approval, but that’s only when they’re honest enough to call a tax a “tax.”

After the 2005 change to TABOR, politicians found a deceptive way to raise taxes without voter approval by calling taxes “fees.”

They created an $800 million hospital “fee” – a tax that you pay anytime a family member is hospitalized. But unlike a legitimate tax which shows up on your receipt, politicians prohibited hospitals from itemizing this fee on your bill so you never know what it cost.

Legislators also created two new “fees” that we all must pay to renew our vehicle license plates every year, costing Coloradans about $250 million.

Last year, lawmakers tried to impose a $1 billion payroll tax – or “fee” – on all wages and salaries. This fee would have deducted 1% of our wages for a new government paid leave program. For someone making $30,000 a year, that’s $300 a year. Sponsors of that bill have vowed to finish the job in 2020.

That’s potentially $2 billion a year that Coloradans could pay for hidden taxes passed by lawmakers who use a sneaky legal loophole to avoid asking our permission to raise taxes.

With this track record of backdoor tax increases, why would we remove one of the last remaining limits on government’s ability to tax and spend?

The graph from the state website is telling, isn’t it?

Civics – Congress and the Colorado General Assembly

 

Words Mean Things:   Congress

It is common for people to refer to members of the Colorado General Assembly as “Congressman” or ‘Congresswoman.” Please note that is incorrect. In American government, the word “Congress” refers to the bi-cameral federal legislature.

There are 435 elected voting members of the lower chamber of Congress, the United States House of Representatives. There are also an assortment of elected, non-voting members of the US House who represent Washington, DC; Guam; the US Virgin Islands; and, a few other US territories.

There are 100 elected voting members of the upper chamber of Congress, the United States Senate. In addition, the Vice-President of the United States serves as President of the Senate and who, upon a tie vote, casts a tie-breaking vote as the 101st member.

The bi-cameral Colorado state legislature is referred to as the “Colorado General Assembly.”

There are 65 elected voting members of the lower chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado House of Representatives. There are 35 members of the upper chamber of our General Assembly, the Colorado Senate.

The state legislature is never accurately referred to as “state Congress.” Why? Because “Congress” refers to our federal legislature. Calling the General Assembly “Congress” is contradictory. That literally means a state federal legislature, which doesn’t exist.

Using the word “Congress” to refer to a state legislature is like calling the chief executive of the federal government “Mayor of the United States.” Nope. That person is the President of the United States. Or, calling the Governor of Colorado the “President of Colorado.” Nope, that person is the Governor.

President, Governor, and Mayor are all titles assigned to the chief executive of a certain level of government, but those titles are not interchangeable. They actually designate the level of government: federal, state, or municipal. Much the same, the labels Congress, General Assembly, and City/Town Council refer to elected policy making bodies at the federal, state, and municipal levels of government.

In some states, the legislature might be called the “House of Delegates” and members referred to as “delegates.” In other states, the titles of “Assemblyman” and “Assemblywomen” are used. Here in Colorado, we use the titles “Representative” and “Senator” to address the members of our bi-cameral state legislature, the Colorado General Assembly.

At the federal level, all members of the US House and US Senate are members of Congress. The word “Congress” doesn’t mean the lower chamber, it refers to both chambers.

However, members of the US House generally like the titles of “Congressman” or “Congresswoman” as opposed to “Representative.” Why? Because it equalizes them with the members of the US Senate. Meanwhile, members of the US Senate generally prefer the title of “Senator” rather than “Congressman” or “Congresswoman.” Why? Because it sets them apart from the other 435 members of Congress.

It’s common to hear reference to “Congressmen and Senators.” That’s OK… but it technically means all 535 members of Congress and… for some reason… mentioning the 100 members of the upper chamber a second time.

Oh, and you can call me, “Chris” because I work so hard at just being me.

Written by Senator Chris Holbert, a member of the Colorado General Assembly, Senate District 30.

 

 

Civics – Quorum and Passage Requirements

Quorum and Passage Requirements
Explained by State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert Senate District 30

We’ll likely revisit this topic many times over the next two years, but for now, here’s the text of Colorado General Assembly, Senate Rule 2, Quorum:

(a) A majority of all Senators elected shall constitute a quorum, but a smaller number may adjourn from day to day, or for less than a day, and compel the attendance of absent members.

 

House Rule 5 mirrors Senate Rule 2. A simple majority, one more than half the number of all members of that chamber, satisfies the quorum requirement. A minority of members can COMPEL (call, require, force) the other members to return to their respective chamber.

 

Democrats will hold 41 of the 65 state House seats. Thirty-three seats is a simple majority of our state House. If 33 or more of the pending 41 Democrats are present, then a quorum will have been established.

 

Democrats will hold 19 of the 35 state Senate seats. Eighteen seats is a simple majority of our state Senate. If 18 or more of the pending 19 Democrats are present, then a quorum will have been established.

 

The same numbers (33 or more in the House/18 or more in the Senate) are required to pass a bill.

 

There is no filibuster in our state legislature. Members may speak at length, but they MUST speak to the bill. They/we cannot read the Bible or a phone book… unless the bill happens to be about such publications.

 

These are cold, hard, facts about our state legislature, which could only be changed by a vote of a simple majority or more of the members of a respective chamber… which isn’t going to happen. The majority isn’t going to relinquish such power.

 

Please keep these facts in mind and be prepared to share this information with others. I’m sure that there will be opportunities for folks to demand that something be done to stop certain bills that will be considered during the 2019 and 2020 general sessions.

 

As you advocate for or against legislation over the next two years, keep in mind that one party can establish quorum and pass bills completely on its own. In those cases, the only thing that can stop them is them.

 

Colorado General Assembly Math 101:

If five House members aren’t there on a given day, then the number doesn’t decrease to fifty percent, plus one of those in attendance. The number remains fifty percent, plus one of all members ELECTED.

33 or more in the House.

18 or more in the Senate

It doesn’t matter how many aren’t there in the House, it only matters if 33 or more vote “Yes” on that bill.

It doesn’t matter how many aren’t there in the Senate, it only matters if 18 or more vote “Yes” on that bill.

 

 

CIVICS – The Role of the Three Branches of Government- by Ben Sasse, Senator from Nebraska

This should be played in every classroom, every year. Ben Sasse, Republican Senator from Nebraska, explains. Watch now.

A wonderful lesson on how our 3 branches of government are supposed to work and the failure of our Legislative Branch to do their job, therefore ceding more authority to the Executive and Judicial.

Civics – Funding Government

SPENDING
2018 spending Budget $4.14 trillion
Mandatory – 61.5% of total budget. Not up for debate or vote.
Interest – 7.6% of total budget. Not up for debate or vote.
Defense – 15.0 % of total budget. Can be voted on to change.
Nondefense or Discretionary portion of the total budget has 12 separate appropriations and is really the only portion of the budget that can be appropriated each year.
Discretionary spending

Discretionary spending is debated through the annual budget and appropriations process and fund programs such as education, veterans, infrastructure and defense. Discretionary programs equal only 30.9% of all federal dollars allocated each year when Congress sets the funding priorities. In 2018, close to 15% of the federal budget went to fund the National Defense, so other discretionary spending was only approximately 16% (662.4 billion) of the $4.14 trillion budget.

REVENUE
2018 Federal Government Revenue was $3.321 Trillion
$1.6 Trillion from Income Taxes
$1.7 Trillion from Payroll Taxes
$205 Billion from Corporate Taxes
$270 Billion from “Other”

Congressman Thomas Massie, from Kentucky, on Government Shutdowns

How does a small faction of Congress take government spending hostage and demand legislation unrelated to the funding bill?

Is this how the funding process is supposed to work?

How do we avoid this in the future?

Why is it important to pass separate appropriation bills for the various portions of the government?

Congressman Thomas Massie answers those questions and more in this short video! (Created, January 22, 2018)

*Congressional Budget Act is 12 separate appropriation bills to determine how to budget the DISCRETIONARY spending from the federal budget.
*Omnibus is one vote on all of them at once, AKA Continuing Resolution (CR)


Automatic Spending (Mandatory) 

The rest of the federal budget is ‘automatic spending’, meaning deducted from the federal budget through scheduled payments because the government is legally required to do so. Federal “automatic” payments in 2016 constituted approximately 73% of the budget.

Some examples of “automatic” spending are:

Social Security
Medicare
Medicaid
Obamacare (Affordable Care Act)
Income security programs (e.g. SNAP, TANF, Earned Income Tax Credit)
Interest on the national debt

In the chart below, you’ll see the percentage of the budget broken down by each government program that is deemed ‘automatic’.

Additional information on this subject:

Appropriations 101

Appropriations Watch: FY 2019