The NFL Draft is tomorrow. What am I going to do without Mock Drafts to read next week?
Governor Bill Ritter has proposed freezing property tax rates in order to fund public education in Colorado, and Republicans have been busy trying to call his “freeze” a “tax increase.” Charles Ashby of The Pueblo Chieftain does a good job of presenting both sides of the argument:
When Republican lawmakers proposed freezing the state’s property tax rates in 2004 as a way of shoring up funding for schools, it wasn’t the political football it’s become today.
So, what’s changed? Rep. Jack Pommer, D-Boulder, asked his GOP colleagues just that question in the Colorado House on Thursday.
The idea, proposed again by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, is designed to help prevent the state from having to cut other programs in 2011 when K-12 spending is expected to outstrip revenues earmarked for education, he said…
…”Make no mistake about it,” Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said. “If I am paying more in taxes next year with the passage of this bill than I would be paying without the passage of this bill, that is a tax increase.
You do not get real revenue in this state through property taxes without increasing the burden on our citizens.”
But Pommer said property owners will pay more in taxes regardless of the bill as their property assessments continue to rise. He said the law never intended to allow some rich districts to forever lower their mill levies, while poorer ones have to raise it.
Additionally, he said the measure would only apply to the 175 school districts in the state that have already approved the idea when they voted to opt themselves out of the revenue and spending caps required under TABOR. He said the provision in the finance act only fixes an obsolete section of law that prevented those school districts from keeping the additional money their voters have already approved.
Pommer added that it was a Republican-controlled Legislature that exacerbated the problem during the recent recession when it all but depleted the state’s main checking account that was used to fund schools.
Rather than cut programs, Republicans raided the School Education Fund, he said. “Go to your voters and say, ‘I am not going to be irresponsible, I am not going to do what the leadership in the House and the Senate did a few years ago and ignore a problem and watch the state near the brink of bankruptcy without ever suggesting a solution,’ ” Pommer said.
Meanwhile, Berny Morson of the Rocky Mountain News reports that Ritter’s plan is still alive:
Gov. Bill Ritter’s plan to boost school revenue squeaked to preliminary approval in the House on Thursday amid Republican charges that it is a tax increase and Democratic rebuttals.
The proposal would curtail scheduled property tax reductions in most districts, increasing school funding by about $55 million in the second year of operation.
Some 33 districts with the highest tax rates would see a rate reduction. Some of the lowest-funded school districts would get more money.
The plan was adopted in a voice vote as an amendment to Senate Bill 199, the annual school finance bill. The amended bill could come up for a final vote this morning, when 33 votes would be needed for passage.
Okay, kids, it’s Amendment 41 time again! Yayyyy!!!
As Lynn Bartels and April Washington of the Rocky Mountain News report:
Colorado is on its way to creating an ethics commission, hopefully ending six months of utter confusion about what gifts elected officials and government workers can and cannot accept. Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill Thursday that supporters say brings clarity to Amendment 41.
Senate Bill 210 creates the ethics commission required in Amendment 41 and offers guidelines to commission members on reviewing complaints.
The bill’s passage ends a tumultuous effort to implement Amendment 41, the so-called ethics-in-government law that voters approved last year. The amendment sparked concerns over whether government workers’ children could receive scholarships or whether blizzard victims could accept donations…
… Also Thursday, the Colorado Supreme Court declined the legislature’s request to review whether its guidance to the commission was constitutional. The high court traditionally doesn’t get involved unless a matter is pending, and the legislature already had passed the bill.
Under Amendment 41, each of the following appoints one member to the ethics commission: the state Senate, House, governor and chief Supreme Court justice. Those four then will select a government worker or official as the fifth member. The Senate announced Thursday that its appointee will be former state Sen. Sally Hopper, R-Golden.
I’m in favor of anything that means I can stop talking about Amendment 41.
It’s a good thing that former Gov. Bill Owens is the former governor, because we might have been in for a bit of confusion during a state of emergency. As Steven Paulson of The Associated Press reports, Owens never bothered to share his “continuity of government” plan with the people who would be continuing the government in case of an emergency:
Colorado has an elaborate plan to ensure state government will function in natural disaster or terror attack. There’s just one problem – someone forgot to tell the lawmakers.
The clandestine blueprint, kept in a notebook carried by a state patrol trooper at the Capitol, includes secret locations to house legislative leaders and a chain of command if the governor and lieutenant governor were incapacitated. But lawmakers – including some who could potentially run the state if other top leaders were injured or killed – say they’re puzzled about how it will work if no one knows where to go or what to do.
“We’re so essential they forgot to tell us,” said Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, a Democrat, who is third in line if the governor and lieutenant governor are incapacitated.
The plan, dubbed Continuity of Government, was developed with funds from the Homeland Security Department in 2003. It covers any disruption or attack that could shut down the Capitol or state agencies, ranging from a blizzard to total destruction.
It includes two secret places where lawmakers could meet, as well as an emergency command center to house the governor and legislative leaders, said Barbara Kirkmeyer, who heads the Division of Local Government, which works closely with local governments.
Another secret location, code-named e-FOR3T, was set up with cots, a kitchen and conference rooms for agencies and lawmakers, as well as a computer space to back up the state’s essential information. It costs the state about $1.75 million per year.
The Republican administration of Gov. Bill Owens, which developed the plan with the help of a consultant, left no transition memo about it when it handed over power to Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, in January, said Susan Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Department of Local Affairs…
…Mike Beasley, a former aide to Owens, said the plan was put together with help from a consultant after Owens’ office realized it had a problem during an emergency drill in 2003. Owens was angry he couldn’t locate some members of his Cabinet, Beasley said.
It was up to legislators to put together their own plan, Beasley said. Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Ritter, said the new administration should have been briefed.
Talk about passing the buck: “It was up to legislators to put together their own plan.”
How can you meet at the secret bunker if nobody will tell you where it is? Why does this remind me of an old episode of “The Little Rascals?”
Law enforcement officials conducted a huge gang raid yesterday in the Denver Metro Area. As Sara Burnett of the Rocky Mountain News reports:
Hundreds of law enforcement officers descended on metro Denver on Thursday, ripping drugs and money out of walls, taking weapons stashed under beds and hauling away boxes of cash, drugs and other items, including bulletproof vests and three grenades.
Forty-nine people were arrested in what authorities called the largest gang takedown in Colorado history.
The suspects were indicted on federal gun, drug and money- laundering charges. Authorities also said the suspects could be linked to 10 to 12 unsolved murders, including the Jan. 1 killing of Denver Bronco Darrent Williams.
It is “very, very likely” the arrests will lead to charges in some of those cases, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said.
Many of those charged are members of the Tre-Tre Crips and Rolling 30s Crips, which prosecutors called two of metro Denver’s most violent street gangs. The group includes some of the gangs’ highest-ranking members, mid-level “sergeants” in the drug trade, as well as suppliers connected to Mexican drug trafficking organizations.
“They are as bad as they get in our community,” U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said.
President Bush received the Iraq war timetable bill on his desk yesterday. As The Washington Post reports:
The Senate approved a $124 billion Iraq war spending bill yesterday that would force troop withdrawals to begin as early as July 1, inviting President Bush’s veto even as party leaders and the White House launch talks to resolve their differences.
The 51 to 46 vote was a triumph for Democrats, who just weeks ago worried about the political wisdom of a veto showdown with the commander in chief as troops fight on the battlefield. But Democrats are hesitant no more. And now that withdrawal language has passed both houses of Congress, even Republicans acknowledge that Bush won’t get the spending bill that he has demanded, one with no strings attached.
Bush is expected to veto the bill early next week. But bipartisan negotiations have already started on a compromise to cool the red-hot war debate, at least on the funding front.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke with Bush yesterday morning and later held initial talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers began to weigh alternatives to the legislation’s most contentious provision, the binding withdrawal terms. The goal is to be more flexible but still restrain how Bush conducts the war.
Mark Mehringer of Colorado Confidential has the respective statements of Colorado Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard.
Democratic Presidential contenders faced off in a debate last night and were unified in one regard: They all think President Bush sucks. As The Washington Post explains:
Democratic presidential candidates largely set aside their differences here Thursday and presented a united front of opposition to President Bush and his Iraq policy, urging the president not to veto newly passed legislation that sets a timetable for beginning the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the conflict.
In their first debate of the 2008 campaign, the Democrats showed some disagreement over the issue of cutting off funding for the war and vied with one another to demonstrate their willingness to retaliate swiftly if the United States is attacked by terrorists.
But they found common ground in accusing Bush of making the country less safe and damaging U.S. relations abroad through foreign policy and argued that the president is ignoring the will of the American people by refusing to shift course dramatically in Iraq.
“The American people have spoken,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.). “The Congress has voted, as of today, to end this war. And now we can only hope that the president will listen.”
The 90-minute debate covered a wide range of issues, including health care, global climate change and the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on a late term abortion procedure — a decision critics have said could lay the foundation for overturning Roe v. Wade. Although public opinion shows support for the ban, the candidates uniformly criticized the court’s decision.
This is the final weekend of campaigning before ballots are due in the Denver city elections, and Mayor John Hickenlooper doesn’t have much to worry about. As Stuart Steers of the Rocky Mountain News reports:
As Mayor John Hickenlooper cruises toward re-election Tuesday against a little known opponent, Denver’s two previous mayors could be forgiven for looking on with envy.
Both Wellington Webb and Federico Pe