Senate says affordable housing in, taxpayer protection out; House offers American Indians in-state tuition

Taxpayer protection bill dies on tax day

write off

In a somewhat ironic move the Senate killed HB 1285, a measure requiring more transparency for the 80 percent of tax filing agents not regulated by the IRS, yesterday (Tax Day).

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Irene Aguilar and Mike Johnston of Denver would have required any paid tax preparer to to tell a customer up front what their fees and qualifications are, how to reach them year-round, and whether they would be willing to represent the customer in the case of an audit. A preparer who failed to disclose this information could face penalties of $50 per customer and $100 per elderly customer, up to $25,000 total. The bill would also make offering false information a class two misdemeanor.

“If you paid someone to do your taxes, there’s a good chance you just gave over all your personal financial information to a preparer who wasn’t regulated by anyone,” said Aguilar, introducing the bill.

Staunch opposition to the bill was lead by Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs who said paid tax preparers fall into three categories: the ones who do their job well, the sloppy folks, and the criminal. He argued that passing regulation on the tax filing industry would only burden the good actors.

Johnston disagreed, saying the bulk of the bill only required a preparer to give customers the kind of information that could be reasonably included on a business card, so it was hardly burdensome. He added that creating a crime for misleading taxpayers was just good consumer protection.

Even so, the measure failed to get initial approval in the Senate.

House bickers over a “goodness owed” 

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Salazar of Thornton, HB 1124 offers American Indians whose tribes have historical ties to Colorado the opportunity to attend its public colleges and universities while paying in-state tuition. The state estimates such a policy would cost about $5 million dollars in tuition each year.

Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen opposed the bill saying that though the policy sounded great the price tag did not. She added that Colorado’s Fort Lewis College already provides free tuition to American Indian students.

Salazar advocated powerfully for his bill, telling the story of his own Apache family and condensing the history of the American West into a short, evocative defense of the measure, which the House passed 39-15 today.

“This is a goodness and you know it in your heart that it’s a goodness,” said Salazar. “It’s a highly bipartisan bill because it is a goodness. We’re talking about American Indian students whose tribes have been forcibly removed from the place they called home, thats why historic ties to Colorado means. Many were removed violently. None left voluntarily. We owe it to these tribes to recognize that their presence pre-dates our union, pre-dates columbus and goes back to the times of creation. We owe this to these kids.”

The bill now heads to the Senate.

Senate approves rural “telepharmacies” 

The Senate gave initial approval to HB 1290 yesterday. Sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, the bill allows for the creation of “telepharmacies” in communities without a licensed pharmacist within a 20 mile area. Managers of these rural telepharmacies would be able to dispense medication in digital consultation with a licensed pharmacist.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to recognize that we live in the 21st Century and create new methods through technology to meet the complex health care needs of a very diverse society,” said Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, supporting the bill.

The measure got initial approval yesterday and will likely come up for final passage this week.

Senate incentivizes affordable housing

According to HB 1017‘s sponsor, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster, the price of housing in Colorado has gone up 27 percent in the last year while incomes have flatlined or fallen. His bill does three things to make housing more affordable in the state. It writes two housing grant programs into statute and most of all recreates a tax credit for affordable housing construction.

Ulibarri cited a Greeley Tribune piece which asserted that many Coloradans feel they’re more likely to become President than find a house they can afford to buy. His bill would allow the state to grant up to $20 million each year in tax credits for the construction of affordable housing during 2015 and 2016. Ulibarri added that many of those dollars will go towards replacing some of the affordable housing stock that was lost during Colorado’s floods and fires.

The tax credit was initially created by Governor Bill Owens in 2000, but was discontinued a few years later when the state saw its first economic dip before the Great Recession.

Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs opposed the measure saying that he agrees affordable housing is a major issue in the state but doesn’t believe a tax credit will really encourage developers to build affordable homes.

Despite this concern, the measure got initial approval in the Senate yesterday and will likely come up for a final vote this week.

“By Colorado” application gets approval in Senate 

SB 166 creates a smart phone application that would allow Coloradans and Colorado tourists to essentially Yelp only local businesses and manufacturers. After falling apart last year because creating such an app was too expensive, sponsors Senate President Morgan Carroll of Denver and Sen. George Rivera of Pueblo got the measure passed yesterday in part because they’d found a way to adapt a basic business locator app to a Colorado-local scene for roughly $80,000.

Users would be able to toggle through businesses that are local to Colorado, employ large numbers of Coloradans, or manufacture here. Carroll called it a win-win for both consumers and producers.

The measure go hearty approval in the Senate.

House approves revised state budget 

After passing their version of the state budget a few weeks ago, the House got back the Senate-House compromise version yesterday and passed it on the same near party-line vote as last time. Again, Joint Budget Committee member Cheri Gerou of Evergreen was the only Republican to vote for the budget in that chamber.

A bit has changed since members of the House last saw the state budget. In reconciling the House and Senate versions the JBC pulled $10 million from a environmental pollution clean-up fund and put it towards the nearly $20 million the state plans on investing in an arial firefighting fleet. The JBC also set aside $11 million to pay claims on the Lower North Fork Fire, which destroyed 23 homes and killed three people in 2012 when a controlled burn exploded in southern Jefferson County.

Not everyone was thrilled with the changes, however.

“I must tell you this is probably the most irresponsible budget we’ve ever passed in this chamber,” said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, who has served in the legislature for eight years. Sonnenberg said he didn’t like the process the budget went through during the post-floor compromise and he particularly opposed doubling the funding for restorative justice — which brought that figure up to $700 thousand — without an associated bill.

Speaker Mark Ferrandino scoffed at accusations that the budget was handled any differently this year than in years before. In fact, he said, this year should be remembered for its lack of horse trading.

After several more rounds of “who plays more fairly when they hold the majority,” the House went ahead and passed the budget by a vote of 38-26.