DENVER, CO — Members of the billionaire Koch brothers-founded conservative group Americans for Prosperity showed up to the state Capitol Thursday to drum up lawmakers’ support. And support they received.
Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican, celebrated his party’s alliance with Americans for Prosperity and praised the group for aiding his political career.
“AFP is a partner of ours…I don’t think I’d be the president of the Senate if it wasn’t for the efforts of you and yours in the previous elections. We look forward to continuing our partnership with you,” he said, to applause from AFP members and supporters.
Cadman was among a half-dozen Republican lawmakers who greeted AFP members and officials, as the organization discussed its “6 for 16” legislative agenda.
Thursday morning, lawmakers from both parties found a copy of the AFP agenda on their desks, prompting Democrats to grumble that the Koch brothers were issuing their “marching orders” to the General Assembly.
AFP’s 2016 Colorado goals include:
- Protecting the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Lawmakers have already been asked to sign an AFP pledge to fight against changing the hospital provider fee, a change supported by Democrats and every business group in the state except for the National Federation of Independent Business.
- Holding Colorado’s “Obamacare” exchange accountable. AFP Colorado Director Michael Fields noted that the General Assembly last year passed a bill to require a comprehensive audit of Connect for Colorado. He lamented the process won’t start for two years.
- Blocking Obama’s energy mandates, most notably, the Clean Power Plan.
- Protecting access to reliable and affordable energy by working against any anti-fracking ballot measures this fall.
- Creating an equal playing field for schools by ensuring charter schools receive the same funding per student as traditional public schools.
- Repealing the business personal property tax, a long-time part of the Republican caucus agenda. The tax is applied to business owned property, such as equipment, but not land and buildings. The current limit is $7,000. Business groups have long advocated for a higher threshold, but past legislative efforts to raise that limit have not been successful.
Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, addressed the first policy target, protecting TABOR. He reminded the audience that TABOR has refunded $2 billion to taxpayers since 1992.
But the state hasn’t had the revenue surplus required for a TABOR refund since 1999, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Economists predict the state could issue $154 million in refunds in 2016-17, while at the same time facing a budget deficit of about $220 million.
Sen. Laura Woods, an Arvada Republican, has made ColoradoCare, a single payer healthcare system that voters will weigh in on in November, a centerpiece of her 2016 re-election bid. She told the AFP supporters that they should be going to Democrats’ town halls and asking them where they stand on ColoradoCare. The amendment would put Colorado under a single-payer health care system, at a cost estimated at $25 billion.
Colorado’s newest lawmaker Rep. Tim Leonard, who was recently chosen to replace Rep. Jon Keyser of Evergreen, also greeted the AFP crowd.
One reason the group is more involved at the state Capitol is to give to people who don’t have special interests looking out for them, said Fields.
That’s a statement that provoked chuckles from Democrats and others, who point out that the Koch brothers are behind a whole network of special interest groups including Americans for Prosperity.
The organization has 127,000 activists in Colorado, said AFP’s Tamra Farah. That includes five millennial-age field directors who focus on drawing young people into the conservative cause.
Democrats later scoffed at the group’s agenda.
“This is about promoting the wealthy and well-connected,” said Sen. Matt Jones, a Louisville Democrat. AFP is “an echo-chamber for propaganda on the right-wing side. We have a lot of issues to address in this country, but this doesn’t help. It doesn’t help the middle class or people who want to achieve the American dream. This helps people who are rich.”
Fellow Democrat and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster put it more simply, in a Thursday morning tweet: “All senators were given the Koch brother’s [sic] guide to protecting the wealthy this morning.”
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr.