After weeks of debating ballot selfies, texting while driving, doomed gun bills, liquor sales, diaper taxes and warmed-over issues from previous sessions, some big policy issues finally are taking shape in the Colorado Legislature.
Of most interest to education is House Bill 17-1187, which would ask voters to approve a change in how the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights annual ceiling on state spending is calculated. Its practical effect would be to reduce taxpayer refunds under TABOR, giving the state a modest amount of additional money for K-12, higher education, health care and transportation.
The lead sponsors are two rural Republicans, Rep. Dan Thurlow of Grand Junction and Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa.
The current TABOR formula limits annual increases in state general fund spending to inflation and population growth. Revenues collected above that limit are supposed to be refunded to taxpayers. The bill instead would tie annual spending growth to the average annual change in state personal income.
Legislative staff estimate the change could free up about $209 million in revenue for spending in 2018-19.
For those of you with a long memory for TABOR debates, the measure is somewhat similar to 2005's Proposition C, which allowed a five-year timeout for TABOR limits. Like Referendum C, this year's bill would earmark the additional funds for use in those four program areas.
The bill has been working its way through House committees and came up for initial floor action Tuesday, and the debate provided the first serious policy discussion of the 2017 session. Thurlow argued that voters should be allowed to decide this issue and that revisiting the 25-year-old TABOR formula makes good business sense in light of changing times.
Most Republicans oppose the idea, some because they just don't want state government to have more money and some because they think the idea should be proposed to voters as a constitutional amendment to TABOR, not just as a change in state law (Referendum C didn't change the amendment but was also a change to state law).
After yet more debate on Thursday, the House passed HB17-1187 on a 39-26 vote and moves to the Senate. That's where things get complicated.
On paper you might think the bill will pass the Senate, because Crowder and the 17 Democrats could combine for the necessary 18-vote majority. But the bill might never get to the floor if Senate President Kevin Grantham sends it to an unfriendly committee (that's what happened last session with the Hospital Provider Fee bill, which Crowder also sponsored).
But there's a bigger elephant in the Capitol – House Bill 17-1242, introduced on Wednesday. That's the measure that would ask voters to approve a sales tax increase to pay for transportation project bonds.
Significantly, Grantham is a lead sponsor of that bill but faces some significant opposition from fellow Republicans in both chambers. Transportation funding clearly is the top issue of the 2017 session, so it's possible the TABOR bill could get swept aside by the cross currents of the transportation debate.
The only safe bet is that those two issues, along with the construction defects debate that is finally gathering steam, probably won't get decided until the very end of the session in May.
Big momentum behind testing billYou don't see this very often with an education bill. The House voted 65-0 to pass House Bill 17-1181. That's the measure that would scrap CMAS language arts and math tests for ninth graders and replace them with a college readiness test. That likely will be a version of the PSAT, given that the state now is using the SAT for high school juniors. Another sign of support: 60 House members are signed on as cosponsors of the bill.