In the rancorous world of the state Capitol these days, it is a good idea not to take reporters' accounts of the “you said, who said” at face value.
So we are going to give Senate Republican leader Mike Kopp and the Senate Republican budget committee member Kent Lambert the benefit of the doubt and assume there's more to the story than the Denver Post told us this weekend when the paper reported that the Senate Republican duo had sided with Senate President Brandon Shaffer in a feud he is having with House Speaker Frank McNulty over budget cuts.
Here is the back story that we have been working hard to put together for you all weekend:
Our sources tell us that McNulty and Shaffer have quietly been locked in budget negotiations for the last couple weeks. Shaffer's objective is to reduce education cuts by $100 million less than the cuts proposed by Governor Hickenlooper.
Remember that Shaffer T-boned Hickenlooper right out of the gate when the new Guv proposed the massive cuts earlier this year, sending him a letter calling the effects of the proposed cuts “unacceptable.”
On his side of the Dome, Speaker McNulty has been adamant about reinstating something called the vendor fee for small businesses. Before Ritter, the state allowed merchants and business owners to keep a small percentage of the sales tax they generate for the administrative hassle of having to collect sales tax on behalf of the state.
A couple years ago, Bill Ritter and the Democrat Legislature took the vendor fee away, a back door $70-some-odd million sales tax increase on businesses in the middle of the worst damned recession since the advent of the Television.
There has not been much reporting on this piece of the budget negotiations, but our sources tell us that McNulty has been relentless in demanding that the Ritter sales tax hike be repealed.
Also stirring most of the session has been a proposal from Rep. Brian DelGrosso and JBC Freshman Jon Becker that would allow local school districts and local governments to charge their public employees a greater share of pension costs.
Colorado Pols has been railing on the proposal for weeks, calling it a “a gratuitous attack on state employees” and trying to sell the talking points sent to them by the AFSCME about the amendment being a Madison-like move.
The Denver Post has covered it extensively too. This is the final ask lodged by House Republicans and McNulty in budget negotiations with Shaffer.
This GOP budget proposal has taken center stage in the last several days. In an interesting strange bed fellows twist, it has quietly aligned local governments and school districts with Republicans in the House.
Since a large amount of the state budget cuts being considered are reductions in state aid to school districts and local governments, House Republicans and local governments want to ask their employees to absorb more of their pension costs to help soften the impact of those cuts in state aid to local government.
Tim Hoover, the Post scribe whose biased coverage over the weekend on the budget and “Amycare” we will discuss in more detail later in the day, made the DelGrosso proposal seem like a fanciful and even unimportant policy.
“The amendment does not actually help balance the state budget and would only provide relief to school districts and local governments…In fact, the amendment actually could cost the state money, since additional employee pension contributions are tax deductible and thus would lower state income tax collections.”
Hoover also tries to portray this portion of the negotations as a last minute addition. He skillfully sells this point by quoting Shaffer calling it last minute, including the denial of such by McNulty, only to quote unnamed sources denying McNulty's version in the same paragraph as McNulty's denial.
Hoover's description is dung. Of course the GOP pension proposal is part of balancing the budget. The more pension flexibility local districts have, the more in state aid the Legislature can responsibly scale back, and the lesser the impact to schools and local districts.
Colorado WINS, the state's illegal public sector union, perfectly hates the plan. Which explains why Shaffer does as well.
“The House Republican leadership is trying to ‘Wisconsin-ize’ our budget process, putting politics before an established bi-partisan process and good policy,” said Scott Wasserman, the union’s political director.
“The sticking points are more about ego and personality,” said Sen. Pat Steadman.”
In terms of Hoover and the Democrats' argument that the pension proposal is new, a site search on the Denver Post proves this is not true.
A last minute proposal, Tim Hoover? How do you explain your own reporting on March 17 about DelGrosso's amendment?
Hoover is either guilty of amnesia or 1st Degree journalistic bias. We expect as much from Colorado Pols. Hoover is paid to be objective.
This where the budget talks appear to have cratered in the showdown at Katie Mullens. No, you can't make this stuff up.
“Senate President Brandon Shaffer stormed out of a dinner with House Speaker Frank McNulty and Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp after McNulty reportedly torpedoed a proposed compromise on next year's budget, according to multiple sources at the Capitol.”
Word of the gunfight at Katie Mullens corrall broke Saturday. But more troubling news for conservatives broke Sunday, when Hoover reported that Kopp and his reliably hard nosed JBC pick Kent Lambert were either taking the Democrats side, surrendering, or both.
“It seemed like there was sort of an impasse where the speaker didn't quite come to any kind of understanding with the president of the Senate,” Lambert said, “but I think we have enough common ground in the Senate itself to move forward.”
Say it ain't so!?!
With Republicans in Washington under heavy pressure to stand together to cut budgets, it would be more than disappointing and surprising if Senate conservatives were surrendering to President Shaffer and Colorado WINS while House Republicans are pushing for more cuts.
As we said earlier, we are just going to assume that the Post missed something. Hoover's recent bias bender leaves us believing this is so.
Two editorial comments we would like to close with. We urge Republicans to work TOGETHER under the dome to cut government. President Shaffer's quote on Sunday worries us.
“This is more of a Senate versus House thing than it is a Democrat versus Republican thing,” said Shaffer.
Secondly, we hope Senate and House Republicans will support DelGrosso's plan to shift more pension costs to the employee, support a return of the business fee (that's a $70 million business tax cut), and that both sides will demand education cuts as large as Hickenlooper suggested.
The fact that Hickenlooper would demand deeper budget cuts than Republicans absolutely roils us.
This, conservatives, is not OK.
We will end this post with the same advice we offered to Republicans months ago:
“If Republicans and Hick do stick together, conservatives can cheer a new governing coalition in Denver, one that's comprised of tough-minded fiscal conservatives in the Legislature and a Governor who is sober and serious to the fiscal challenges of the state.”