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Legislative Year: 2017 Change

Colorado Eyes & Ears »

Ask almost anybody what’s wrong with Colorado’s state budget and you’ll hear familiar answers – TABOR, the modest economic recovery, depressed energy revenues and too much earmarked spending, among other things.

But there also may be deeper social and economic factors behind the state’s financial situation, and they don’t bode well for the future.

To oversimplify, you can blame it on the baby boomers, or more specifically the unavoidable fact that they’re getting older.

“Why is revenue growth slowing?” was the question teed up by legislative chief economist Natalie Mullis during a briefing at a recent Colorado School Finance Project meeting.

“The aging population has a lot to do with it,” she said.

The percentage of Colorado’s population that’s of working age is shrinking, and the percentage of retirees “is growing very quickly.”




How does that affect state revenues?

To oversimplify, as people get older they spend less, and that affects sales tax revenues for the state.

And as people age they earn less money, slowing growth in income tax revenues. “Taxes peak around age 45,” Mullis said.

More than 90 percent of income to the state general fund, Colorado’s main checking account, comes from income and sales taxes.



Add that all up and it means a flattening of state tax revenues when calculated based on the contribution of an individual taxpayer. “On a per-person basis … total revenue to the general fund is going to be flat,” Mullis said.



 To compound the problem, younger taxpayers aren’t picking up the slack yet. “We’ve had a cultural shift … they [millennials] are spending at rates lower than the baby boomers did,” Mullis noted.

But wait, there’s more bad news.

While demographic trends are slowing state revenue growth, they’re also creating pressure for more state spending. “The aging population has other effects … it actually increases demand on government services,” said Mullis.

The biggest demand is for Medicaid, the state/federal program that helps provide medical care for low-income people, including the elderly.

“The things our general fund pays for have become more expensive,” she said.

Things will get worse whenever the next recession hits, which will accelerate the demands for state services.

“We’re going to have tough budgets that persist,” Mullis concluded. “We care going to have to cut the budget from here on out.”

(Please don’t write to me complaining that I downplayed TABOR. Yes, TABOR is a problem – at least for people who worry state government doesn’t have the flexibility to meet changing state needs – because it requires tax refunds if state revenues grow beyond a certain level each year. But that’s a post for another day.)

-- Todd Engdahl

Democrat Crisanta Duran of Denver will be speaker of the House in the 2017 legislature, while Republican Kevin Grantham of Canon City will lead the Senate as president.

The four party caucuses of the legislature met at the Capitol to elect their leaders for the upcoming session. The majority caucuses in each chamber nominate the speaker and president, who will be formally elected after the session convenes next Jan. 11.

Tuesday’s general election left Republicans with 18-17 control of the Senate while Democrats increased their House majority to 37-28.

All four meetings were good-humored affairs with a bit of a first-day-of-school atmosphere. There also was a lot of chatter about “new political realities,” both nationally and at the statehouse. Most leadership position were uncontested, but there were a few “races,” including for majority and minority leaders in the House, for Senate majority leader and for the House GOP slot on the Joint Budget Committee.

Here are the new leadership rosters:

House Democrats

  • Duran - speaker
  • KC Becker of Boulder - majority leader
  • Alec Garnett of Denver - assistant majority leader
  • Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood - whip
  • Jovan Melton of Aurora - deputy whip
  • Daneya Esgar of Pueblo - caucus chair
  • Jeni Arndt of Fort Collins - assistant caucus chair
  • Two members of the JBC will be named later but are expected to be Millie Hamner of Dillon and Dave Young of Greeley

House Republicans

  • Patrick Neville of Castle Rock - minority leader
  • Cole Wist of Centennial - assistant minority leader
  • Perry Buck of Windsor - whip
  • Lori Saine of Dacono - caucus chair
  • Bob Rankin of Carbondale - JBC member

Senate Republicans

  • Grantham - president
  • Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling - president pro tempore
  • Chris Holbert of Parker - majority leader
  • Ray Scott of Grant Junction - assistant majority leader
  • John Cooke of Greeley - whip
  • Vicki Marble of Fort Collins - caucus chair
  • Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs – JBC member
  • Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud – JBC member

Senate Democrats

  • Lucia Guzman of Denver - minority leader
  • Leroy Garcia of Pueblo - assistant minority leader
  • Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs - whip
  • Lois Court of Denver - caucus chair
  • Dominick Moreno of Commerce City – JBC member

-- Todd Engdahl

Senate Republicans maintained their majority in Tuesday’s election, while Democrats appeared to widen their margin in the House.

The GOP currently has 18-17 control in the Senate. In the House Democrats said they could expand their 34-31 margin to 37-28, depending on the final outcomes of races.

Here’s the rundown of the most contested Senate races:

District 19 – Democratic former Sen. Rachel Zenzinger continued to lead GOP Sen. Laura Woods by about 1,200 votes in incomplete returns.

District 25 – GOP Rep. Kevin Priola was running well ahead of former Rep. Jenise May. (This was a Democratic seat before the election.)

District 26 – Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan had a four-point lead on Republican Nancy Doty in a previously Democratic seat.

District 27 – Republican Sen. Jack Tate was comfortably ahead of Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan.

One House race remained very close with the full count yet to be finished. That contest is in District 59, where Democrat Barbara McLachlan, wife of former Rep. Mike McLachlan, was running ahead of incumbent GOP Rep. J. Paul Brown.

- Full legislative results from secretary of state.

-- Todd Engdahl

10:50 p.m. – Democratic and Republican candidates were splitting four key state Senate races Tuesday night, meaning the GOP was likely to keep a narrow partisan majority in that chamber.

At the same time, Democrats were leading in five of six most-contested House races.

Here’ s the rundown for the Senate:

District 19 – Democratic former Sen. Rachel Zenzinger was leading GOP Sen. Laura Woods by just under 2 percentage points.

District 25 – GOP Rep. Kevin Priola was running well ahead of former Rep. Jenise May. (The seat was held by a Democrat.)

District 26 – Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan had a six-point lead on Republican Nancy Doty. (The seat previously was Democratic.)

District 27 – Republican Sen. Jack Tate was comfortably ahead of Democratic challenger Tom Sullivan.

And in the top House races:

District 3 – Democratic newcomer Jeff Bridges had a comfortable lead over Republican Katy Brown.

District 17 – Democratic former Rep. Tony Exum was running easily ahead of incumbent GOP Rep. Kit Roupe.

District 30 – Democratic challenger Dafna Jenet was on her way to upsetting incumbent GOP Rep. JoAnn Windholz.

District 33 – In a race with two newcomers, Democrat Matt Gray was significantly ahead of Republican Karen Nelson.

District 47 – Republican Rep. Clarice Navarro was swamping Democrat Jason Munoz.

District 59 – Democrat Barbara McLachlan, wife of former Rep. Mike McLachlan, was running ahead of incumbent GOP Rep. J. Paul Brown.

Check updated results from the Secretary of State.

The GOP has apparently conceded the Colorado House to Democrats.  Democrats have outraised Republicans in eight potentially close races and holding the Senate looks increasingly dicey.

Only Republican Rep. Clarice Navarro, HD47, has a substantial money lead over her opponent, Jason Munoz-D.  Rep. Paul Brown-R, HD59, has almost tied the fundraising prowess of Barbara McLachlan-D in SW Colorado, who is re-running her husband’s itsy bitsy loss in his race against Brown in 2014, who did a re-run of his itsy bitsy loss to former Rep. Mike McLachlan in 2012.

Rep. JoAnn Windholz-R, HD30 in Adams county, defeated former Rep. Jenise May in 2014, despite a large Democratic voter registration advantage.  But Democrat Dafna Michaelson has outraised Windholz by more than 3 to 1 this year, and Adams County Democratic ballots are coming in at a faster clip than Republican ballots. 

House races that will probably be close include HD3 in Arapahoe County featuring Jim Bridges-D v Katy Brown-R.  Bridges has a large total contribution advantage, but he had to spend some of that money on his primary.  Both candidates have run the table on their funds with only about $7000 left for each of them.  Arapahoe County ballots have come in faster for Dems than the GOP.

Former Rep. Tony Exum-D, HD17 in El Paso county, is re-running his 2014 race against current Rep. Kit Roupe-R.  The district leans Democratic in registration, but Roupe put on a great competition in 2014, exceeding her expected vote by 8 percent.  The race in 2014 had only a 37 percent turnout.  Exum has a $40,000 fundraising advantage which he needs to put towards voter turnout to win.

Rep. Joe Salazar-D, HD31 in Adams county, who barely squeaked out his win in 2014, is working harder in 2016.  He’s outraised his opponent Jessica Sangren-R, by $90,000, which should help him leverage his get-out-the-vote task. 

The open seat in HD33 in Broomfield and Boulder counties leans Dem in registration and fundraising, giving Matthew Gray-D, the advantage over Karen Nelson-R. 

Republicans have three Senate seats in contention that they have to win to keep their majority.  As of latest fundraising reports, Rachel Zenzinger-D, SD19, has outraised Sen. Laura Woods-R by $100,000 with Jeffco Democratic ballots currently exceeding Republican turnout. 

Former Rep. Jenise May-D, SD25, has gathered about $40,000 more than her prominent GOP opponent Kevin Priola.  SD25 in Adams county leans Democratic and Sen. Mary Hodge-D took the seat handily in 2012.

Rep. Daniel Kagan-D, running for SD26 against Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty-R, has a $55,000 fundraising advantage and a 2500 registration advantage.  Sen. Linda Newell-D won the seat in 2012.  Doty is well liked but Kagan is a tough competitor, squeezing out close victories over well financed opponents.

If money does the talking, and Dems do enough walking and knocking, they’re likely to carry both chambers on November 8. 


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