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Legislative Year: 2017 Change

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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. 


The 2017 legislative preseason officially kicked off Tuesday with release of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed state budget for 2017-18.

The proposal includes some fancy financial footwork, including transfers from cash funds, a reduction of Hospital Provider Fee income to avoid TABOR refunds to taxpayers, an increase in the K-12 negative factor and reductions in General Fund transfers to transportation.

The governor’s plan also contains tweaks to rebalance the current 2016-17 budget, but those don’t include cuts in current school funding.

The key driver behind the plan is “a marked slowdown in overall General Fund tax revenue growth,” according to the governor’s letter to the Joint Budget Committee. “And recent forecasts reflect dampened expectations about the future.”

The letter continued, “The basic economic assumption underlying our request is for continued but modest economic expansion. Though this is the likeliest scenario, there are both upside and downside risks to this view. We are closely monitoring monthly revenue collections and if the December revenue projection weakens, additional balancing measures will be needed. Because downside risk remains a possibility, we are prioritizing restoring the General Fund reserve to 6.5 percent of appropriations. As we are seeing now, even slight deviations from expectations can result in using reserves. Thus, it is imperative to remain prepared ahead of an actual recession.”

Some of the governor’s ideas won’t be popular with the legislature. And some of his plans will require changes in state law – a dozen of them. If history is any indicator, the legislative budget that finally jells next spring will be significantly different, regardless of whether Democrats win the Senate or split partisan control continues at the Capitol.

But legislators face the same limitations as the governor does – the balanced-budget requirement, only modest revenue growth and earmarked spending requirements for certain programs.

About 90 percent of the budget is spent on just five program areas (in order of size) – K-12 education, Medicaid and related programs, public safety and courts, higher education and human services.

Here are key points from the governor’s plan.

2016-17 adjustments

Transfer of $31.7 million from severance tax funds to the general fund and reduction of the planned $158 million general fund transfer to the HUTF to $79 million. 

2017-18 overview

The budget proposed total funds spending of $28.5 billion, up 3.3 percent. General fund spending would be $10.9 bill, 3.7 percent.

The administration calculated there was a minimum $500 million gap between general fund revenues and required spending. The governor proposes a variety of mechanisms to close that gap. (Read on)

The budget would:

  • Transfer $79 million to the HUTF instead of $109 million
  • Reduce Hospital Provide Fee collections by $195 million to eliminate TABOR refunds of of the same amount
  • Transfer $46.9 million from something called the State Employee Reserve Fund (interesting acronym - SERF) to the general fund
  • Take $15 million from the BEST school construction fund and put it in the Public School Fund to reduce the need for general fund spending on K-12 GF by the same amount


Total program funding of $6.6 billion, up $200 million. Average per-pupil funding of $7,606, up 2.4 percent

“After reducing the negative factor by $180.8 million over the past four fiscal years, we are disappointed that fiscal circumstances require us to increase the negative factor, even modestly, in FY 2017-18. Our request increases the negative factor from $830.7 million in FY 2016-17 to $876.1 million for FY 2017-18.” (A year ago Hickenlooper proposed increasing the negative factor in the 2016-17 budget, but the JBC figures out a way to avoid that. It may not be so easy this time.)

Health Care Policy and Financing

$9 billion total funds, $2.8 billion general fund, both increases

The budget assumes a 7.1 percent rise in caseload

Public Safety/Courts

$847 million total funds, up 2.1 percent, and $759 general fund, up 1.6 percent

The budget assumes stable prison caseloads.

Higher education

$4.2 billion total funds and $898 million general fund, the latter up 3.1 percent

“With this modest General Fund increase, it is anticipated that tuition increases will average around 6.0 percent statewide, with variation amongst the institutions ranging from 5.0 percent to 7.7 percent.”

Human Services

$1.9 billion total funds, up 2.7 percent, and $831 million general fund, up 4.1 percent

Significant increases are requested for staffing in the Division of Youth Corrections (80 new FTE staff for security and 16 new FTE for 24-hour medical care), and for 58 more child welfare caseworkers. 

Dig into the details


- Todd Engdahl

Not just Coloradans are interested in Colorado politics.  Out of the 100 top donors to Colorado campaigns, 44 are from out of state, including 17 from the D.C. area.

The largest out-of-state contribution from a single source came from Altria, the former Phillip Morris Companies, of Richmond, Va., at $10.8 million to fight the cigarette tax, Amendment 72.  Health care enterprises support the amendment with contributions of $2 million from University of Colorado Health, the American Heart Association and the Colorado Hospital Association.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, a California-based maker of organic beauty products, is the largest corporate donor in favor of Amendment 70, the proposal that would raise the minimum wage.   The company donated $300,000 to Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, which has raised a total of $3.9 million.  Dr. Bronner’s gets the prize for best corporate name contributing to a Colorado initiative. The opposition group, Keep Colorado Working, has raised $1.5 million.

Second place for out-of-state donations goes to Anadarko Petroleum from Houston, Texas, at $8.1 million to support Amendment 71, the proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder to amend the constitution. 

Several other large energy companies have pitched in to support Amendment 71, enough to total more than $15.0 million from oil and gas. On the other side, the National Education Association contributed $500,000 in opposition.

Another large education contributor, Education Reform Now Advocacy from Brooklyn, N.Y., has dished out over $2 million to Raise the Bar, a political committee in support of Amendment 71, and for Democratic candidates who generally support education “reform.” Education Reform Now bundles contributions from across the country, including from Wall Street, and has given money to various Democratic candidates and campaigns.

Proposition 106, the assisted death proposal, has drummed up mostly local money.  On the pro side is the Compassion and Choices Action Network of Colorado at over $5.5 million. Top opponents are the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver at $2.4 million and the Diocese of Colorado Springs at $500,000.

Colorado for Coloradans, which opposes the state-run health-insurance plan proposed in Amendment 69, has put together many interests to gather $4.0 million to fight the initiative.

Altogether, almost 2,800 donors, mostly corporate or unions, have contributed $2,500 or more to various political committees to influence initiative and candidate elections.  In one respect they’re united: most committee names contain the words “Colorado” or “Coloradans.”  PEN

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