Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cynthia Coffman’s budget request torpedoed by politics

Feb. 17, 2017, by Joey Bunch, ColoradoPolitics.com

Supplemental budget bills usually are boring. Lawmakers check their phones. Reporters get coffee. Thursday’s round dripped with politics, vengeance and common sense, demonstrating politicians’ polite way of extending a middle finger.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman was on the receiving end of the morning maneuver on a supplemental appropriation the Senate had already passed and the process was one step away from signing the check.

Supplemental appropriations are extra money the legislature provides when state agencies are running short to carry them over until the next year’s budget kicks in. Supplementals are like payday loans from the taxpayer the government doesn’t have to pay back.

Coffman asked for $315,799 more to add a prosecutor and improve cybersecurity.

The House said no, and it wasn’t even close, 44-20.

There were some sore feelings on the left side of the aisle over Coffman’s lawsuit against Boulder County over its fracking moratorium, which she filed on Tuesday.

“It was strongly bipartisan so I can’t speak for everyone,” Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said in a text message right after the vote. “From my perspective, she should use her existing resources more wisely instead of suing a local government on behalf of a corporation.”

Coffman issued an afternoon statement.

“I can’t remember a time when our General Assembly decided to play politics with supplemental funding bills – especially when the politics had nothing to do with the substance of the supplemental funding request,” she stated. “Our supplemental appropriation dealt only with efforts to improve cyber security and assist the education department. It has literally nothing to do with the lawsuit in Boulder where I am simply fulfilling my obligation to enforce Supreme Court precedent. I hope they reconsider.”

Foote wasn’t moved by the response.

“My duty is to stand up for my constituents,” he texted after seeing Coffman’s statement. “They are getting sued by the attorney general on behalf oil and gas industry and that demands a response.”

Democrats were a little surprised by the Republican support.

Marianne Goodland of the Colorado Independent, who first reported the odd legislative alliance, pointed out that 25 of the House’s 28 Republicans voted against the request. That’s notable, because it brings attention to Coffman’s spending, as well as her clash with fracktivists and Democrats.

Coffman is one of the most-speculated-about names of potential Republican candidates for governor, led by State Treasurer Walker Stapleton and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, with a long list of state legislators and former legislators considering a run.

The timing is interesting, because big-time donors and endorsers are deciding now which candidates they might get behind in the Republican field. Political loyalties can be sacred bonds in the Capitol.

Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan told Goodland his vote against the bill was at least partly because the Attorney General’s Office jacked up the cost of a conservation easement tax credit and caused the bill he was sponsoring to fail in the House Finance Committee on Feb. 1.

Republican Rep. Paul Lundeen from Monument addressed the chamber before any of the 18 supplemental requests were heard Thursday.

“Not one more nickel until we prioritize and have a productive discussion on the priorities of the state budget,” he said.

House Republicans think the state could raise billions for transportation needs within the existing budget by making roads and bridges a priority over other public needs. More than likely, the 28 House Republicans will vote against any transportation proposal this session that includes a tax increase.

“The taxpayers of Colorado have given lawmakers a reasonable request, too,” Lundeen said. “They have asked us to prioritize the spending of state government. This, too, is a reasonable request.”

Lundeen said in a text exchange that he wasn’t talking specifically about Coffman.

“It’s about roads and bridges and the proper role of the state budget for me, not just the AG,” he wrote. “The apparatus of government grinds forward like a giant steamroller day after day. Occasionally there is a moment when we can speak up and make clear that the immediate will of the people is different than the grinding wheels of government. Today was one of those moments.

“Debate on supplemental appropriation bills yesterday and today provided an opportunity to call the General Assembly and governor to refocus our efforts on setting financial priorities on the biggest issues of our state budget — like roads and bridges.”