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Legislative Year: 2016 Change

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In the grand total of many things political, Democrats did well in Colorado in 2016, going against the fly-over state trend.  Even so, at the state level, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The state House in 2017 will be somewhat more Democratic, but the state Senate breaks once again at 18-17, advantage Republicans.

Statewide, unaffiliated voters broke toward Democrats at about 4.5 percent.  With party registrations in November at almost even between Democrats and Republicans, both parties needed unaffiliated voters to give them more votes, and Democrats won that battle decisively.

Congressional race results show that nothing is going to change in those seats, unless incumbents retire, until redistricting in 2021.

Diane Mitsch-Busch, HD26

Democrats in the state House of Representatives pounded Republicans.  In most contested seats, Democrats won well above their percentage of registered voters.  Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush,  punched 18.5 percent of votes by registration above her diminutive size.  Tammy Story, who lost the HD25 race, made that contest much closer than expected, showing how Democrats are gradually taking control of Jefferson County.  

The state Senate story continues to show how Adams County is changing, and the results follow the same candidate, former state Rep. Jenise May.  In 2014, May lost HD30 to JoAnn Windholz, a right-right Republican.  This year, May lost her race for SD25 to Republican state Rep. Kevin Priola, with Priola gaining 11 percent more votes than registration breakdown predicts.

The Windholz race for HD30 went to the Democrats as Dafna Michaelson won, but Michaelson didn’t win by the Democratic share of registered voters.  Parts of Adams County may parallel the economic environment of the Midwest with some blue collar Democrats switching their votes without switching their registration. 

Pueblo County is another fly-over state trend follower.  Clinton lost Pueblo by .5 percent, significantly underperforming US Senator Michael Bennet, who won by 9.5 percent.  Rep. Clarice Navarro on the east side of Pueblo county hit very high approval numbers.  Her district has grown in Republican registration since she was elected and she won by 15.5 percent.

Some districts just can’t make up their minds whom they want for legislator.  In  2014, former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger lost SD19 to state Sen. Laura Woods.  This year she recaptured the seat.  SD19 has had three state Senators since 2013 when Evie Hudak resigned under pressure from the 2nd amendment voters in the district.

HD59 in Durango is an ancient Greek dramedy with the seat bouncing back and forth between Rep. J. Paul Brown-R and the McLachlan family-D.  Paul had the seat in 2010.  He lost it to former Rep. Mike McLachlan in 2012 by a quarter inch.  McLachlan lost to Paul in 2014 by a quarter inch.  Now Paul lost the seat again, this time to Barbara McLachlan, Mike McLachlan’s wife.  She won by a 1.46 percent victory landslide.

SD19 in turmoil since 2012

North Jeffco is a microcosm for the nation.  Laura Woods and Rachel Zenzinger hold opposite views on many issues, including gun control, public education policy, and health care.  Their campaign wasn’t pretty.  That district has gone through maximum election turmoil, including the recall of school board candidate Julie Williams in 2015.  Somehow, though, the neighborhoods remain neighborhoods.  PEN 

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.

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