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Big pension bill complicates session’s final days

Colorado Capitol

A bill introduced in the legislature Tuesday would allow a state agency to sell bonds whose proceeds would be used to shore up the pension system that covers all of the state’s teachers and many higher education employees.

House Bill 15-1388, which has bipartisan sponsorship, would authorize the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to issue bonds to support the state and school divisions of the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and accelerate elimination of the unfunded liabilities in those divisions. The pension fund would in turn make payments to CHFA so the bonds could be paid off.

For the plan to go into effect, the governor and state treasurer would have to get a court ruling that issuing such bonds is constitutional, and those two officials also would have to certify that the program would in fact accelerate the elimination of PERA’s liabilities in those divisions.

The housing and finance authority is a semi-autonomous state agency that is primarily been involved in financing of affordable housing and business development.

The state pension system and proposals to tinker with it are complicated issues, and it will be interesting to see how the legislature deals with that with only six working days left in the legislative session.

Sale of bonds to buttress public employee pension systems is a complex and controversial issue. See this Denver Post story for background on the proposal, and see this Chalkbeat Colorado story for information about PERA.

House Education chair out for the session

Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora and chair of the Senate Education Committee, is taking medical leave for the rest of the 2015 session.

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, announced that on the House floor Tuesday morning and read a letter for Buckner (read that here).

The nature of Buckner’s medical problems haven’t been publicly disclosed, but he has been using a portable oxygen tank at the Capitol for the last several weeks. He was absent from the House all of last week.

The committee will be chaired for the remainder of the session by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, who has been vice chair. Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, was appointed to the panel to maintain the Democrats’ 6-5 majority. The widely respected Hamner was chair of House Education last session but gave the post up to join the Joint Budget Committee.

Buckner and Pettersen were both new to committee leadership this session, and committee proceedings have been rocky at times.

While House leadership was able to fill Buckner’s vacancy on House Education, they can’t do that in the full chamber. His absence leaves the Democrats with 33 votes in the House – the bare majority in the 65-member chamber.

School finance study dies mysterious death

The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday voted 4-3 to kill House Bill 15-1334, which would have established a two-year legislative study committee to examine the state’s school funding system and recommend changes to the full legislature.

The idea appeared to have had wide support – it passed the House 47-16. And Legislature Council, a joint committee that signs off on between-sessions study committees, last Friday approved the bill 18-0.

But there were quiet critics both among statehouse Republicans and some education interest groups, and somebody pulled some strings to get the bill killed. Nobody was saying Tuesday who pulled whose strings.

Hamner, a main proponent of the idea, attributed the bill’s death to “politics” but wasn’t more specific.

House expends a lot of rhetoric on doomed bill

The House Tuesday voted 33-31 Tuesday to pass House Bill 15-1346, a measure that seeks to crack down on Colorado companies that minimize their state taxes by shifting some revenues to offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

Extra revenues gained from the change, estimated by proponents at up to $150 million a year, would be earmarked for K-12. The Colorado Education Association is a big backer of the plan.

Representatives had long and partisan debates over the bill both Monday and Tuesday. All that discussion probably was wasted. When the bill was introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate later in the day, it was assigned the State Affairs Committee, widely known as the “kill committee.”

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