My Last Opening Day

My Last Opening Day

Today is opening day for my 8th and final legislative session as a State Representative. 

As I look back on the blur of the last seven years, I can hardly believe how many projects I have been a part of. It’s been the honor of a lifetime And yet there is just an unbelievable amount of work that remains.

This year, many pressing priorities rapidly rise to the top of the list. The high cost of living in Colorado is putting incredible pressure on many families. Gun violence and black market fentanyl are plaguing our neighborhoods. Our air quality, especially in Denver metro, is bad–we are still in severe not-attainment for federal ground-level ozone requirements, and programs on air toxics and environmental justice established by legislation in recent years are just starting to get up and running. And TABOR’s stranglehold on the state budget continues to impair our ability to adequately fund K-12, higher education, behavioral health, and numerous other priorities.

But aren’t we finally paying off the BS factor* for K-12 funding this year, you might ask?

It’s complicated. The short answer is yes, we’re finally digging ourselves out of the K-12 funding hole that started with the Great Recession in 2009.

But that doesn’t mean we’re “fully funding” education, and it’s not because of the state budget–it’s entirely because of increased local property tax revenues, which have also been the subject of many conversations because of the financial pressure they put on low-to-middle income families and small businesses.

Public education advocates, while celebrating the progress, are also quick to point out that paying off the BS factor just gets us back to 1989 funding levels. That’s a pretty far cry from “fully funding.” And it’s not even close to enough to reduce class sizes to maximize the benefit for students or to pay teachers like the professionals they are and give them the means to live in the communities where they teach.

So yes, I’ll join celebrations of finally paying off the BS factor. But I’ll also keep talking about how much more work we have to do.

It’s important to remember that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. It is fiction to believe we can both slash taxes and increase education funding at the same time. The fundament problem is that we must grapple with which taxpayers need tax breaks, and which can afford to pay more of their fair share. 

That is something that is incredibly difficult to do with property tax law, since high property values are not necessarily correlated with high incomes. Continuing my work on property taxes last year, I’m serving this year on a Property Tax Commission that includes four legislators and numerous local government leaders to try to work through this conundrum together. We’re grappling with the balance between the need to fund schools, fire districts, libraries, and child welfare offices with the economic pressures caused by high property taxes and rents, and we’re grappling with questions of state versus local control. I’m hopeful, but it’s a long road ahead.

I’ll also be spending a lot of time this session working on the legislation we built on the Substance Use Disorders interim committee. Our four bills, concerning prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery, will all require considerable work to get across the finish line. But there are many meaningful ideas contained in these four bills that I believe will continue Colorado’s progress and help us finally turn the corner on the overdose crisis.

Last but not least, I’m very excited about a bill that will be introduced today to expand access to high-quality primary care. I have worked on numerous health care reforms during my seven years, and over that time, I’ve increasingly gravitated towards two main themes. First, we need to keep moving away from fee-for-service payment models and toward value-based payment models. I truly believe these kinds of policies are the most transformative things a state can do without the federal government taking action.

Second, we need to invest in building integrated and coordinated care models that begin with a restoration of the role of primary care. It has long been understood that increasing investments in primary and preventive care not only deliver better health outcomes and health equity, but that they also drive down long-term costs by treating conditions early. And yet changes in the market–narrow insurance networks, hospital system consolidation, and others–have moved us in the wrong direction.

My bill will require every Colorado-regulated insurance company to include every primary care provider in every one of their insurance networks, provided that the PCP meets high quality standards and accepts advanced value based payments.

When people changes jobs and insurance plans, they often lose their primary care team, along with a critical doctor-patient relationship that improves health outcomes. Let’s change that.


*The Budget Stabilization Factor is an element of the K-12 school funding formula that accounts for how far short we’re falling of the requirements of Amendment 23, a voter-approved Constitutional amendment from 2000.

During the Great Recession, the 2009 Joint Budget Committee was faced with an impossible collision of two competing Constitutional amendments: the aforementioned Amdt 23, and TABOR. To balance the budget, they were forced to determine which provision to violate. One was slightly less unconstitutional than the other, due to a highly technical interpretation of the law.

The result has been 14 years of failing to meet A23’s K-12 funding targets.

Learn more here.

Dreams of Peace

In 2006, Neil Young released an album called “Living With War.” On the title track, his lyrics include, “I’m living with war in my heart everyday” and “when the night falls, I pray for peace, try to remember peace.”

Those lyrics struck a chord for me. I had not joined protests against the war in Iraq that had started three years earlier. It was too easy to just think of the war as an event that was far away and beyond my ability to influence.

But the idea of “living with war in my heart every day” was a reminder of how easily we all accept this brutal reality. 

I did a little research before Christmas to get a sense of how many ongoing violent conflicts were taking place in our world. The answer was devastating. There are seven conflicts that caused at least 10,000 deaths last year, another 14 that caused between 1,000 and 9,999 deaths, and another 21 that caused 100-999 deaths.

As a State Legislator, I have rarely commented on foreign policy. But the brutal attack by Hamas on the people of Israel on October 7th thrust the issue of war into the forefront. I have received many emails from constituents and have had many conversations with my Jewish and Palestinian colleagues and friends. 

While I can’t pretend to fully understand the dynamics of the conflict in Gaza, I can see quite clearly how much pain and fear are being experienced by our friends and neighbors right now. Antisemitism and Islamophobia are both surging in the US, and there are stories every day about acts of violence being committed against people in our communities. People I know have lost friends and family in Israel and Gaza.

The issue is incredibly fraught. I have been asked to sign onto statements calling for a ceasefire, and I have so far declined to do so because I know these statements have increased fear and pain among my Jewish friends and constituents. And yet my decision not to sign on has caused fear and pain among my Palestinian and Arab friends and constituents. Kyra and I have had many conversations about it, and while she shares my concerns, she also feels so strongly about the horrifying number of Palestinian women and children whose lives have been lost that she opted to sign onto a letter calling for a bilateral ceasefire. 

What Hamas did on October 7th was unconscionable. It was a terrorist act that took the lives of 1200 innocent Israelis and took 250 hostages.

While it is true that the people of Gaza have been suffering for a long time, this is no justification for the taking of innocent lives. Violence only begets more violence, as we have seen in this world time and time again. 

It is understandable to me that Israel feels it must eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to its people. The Israeli people cannot feel safe if Hamas is left to pursue another brutal attack next year.

While I have stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, I can’t help believing there must be a better way for the Netanyahu government to be pursuing this goal. In under three months, over 21,000 Palestinians have been killed, largely due to airstrikes. It is hard to get data about how many of these were civilians versus militants, but the Israeli government released a statistic that suggests that 2/3 of the deaths were civilians. And separate accounts indicate that 8,000 of the deaths were children.

I very much hope that the Israeli government puts an end to these airstrikes and focuses their efforts on more targeted strategies to go after the leadership of Hamas. And I hope to see the Biden Administration and our Congressional Delegation maintain pressure on the Netanyahu government to take this more humane approach.

Not that war can every really be humane. There are not enough tears in all the world for the loss of innocent life in Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, North Africa, Mexico, Ethiopia, Sudan, and so many other places.

There are no easy answers, either. It’s too simple to just call for an end to all war. But if there is to be war, every effort must be taken to preserve every innocent life.

And we must invest so much more in creating conditions for peace across the world. No human being should go without food, water, and shelter. No community should be left exposed to the spread of disease without adequate health care resources. There is more than enough wealth in the world to support these basic dignities. But when it comes to political will, we too often come up short.

Even in our own country, we don’t invest nearly enough in creating conditions for peace. Poverty, homelessness, overdose, gun violence… sometimes it’s too much to bear.

As we enter another new year, may we not let it leave our hearts that we are indeed living with war every day, may we dream of peace, and may we all find ways, whether in our work or in our own daily lives, of creating a better world.

Chris

Economic Security

Economic Security

Friends and neighbors,

When I logged on this morning to start writing this email, I was disturbed to find out I had failed to hit “send” on the previous email I had written on November 12th announcing the special session and the cancellation of the November 18th town hall. So I apologize that this is the first email I’m sending you about the special session that concluded on Monday.

Here’s the short version.

The Governor called us into a special session to do everything we could to put dollars in pockets this coming spring when people would start facing higher property tax bills due to home value growth. We succeeded, passing a very meaningful package of legislation.

Here’s the long version.

In the election that concluded on November 7th, voters soundly rejected Proposition HH which would have cut next year’s property tax increases in half for the average homeowner while ensuring school districts, fire departments, and child welfare offices received “backfill” funding from the state to help make up for their lost property tax revenues. The state would have been able to afford this by changing the way we calculate the annual TABOR cap, allowing the state to retain an additional 1% of tax revenue every year that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers.

While I supported HH, I also understand why voters did not. It was incredibly complicated and controversial, pairing multiple ideas that had varying support across the political spectrum. Some voted no because they were worried that property tax reductions would inevitably harm our schools, Some voted no because they didn’t want to see a reduction in future TABOR refunds. Some voted no because local governments were not getting enough backfill funding.

Among the many lessons I learned is this one: keep it simple.

Another is that we need to grapple with the tough question of who needs a property tax cut, and who does not. For my part, I believe there are many in our state who are not struggling to pay their taxes, but I also believe there are many low and middle income Coloradans and small businesses who do need help keeping up with these costs.

Yet another is that it doesn’t make sense for the state to be making these decisions on behalf of the local governments who already have the authority to lower their property taxes, either temporarily or permanently, if their judgment is that they can afford to take in less revenue.

These were the thoughts going through my head when I joined a small group of legislative leaders in meeting with Governor Polis on the morning of November 8th to discuss the possibility of a special session.

As you know, the legislature’s annual regular session runs from January to May. But the Governor also has the authority to call us into a special session to tackle urgent issues that arise from time to time.

The urgent issue this time was that any changes to the income tax system would need to be made by December 1st, and any changes to the property tax system would need to give our county assessors and treasurers enough time to complete their work before sending out property tax bills in early January. 

To hit those targets, the legislature would need to complete its work before Thanksgiving. After discussing the possibility with members of the Democratic caucuses and Republican leaders, we set a start date of November 17th. That gave us all of eight days to get ready. 

The Governor gets to outline the scope of what kind of legislation is be permitted in a special session, and I’m grateful that he gave us broad flexibility to address numerous aspects of economic security from high property taxes to high rents to food insecurity. He also asked us to build a structure for a longer-term conversation about longer-term solutions.

After numerous meetings with local governments, education groups, fiscal policy organizations, and caucus members, as well as attempted negotiations with Republican leadership, we came up with a package of legislation. And it was quite a balancing act.

On the main property tax reduction bill, the Republicans wanted huge cuts to be paid for by cutting into the state’s reserve. Democratic leaders thought that was irresponsible, because it’s taken some time to build up that reserve and we’re going to need it next time there’s a recession. But their biggest request was that we not use any of the TABOR surplus to pay for property tax cuts.

We decided to move to the middle, and agreed to this request. As such, we were left with only $200M with which to backfill revenue losses for our public schools, fire departments, and other local governments. That meant that the property tax cuts had to be smaller than those in Prop HH. 

The good news is that all of our local governments have the ability to pick up where we left off. In some cases, they may keep their mill levies high because they’ve been saving up for a new firetruck or pay raises for their employees. But in other cases, I have heard from many local governments who say they intend to reduce their mill levies, which will deliver additional property tax cuts to both homeowners and businesses.

In order to make sure the state was doing its part, we complemented the property tax reduction legislation with several policies to focus supports on low-to-middle-income Colorado families, including:

  • Doubling the state earned income tax credit (EITC), which targets dollars to working families. The table below shows the federal tax credits, and the state credits will now be 50% of these amounts next year (compared to 25% last year):

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  • Flattening the distribution of TABOR refunds. Under current law, the highest-income taxpayers would get refunds three times as large as the lowest-income taxpayers. Because of our legislation, everyone gets $800. Simple.
  • Investing $30M in rental assistance programs.
  • Investing $3M of state dollars to draw $3M of federal dollars to pay for summer meals for low-income kids.
  • Funding a new staff member in the Treasurer’s office to process applications for the property tax deferral program. This is a critical backstop that helps those most in need defer a chunk of unpaid property tax bills to become a lien on their property that will be paid off at the time of sale.
  • And for the longer-term, we established a commission with numerous local government voices to meet in January and build toward a consensus for a more sustainable solution.

You may not be able to tell from just reading this outline, but this is a big, huge deal. This means hundreds of dollars (and in many cases, thousands) in the pockets of the folks who are struggling most right now to keep up with the high cost of living.

And I couldn’t be more proud of the work we all did together to make it happen.

There is more work ahead. Local governments need to take the lead on property taxes moving forward, and the state must continue to work on the fairness of our income and sales tax systems. Did you know that, despite the “flat” income tax, lower-income Coloradans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than higher-income Coloradans? That’s not fair, and it contributes to our broken system in which the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, no matter how hard they work. 

And at the very same time, we’re still underfunding our K-12 and higher education systems, our behavioral health system, and many other state services that Colorado families depend on. 

But we’re making progress. While I have less than a year remaining as your State Representative, I intend to spend every minute of it working as hard as I can to make life better for the people of House District 30 and for all of Colorado.

Yours,
Chris deGruy Kennedy

Colorado’s special session on property taxes delivered bigger benefits for low-income families

Colorado’s special session on property taxes delivered bigger benefits for low-income families

By Andrew Kenney (November 20, 2023)

Colorado lawmakers on Monday concluded a special legislative session that was focused on tax relief for homeowners — but when the smoke cleared and the last calculations were completed, it was clear that Democrats’ tax policy reforms had gone far beyond property taxes.

The package of new laws will indeed deliver about $430 million of tax cuts for homeowners across the state. Gov. Jared Polis signed the tax cut and other bills Monday evening.

Among them was an even bigger tax benefits package, totaling nearly $500 million, for lower-income Coloradans. They will get larger TABOR refunds and expanded tax credits for the working poor. Those changes will be paid for, in effect, by the state’s wealthiest residents.

“I’m proud to provide immediate property tax relief for all Coloradans and help those who need it the most,” Polis said in a statement. “Thanks to these actions, more hardworking people can stay in the communities they love or grew up in. I appreciate the legislature’s thoughtful work to save people money and their ability to pass laws during this urgent special session before Thanksgiving to provide property tax relief.”

For most Democrats, it was something to celebrate — a change that would make the state’s tax system more progressive, at least for the next year.

“Our state’s tax code is broken. It’s an upside-down tax code,” said Rep. Javier Mabrey, a Democrat. “This matters. It helps renters. It helps homeowners who are retired.”

Republicans, meanwhile, decried the policy changes as a socialist-style wealth transfer, and they claimed it was counter to the will of voters, who had just rejected Proposition HH, containing some of the same ideas.

“The people who pay little or nothing in taxes get the majority of the benefits and the real taxpayers got little or nothing,” said Sen. Larry Liston, a Republican. (Practically everyone pays taxes in some form, especially sales and other taxes.)

“This is taking money from one person to another, this is legislating money from one person to another,” said Rep. Ken deGraaf, a Republican.

How the money’s flowing

Democrats made three big changes to the tax system for tax year 2023:

  • They granted equal TABOR refunds to all taxpayers next year
  • They expanded the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit
  • They reduced property tax rates 

First, there’s a change to how the state pays TABOR refunds next year. Typically, those refunds are paid out in tiers. The highest-income Coloradans get substantially higher refunds since they generally paid higher tax bills in the first place.

But next year, the state instead will pay “flat” refunds, dividing up TABOR refunds equally among tax filers. 

That’s something that was done once before, in 2022. 

This time, every refund will be worth about $800 — a net gain of more than $200 for those in the lowest income tier, and a loss of $1,000 for those in the highest tier. (You can double those amounts for households with two tax filers.)

The second change is the expansion of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which targets working low-income families. The change will result in $183 million being paid to that group.

Biggest benefits for lower-income households

The changes will have the strongest effects on the two ends of the income scale. 

Looking at the changes to TABOR refunds and tax credits, the majority of the special session’s benefits will go to those households making less than about $51,000. They stand to gain anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, thanks to the larger TABOR refunds and the earned-income credit. (Much of the variability comes from the earned income credit; its expansion will be worth little to some families, but it could pay more than $1,800 extra to some of the poorest working families if they have several children.)

Altogether, that lowest income tier, which includes more than 1.3 million tax filers, will see roughly $474 million in new tax benefits altogether. About $300 million of that sum will come from their larger TABOR refunds. The rest will come from the expansion of the earned income credit.

Meanwhile, the TABOR changes will have negative impacts on those earning more than $104,000. They could lose out on anywhere from $100 to $2,000 of refunds, depending on their income.

The greatest collective costs will fall on the highest income tier, a group of about 280,000 households that make more than $309,000. Altogether, the TABOR-related changes will cost them nearly $300 million — making up a majority of the cost impact.

“It takes from the rich and gives to the poor.  In the short term, we put a little more money in those lower-income folks’ pockets, but we are not implementing this policy in a vacuum,” said Rep. Gabe Evans, a Republican. He argued that higher taxes on the wealthy would drive them out of the state and lead to an economic collapse that hurts poor people.

Property tax cuts

However, that’s not the end of the math. Some of those wealthier families may still come out neutral or ahead since they also will be getting a property tax discount from the special session.

The legislature ultimately decided to grant every homeowner a $55,000 discount on the assessed value of their homes. They also lowered the statewide assessment rate — which determines how much of the remaining value will be taxed — from 6.765 percent to 6.7 percent.

Those changes apply to the current tax year, for which taxes are paid next year.

Thanks to lower property tax rates, a homeowner with a half-million dollar house might save a couple hundred dollars, while a house worth $5 million might save about $500. However, those savings will only cancel out a portion of next year’s tax bill increases, which are driven by higher property values.

Rep. Emily Sirota, a Democrat, said the package offered benefits for all.

“I think we did something for everyone here and that Coloradans can feel good about,” said Sirota.

The changes to property tax rates will have effects on the budgets of local governments and schools. The state will give about $145 million to schools, bringing them back up to the revenue they would have received under the old property tax rates. And it will also provide about $54 million of “backfill” money to local governments and other local tax districts.

That should be enough to fully replace property tax dollars for areas that have seen their property tax revenue grow slower than 10 percent in the current reassessment cycle — mostly rural areas. It also will fully replace affected funding for all ambulance districts and fire districts, lawmakers said.

Other, faster-growing local governments will get either partial backfill or no backfill. The theory is that big cities like Denver will still come out ahead — even with lower property tax rates, they’ll still see significant gains in revenue due to the growth of the tax base.

Republicans said the property cuts were too small; they had proposed a much larger reduction package, which would have been paid for by spending some of the state’s fiscal reserves.

“Just like we have been doing since the end of the 2023 session, we’ve been here fighting for Coloradans, fighting to ensure that we save you money and that we don’t overburden you with taxes,” said Sen. Barb Kirkmeyer, a Republican.

The final vote on part of the package was briefly delayed after Democratic Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver sought to amend one bill to prevent any funds for food benefits being spent on products from occupied Middle East territories including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

She then moved into the gallery with a group protesting Israel’s bombing campaign against Palestinians and attempted to prevent Republican Rep. Ron Weinberg from defending Israel from the well of the chamber, calling out that he was “out of order” because he was not speaking directly to the contents of the bill. The situation was defused and Epps left the chamber.

Renter relief and grocery help

Democrats also dedicated $30 million to a relief program for renters who are in financial trouble. And, separately, they enrolled the state in a federal program that could offer $35 million to help lower-income families buy groceries next summer— a change that will cost the state about $7 million to administer.

The tax and TABOR changes are only effective for one year. The debate over the state’s long-term approach to taxes is already well underway. 

The special session included the formation of a new panel to draft property tax proposals for next year. Meanwhile, several groups already are proposing their own reforms to the property tax system that could appear on the Nov. 2024 ballot.

Read more at CPR.org

For further reading, check out these pieces at The Colorado Sun, Denver Post, and Colorado Politics.

Property Tax Special Session

Property Tax Special Session

Happy Sunday Morning!

I’m writing with three updates today:

  1. Don’t forget to sign up to testify in support of the state placing an air toxics monitoring station in Lakewood where there have been concerns about unsafe levels of ethylene oxide. More details here.
  2. We are cancelling our Central Jeffco Town Hall meeting on Nov. 18th, because…
  3. Governor Polis is calling the General Assembly into a Special Session starting November 17th.

If you haven’t already read the news, I’ll take a moment to explain what’s going on with the special session.

As you know, the legislature’s annual regular session runs from January to May. But the Governor also has the authority to call us into a special session to tackle urgent issues that arise from time to time.

In this case, it’s all about property taxes.

In the election that concluded last Tuesday, voters soundly rejected Proposition HH which would have cut next year’s property tax increases in half for the average homeowner while ensuring school districts, fire departments, and child welfare offices received “backfill” funding from the state to help make up for their lost property tax revenues. The state would have been able to afford this by changing the way we calculate the annual TABOR cap, allowing the state to retain an additional 1% of tax revenue every year that otherwise would have been refunded to taxpayers.

While I supported HH, I also understand why voters did not. It was incredibly complicated and controversial, pairing multiple ideas that had varying support across the political spectrum. Some voted no because they were worried that property tax reductions would inevitably harm our schools, Some voted no because they didn’t want to see a reduction in future TABOR refunds. Some voted no because local governments were not getting enough backfill funding.

Among the many lessons I learned is this one: keep it simple.

Another is that we need to grapple with the tough question of who needs a property tax cut, and who does not. For my part, I believe there are many in our state who are not struggling to pay their taxes, but I also believe there are many low and middle income Coloradans and small businesses who do need help keeping up with these costs.

But because HH failed, property taxes are set to go up next year. In Jeffco, we’re estimating they’ll go up by an average of 40%. And that’s why Governor Polis is convening a special session. We have just a few weeks before county assessors have to finalize property tax bills for next year. Just because Plan A didn’t work out doesn’t mean that the state doesn’t have a responsibility to tackle this issue while there’s still time.

I am playing a fairly significant role, along with several other legislators, in developing Plan B. I spent much of last week in meetings with local government leaders from our school districts, counties, cities, fire departments, and other special districts to start building toward an alternative.

Without adjusting the TABOR cap (which we can’t do without voter approval), there’s no way the property tax reductions can be as large as they were in HH, or as broadly distributed. So the goal is to target the cuts that we can afford to the taxpayers who need help the most, as well as to utilize other economic security policies like the earned income tax credit, renter assistance programs, and a fairer distribution of TABOR refunds.

What are your priorities for this challenging moment? Reply to this email to let me know. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts as I continue to engage with stakeholders to develop a responsible solution for the people of Colorado.

Your representative (for just one more year),
Chris deGruy Kennedy

Air Toxics Update

Air Toxics Update

Today I wanted to share some important updates on regulating toxic air contaminants in our state. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is currently working to implement a new program to monitor, identify, and regulate these hazardous pollutants based on legislation I sponsored in 2022. 

Read on for more details about the program timeline, upcoming community engagement opportunities, and the latest from the EPA.


Exposure to toxic air contaminants continues to be a significant concern in Colorado. Toxic air contaminants (TACs) — including chemicals like benzene, hydrogen cyanide, chromium, and ethylene oxide — are emitted from industrial facilities across the state. These pollutants can cause cancer or serious health impacts such as breathing difficulty, nausea, birth defects, or even death. While there are regulations related to greenhouse gases and ground-level ozone, many hazardous air pollutants remain largely unregulated.

That’s why I ran HB22-1244, also referred to as the 2022 Air Toxics Act, to create a program that regulates TACs, reduces emissions, improves air quality, and protects the health of our communities.

As part of this program, TACs will be: 

Reported: The Air Toxic Emissions Reporting Program requires some sources of pollutants to submit annual reports to CDPHE. These reports will be available to the public.

Monitored: The Toxic Air Contaminant Monitoring Program will set up 6 long-term monitoring sites across the state. These sites will measure ambient levels of benzene, formaldehyde, ethylene oxide, and dozens of other air toxics.

Identified: Up to five priority air contaminants will be identified. This will include feedback from the scientific community.

Regulated: The division will establish health-based standards and emission controls for identified priority toxic air contaminants. This will require the biggest polluters to install new technologies to reduce their negative impacts on nearby communities.

The Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) is currently working to implement the program, so I wanted to provide some information on this process and an opportunity to provide feedback. 


Opportunity for Public Engagement

The Division is currently seeking input to help inform the location of the six monitoring sites. Priority will be given to sites within disproportionately impacted (DI) communities, and include both urban and rural areas. 

Two virtual community outreach sessions are coming up in the next few months. Use these as an opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback, and let them know why a monitoring site is needed in your community. 

Here are the dates and links to register: 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023, 6:00-8:00 pm

Saturday, December 9, 2023, 10:00 am-12 p.m.


Air Toxics Program Timeline

The table below outlines the implementation timeline for the Toxic Air Contaminant Monitoring Program. 

October 1, 2022Air Pollution Control Division (APCD) posted an initial list of covered TACs. This list was revised in June 2023 and you can view it here
January 1, 2024 Monitoring program of TACs begins; first 3 monitoring sites established.
June 30, 2024Owners and operators of major and synthetic minor sources begin submitting annual toxic emissions reports to CDPHE.
April 30, 2025 Commission adopts rules identifying 5 priority TACs.
July 1, 2025 Final 3 monitoring sites established.
October 1, 2025 Division prepares a report summarizing the findings of the monitoring program.
December 31, 2025Needs Assessment for Air Permitting Program.
April 30, 2026 Establishment of Health Based Standards and Controls for Priority TACs.
September 30, 2029AQCC reviews priority TAC list and determines whether to add additional TACs and associated health-based standards.

For more information on Air Toxics, check out CDPHE’s webpage.  

You can also subscribe for updates here


Latest Updates from the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a proposal that would revise the Air Emissions Reporting Requirements rule, which requires states to report emissions of common air pollutants, to include air toxics. While most states voluntarily report some air toxics emissions data to EPA now, that reporting is not consistent nationwide.

The proposed rule would require about 130,000 facilities to report their air toxics emissions directly to the EPA. States would also have the option to collect air toxics data from industries and submit it to the EPA, subject to the Agency’s approval. To make things easier for small businesses, certain small businesses would only need to report the total emissions of each air toxic, instead of providing more detailed information.

You can read the full proposal here and provide public comment here. Submissions will be accepted until November 17th, 2023.

Vote Local!

October is here! As the season of mowing the lawn turns to the season of raking leaves, I thought it was time for me to send out my annual newsletter about this November’s election.

The odd-year ballots are when most school boards and municipalities across Colorado hold their elections. In addition, statewide ballot measures that interact with TABOR are allowed to be placed on an odd-year ballot, and there are two of those this year.

More on that below, but first, the key election details:

  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th
  • Ballots will be mailed out to every registered active voter starting October 16th. Ballots can be mailed back or taken to a drop box or vote center, but must be returned by 7:00pm on 11/7.
  • In-person vote centers open on October 30th. If you haven’t registered online, you can register at any of these locations in your home county and cast your ballot on the same day. You can also get a replacement ballot or vote on accessible equipment in these locations.

You can get more info about voting in Jeffco here (or if you live elsewhere in Colorado, click here).


Alright, so what’s on the ballot? Let me start with the local candidates.

Two of the five Jeffco School Board seats are up, and I’m excited to be supporting Michelle Applegate and Erin Kenworthy. These two individuals have shown their deep commitment to Jeffco kids, and they know that the best way to support our kids is by supporting our amazing Jeffco teachers. While these candidates must live in one of the five districts, both races will be voted on by the voters of the entire county.

In the City of Lakewood, I’m supporting candidates who will advocate for more affordable housing using smart growth strategies that consider the impact on our environment and climate. When run well, cities can be engines of opportunity for their residents as well as comfortable, safe, healthy, and fun places to live. That’s why I’m supporting Wendi Strom for Mayor, Glenda Sinks for Ward 1, Isabel Cruz for Ward 2, Roger Low for Ward 3, Dave Rein for Ward 4, and Jacob LaBure for Ward 5.

In the City of Edgewater, there are mayoral and city council races on the ballot. Current Mayor John Beltrone has done an excellent job, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him and some of the members of council I’ve gotten to know. That said, Mayor Beltrone isn’t running for reelection and Edgewater has only been in my district for a year, so I don’t feel equipped to weigh in on the election. But if you live in Edgewater, do some googling and answer your door when candidates come knocking to introduce themselves!

That’s it for school boards and cities that overlap with the district I represent, but if you live elsewhere, make sure to do your research and vote! These are some of the least glamorous elected positions but can be incredibly impactful on our communities.

Now what about those statewide ballot measures? Well, first, make sure to read your Blue Book. That’s where you’ll get the detailed nonpartisan analysis that will help you understand the dimensions of some very complex policies.

I’ll be voting yes on both Proposition HH and Proposition II, and I’ll tell you why.

Prop HH – Governing is a balancing act. While I’ve been a vocal advocate for TABOR reform and making the wealthy pay their fair share, there’s no denying the challenges that come with the massive increases in property values that are driving the average 40% property tax increases next year. Lower income Coloradans, seniors, and small businesses will all struggle to pay these property tax bills.

At the same time, our school districts, fire districts, and child welfare offices are struggling to hire and retain enough staff to do their jobs. That’s why fake solutions like Initiative 50 (which may appear on the 2024 ballot) don’t actually solve the problem. Capping growth at 4% may seem reasonable at first blush, but if you’ve heard what I’ve heard from our local fire chief, you’d know that this kind of cap would be a crushing blow to the local services we all depend on.

Prop HH cuts the residential property tax increase in half, saving the average Coloradan $600 per year. And it will save businesses money too. The state will backfill a large share of the local government revenue losses from the TABOR surplus, which is money already paid by taxpayers at the recently-lowered income tax rate of 4.4% that exceeds the artificial cap established by TABOR. By raising this cap 1%, we can restore lost revenues to local districts and even side aside $20M a year for rental assistance programs.

There’s a lot more to it, but the key point is that Prop HH is a thoughtful, responsible approach to reducing the increase in property tax bills that won’t undermine our schools, fire districts, or child welfare offices like Initiative 50 would. I hope you join me in voting yes.

Prop II – Remember that time Colorado voters approved new taxes on cigarettes, vapes, and other tobacco/nicotine products to fund early childhood education programs? Me too. It was called Proposition EE, and it passed with 68% support in 2020.

Since the passage of EE, this new tax ended up generating more revenue than was estimated. Great news, right? Well… kind of. 

Because of a quirk of TABOR, the state can’t keep all the revenue without asking the voters if they’re sure they meant it when they voted yes on EE. If II doesn’t pass, the state will have to refund dollars to tobacco companies rather than investing them in early childhood education.

So join me in saying, “Yes, I’m sure!” and vote yes on II.

If this feels familiar, it’s because we had to do the exact same thing for marijuana taxes a few years ago when the actual tax revenue exceeded the estimates.

—–

As you can see, this November’s election is a big deal. Email me your questions and I’ll do my best to answer.

And thanks for being a voter!

Chris

P.S. If you want to take your understanding to the next level, I always find that the Bell Policy Center has the best analysis of fiscal ballot measures. Read their analyses on Prop HH and Prop II.

Colorado wants to base its next overdose prevention centers bill on an untested Rhode Island law

Colorado wants to base its next overdose prevention centers bill on an untested Rhode Island law

The centers, also called harm-reduction or safe-use sites, are where people can use illegal drugs and, if necessary, be revived from an overdose by trained staff

By Elliott Wenzler (September 20, 2023) 

Colorado lawmakers plan to use an untested policy from Rhode Island as the model for a 2024 bill they are drafting that would pave the way for so-called overdose prevention centers in the state. 

The centers, sometimes called harm-reduction or safe-use sites, are intended to be a place where people can use illegal drugs and, if necessary, be revived from an overdose by trained staff. The sites are also meant to provide counseling and access to substance-abuse treatment services.

Earlier this year, the Colorado legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, rejected a bill that would have let local governments authorize the centers to operate in their community. In August, some of the same lawmakers who supported that measure — several of whom sit on the legislature’s Opioid and Other Substance Abuse Disorders Study Committee — voted to try again in 2024 by drafting a new bill for next year’s lawmaking session, which begins in January and lasts 120 days. 

This time, they say they will tweak the legislation to require more state control.

Colorado state Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, chair of the interim opioid committee and a supporter of the policy, said during a virtual forum last week he wants the new bill to focus on the Rhode Island policy in order to address some of the concerns of people who opposed this year’s Colorado effort. 

Rhode Island’s legislature passed a bill in 2021 to create a two-year pilot program testing out the sites, also called “harm reduction centers.” But the first site won’t open until sometime next year.

“I think that the main reason we were gravitating a little bit towards the Rhode Island model is just because it has more robust state oversight to pair with the local control,” the Lakewood Democrat said last week during a virtual public meeting with Rep. Elisabeth Epps, D-Denver, and Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, two members of the committee who are helping him with the draft. 

DeGruy Kennedy highlighted how Rhode Island’s model created a nine-person advisory committee to help draft regulations around overdose prevention centers.

The committee in Rhode Island consists of:

  • the state attorney general or their designee 
  • three medical representatives, with one specializing in addiction 
  • A current or former law enforcement officer
  • a person with a substance use disorder
  • someone working in overdose prevention
  • someone who has suffered from an overdose or a family member of someone who died from an overdose
  • a representative from the state’s league of cities and towns

DeGruy Kennedy said he also likes that Rhode Island’s legislation was endorsed by the American Medical Association. The Rhode Island centers will be required to provide “necessary health care professionals to prevent overdose” and will have referrals for counseling and medical treatments, according to the bill.

With the help of the advisory committee, the director of the Rhode Island public health department creates the regulations for the program. The sites must be approved by the city they are located in. 

Colorado’s draft bill would also create a pilot program, but likely for longer than two years, Kennedy said. 

“We have heard concerns from committee members about making sure that whatever we do is harmonious with the work that law enforcement is doing on distribution crimes in the city at large,” deGruy Kennedy said at the forum. “That voice on an advisory committee was something that we thought was a smart way to include law enforcement voices and cover the concerns that there could be unintended consequences with regards to crime and drug distribution in surrounding areas.”

Law enforcement members gave their perspective to the committee in early August during a three-hour discussion on the topic — the first indicator that the bill may be coming back. 

During that meeting, Epps, who has said she supports working toward abolishing police, said she could support policing of drug distribution and dealing.

“I see a role — don’t tell anybody I said this — I see a role for law enforcement in dealing with … this crisis,” she said.

Epps was a prime sponsor of the bill that failed this year.

While Epps and other lawmakers who supported that bill seem to be in favor of the new effort, proponents would have to persuade skeptics in their own party — likely including the governor — to come on board. Another prominent skeptic is state Sen. Kyle Mullica, a Thornton Democrat who sits on the Opioid and Other Substance Abuse Disorders Study Committee. 

Mullica cast one of the deciding votes shelving the 2023 overdose prevention centers bill, but then in August, on the interim committee, he also cast the deciding vote to allow the 2024 version to be drafted. 

“I’ll be honest with you and transparent: I’m not convinced that this policy is the most effective policy for us to do,” he said during a committee hearing. “But I do believe that it’s a conversation that we should be having and I’m not afraid of that conversation — even if I do have concerns.”

Mullica said he wanted to join Epps, Priola and deGruy Kennedy in drafting the measure. 

While Mullica said he’s not sure he will ever be able to support a bill allowing overdose-prevention centers, he said being part of the bill-drafting process will mean he can try to get some of his concerns addressed. That includes what he feels is a lack of data around overdose prevention centers, the fact that they’ve been used in cities with much denser populations than Denver and how to police around the sites.

The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee will hear public comment on the 2024 draft on Sept. 27. Nonpartisan legislative staff will then have a week to make any changes and create a fiscal note before the full committee votes on whether to advance the bill to the Legislative Services Committee for further consideration. 

If the Legislative Services Committee advances the bill, it would be introduced in January and go through the legislative process. If the Legislative Services Committee votes against advancing the measure, it could still be brought during next year’s lawmaking term.

The Democratic proponents of the proposal are unlikely to get any support from Republicans, who have been universally opposed to the idea in recent years.

Rep. Ryan Armagost, a Berthoud Republican on the  Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee, said during the August committee hearing that he still thinks authorizing overdose prevention centers is a bad idea. “What might work in one city isn’t (necessarily) going to work throughout Colorado,” he told the committee before a vote to draft the 2024 bill was taken.

The overdose prevention centers measure was one of five drafts the interim committee decided to pursue in August. Support for drafting the other four measures — which would deal with opioid abuse prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery — was unanimous.

Read more at ColoradoSun.com

For additional reading, check out this article by ColoradoPolitics.

Facing new drug reality, Colorado lawmakers reconvene opioid committee for first time in 4 years

Facing new drug reality, Colorado lawmakers reconvene opioid committee for first time in 4 years

The committee last met just as fentanyl was emerging and before COVID-19. It now faces a transformed overdose crisis.

By Seth Klamann (July 5, 2023)

The legislative committee tasked with helping to guide Colorado’s response to substance use has reconvened for the first time in four years to face a drastically changed drug landscape, a worsened overdose crisis and a series of worrisome data points about the state’s patchwork treatment system.

The Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders Study Committee — featuring six Democrats and four Republicans from the state legislature — met for the first time Thursday and will meet again over the coming months with the goal of forwarding potential bills to the full General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.

The group had met for three straight years through 2019, but COVID-19’s emergence derailed its schedule. The committee returns now not only near the peak of the state’s drug crisis, but also amid internal divisions within the legislature about how to address the issue.

In what amounted to a state of the state’s drug use, the committee’s 10 members were presented at a meeting last week with the enormous and complex problem facing them: Just under 1,800 people fatally overdosed in Colorado last year, a still-too-high plateau after three years of marked increases.

Fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid, has strengthened its grip on the broader drug supply, making other substances — like methamphetamine and cocaine — far riskier for users. As a result, fatal overdoses involving fentanyl have quadrupled in the past four years, spiking from 222 in 2019 to 920 last year, according to state data.

More young people and people of color are dying, and data presented at Thursday’s meeting showed significant gaps in treatment for both populations.

“We are making progress,” Rob Valuck, a University of Colorado pharmacy professor and the executive director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, told lawmakers. “People think, ‘Well it’s just getting worse and there is no progress.’ Not true. But the ground is moving under us. Potency of substances is growing. COVID certainly didn’t help — it didn’t help anything. … So we’re fighting all these things, but we still have to do a lot more.”

The good news, Valuck and others said, is that a large group of Colorado agencies, nonprofits and officials are collaborating to find solutions. Representatives from four state agencies testified about their role in combating the crisis: the state departments for public health and health care policy and financing, along with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the new Behavioral Health Administration. Public health officials have become increasingly involved in pushing a harm-reduction approach, too, which the state has begun to embrace — to a point.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have not coalesced around a path forward. While legislators in 2019 de-felonized low-level possession of several drugs, including fentanyl, a sweeping bill passed last year tightened penalties for fentanyl and led to bitter fights about the state’s approach. A bill this year to study the costs of the drug war passed, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jared Polis. The House advanced another bill that would’ve allowed safe drug-use sites to open in willing Colorado cities. The state Senate then narrowly approved a different measure that would’ve tightened penalties for drug dealers. Each chamber then killed the other’s bill.

The consortium also showed lawmakers the results of surveys it had sent to health care providers, people in recovery from substance use, policymakers and government officials. Those responses showed support for harm reduction, prevention and treatment approaches. But there was far less satisfaction with the steps the state has taken with criminal justice and recovery policies. Criminal justice in particular scored the lowest (law enforcement officials are not listed as having participated in the survey).

The debate around approach — should the state lead with public health or criminal justice — is likely to continue. Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat and the committee’s chair, has said one of his priorities is to further study safe-use sites with an eye toward bringing another bill next year. The agendas for future committee meetings have yet to be set.

Sen. Kevin Priola and Rep. Elisabeth Epps, both Democrats, sponsored the safe-use site bill and serve on the committee. So, too, does Sen. Kyle Mullica, a Thornton Democrat who voted against the safe-use bill and backed the criminal penalty measure. Rep. Mike Lynch, the top Republican in the House and another supporter of the penalty measure, also sits on the committee.

Safe-use sites will not be the only issue the lawmakers sift through this summer and fall. New resources have become available for the state and the committee to leverage that weren’t available when the committee last met in 2019. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of settlement funding, gained from lawsuits against opioid makers and pharmacies, is rolling into the state. The newly launched Behavioral Health Administration is tasked with helping to address substance use here. Data collection, a key part of understanding the crisis, has improved, and more details will emerge as legislative-directed reports are issued in the coming years.

Much of the settlement money is being dispersed to individual regions and counties. Some will be spent on various forms of treatment, though the sums are still too small to stand up new facilities or permanent programs. Valuck said that treatment options in Colorado have improved in recent years. But they still fall short.

“It used to be that… 80% to 85% of people who needed treatment could not get it, 10 years ago when we started this work,” he said. “That number is much lower now — maybe 60%. But still — that’s better than most states, but still more than half of people who have a use disorder and need treatment cannot access that treatment. It’s still a long way to go.”

That’s particularly true for people of color and young people, as well as those living in rural areas. Valuck and the consortium’s director, Jose Esquibel, showed lawmakers data that just one out of five opioid treatment facilities in Colorado accepts patients under 18. Fewer — if any — options are available to young patients who need more intensive care, especially those without financial resources.

One map, showing the parts of the metro area with opioid treatment offerings, showed just one facility in southeast Adams County, which has a high proportion of Black residents. Similarly diverse parts of north Denver, eastern Arapahoe County and Aurora also lacked options.

Meanwhile, overdose rates among communities of color have risen amid fentanyl’s emergence, a shift from the previous two waves of the opioid crisis — driven first by prescription drugs then heroin — that impacted white Americans more heavily. Data presented last week showed that Native American and Black Medicaid beneficiaries in Colorado died from opioids at far higher rates than their white peers.

“There’s something not right that, in those communities, there is not easy access to opioid-use-disorder treatment,” Esquibel said. “Now, we are working with the state departments and others to figure out how to respond. But we’re going to continue to see these deaths and high impacts in these communities if we don’t help them access treatment as well.”

Read more at DenverPost.com

For further reading, check out this piece at ColoradoTimesRecorder.com

In case you missed it, here are some other news stories from the end of the 2023 legislative session.

In case you missed it, here are some other news stories from the end of the 2023 legislative session.


Colorado legislators aim to reduce energy bill prices, but Xcel’s top exec says they’ve …

The Business Journals

Colorado voters would be asked to approve Democrats’ 10-year property tax relief plan
Colorado Newsline

Weld County could get hit with a legal challenge for not complying with a 2021 redistricting law
Greeley Tribune

Opinion: Coloradans are tired of high energy bills. Democrats have a plan to help
The Denver Post

Colo. Gov. Proposes Property Tax Cut Ballot Measure – Law360 Tax Authority
Law360

In deal for property tax relief, Democrats look again to make TABOR refunds equal
The Denver Post

Colorado could pay equal TABOR refunds next year — $661 a piece — but only if voters …
Colorado Public Radio

In deal for property tax relief, Democrats look again to make TABOR refunds equal
Loveland Reporter-Herald

(Opinion) Steve Fenberg, Lisa Cutter, Chris deGruy & Matt Martinez: Coloradans …
Greeley Tribune

In major last-minute course correction, Colorado Democrats move to issue $2 billion in flat …
The Colorado Sun

In deal for property tax relief, Democrats look again to make TABOR refunds equal
The Fort Morgan Times

Colorado House passes flat TABOR refund rate in effort to ease huge spike in property taxes
Real Vail

Democrats tie in renters to property tax, TABOR refund proposal
The Denver Post

To get equal TABOR refunds, Colorado voters have to OK Dems’ property tax plan
9News

Colorado Democrats move to issue $2 billion in flat-rate taxpayer refund checks
The Durango Herald

Colorado taxpayers could receive flat-rate TABOR refund checks
Colorado Newsline

Colorado Democrats pass proposal seeking to curb costs of utility bills
Colorado Politics

Bill meant to curb utility-bill volatility awaits Colorado governor’s signature
Colorado Newsline

Colorado lawmakers want a property tax return of $661 per homeowner for $2.37 billion
Blogging Big Blue

Bill meant to curb utility-bill volatility awaits Colorado governor’s signature
Kiowa County Press

Op-ed: Protecting consumers, tackling high utility bills | Arvadapress.com
Arvada Press

Colo. Lawmakers Send Property Tax Cut To Ballot – Law360
Law360

Governor Polis signs bills into law to provide real property tax relief to Coloradans
The Longmont Leader

Colorado hospitals will have to hand over more financial information under two new laws
Colorado Public Radio

Advocates applaud new Colorado eating disorder bills, despite stripped down scope
Colorado Newsline