Archive for the 'tax-rate freeze coverage' Category

Colorado Media Matters Critiques Tax Freeze

Saturday, December 15th, 2007

Colorado Media Matters pointed out various omissions in the coverage of the Independent Institute’s lawsuit opposing the Colorado state law freezing property tax rates in most of the state.

Colorado Media Matters noted that the Denver Post reported important facts that were left out by some other outlets. Colorado Media Matters noted:

“The Post reported hat the rate freeze is applicable only in the 175 (of 178) Colorado school districts that voted to waive restrictions on retaining and spending revenues mandated by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) provisions of the Colorado Constitution. The Post also reported that under the law, 34 districts will see lower mill levies and 38 others will see no change”

Reporters should be careful to note that property taxes will NOT go up everywhere in Colorado, as a result of the tax-rate freeze.

They should also note, whenever they report on partisan squabbling about the tax-rate freeze, that Republicans in the Colorado Senate passed a similar tax-rate freeze in 2004.

Caldara’s Tax-Freeze Joke

Friday, December 14th, 2007

For months, I’ve been bugging Jon Caldara to tell me when he was going to file his lawsuit challenging this year’s new law freezing the tax rate in most counties.


The law was passed to help straighten out Colorado’s state budget mess.

Caldara’s been threatening to file a lawsuit for months, milking media coverage along the way.


On Wed., I emailed him:


Hi Jon …• The end of the year is upon us, and I still don’t see a lawsuit filed by you regarding the tax-rate freeze. Have you changed your plans on this? If not, what’s up? As always, thanks for your reply, Jason

He replied with this on Thursday: “We decided not to file.”

Of course, this was just hours after he announced that his lawsuit was finally filed, so this was Caldara’s attempt at a joke.

My about-to-be-former colleague Matt Poundstone suggested that Caldara needs a nickname, ideally related to his over-exposure in the Colorado media. So we came up with these:

Jon “Interview Me” Caldara


Jon “Big PR” Caldara

Media Jon 

Jon “thinks-he’s-a-comedian” Caldara  Jon “I-should’ve-been…•a-comedian” Caldara Jon “Failed Cartoonist” Caldara  Fading Comedian Jon  Jon “B-grade Comedian” Caldara  

Jon “Comedian” Caldara


And then I collected these from other friends:

Jon “Windex Forehead” Caldara

Jon “Doug Bruce With A Goatee” Caldara

Jon “Toll Troll” Caldara

Jon “I Frighten Children” Caldara

Jon “The Dildo” Caldara (historical reference)




I asked Caldara what he thought of some of these nicknames, and he emailed his favorite: “failed comedian, successful adult film star Jon Caldara”  If you’ve got ideas, let me know.

Tax-freeze lawsuit to be filed by end of the month

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

I emailed Jon Caldara yesterday.

Hi Jon …•

You’re milking your threat of a tax-freeze lawsuit into significant media coverage. That’s a good PR tactic for you, but it’s bad for people like me who have better things to read about in the newspaper. For my blog or column, do you still plan to file a lawsuit? If so, when? By year’s end? Or after? Or have you already filed it?

As usual, he responded quickly:

The law suit (sic) is a go.  I expect it to be officially filed by the end of the month, unless I want to milk it some more 😉


Now, I want to know if Caldara is buying a suit to wear to law school? Or was he referring to the the lawsuit he’s been threatening to file?

Independence Institute: Loved and Embedded by Denver Media

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

In my column on Saturday, I argued that the Independence Institute, the self-described “free-market think tank,”  projects a disproportionately loud voice in the Colorado media.

The Golden-based organization plays a unique role in state politics compared to other local policy shops. It dedicates a large share of its resources to issue advocacy, communications and media. 

And as its impressive media presence demonstrates, II is quite effective at getting its message out.  By way of regular features in the press, television and appearances in news articles, II enjoys a status of being a newsmaker and conservative source for reporters.

The question for journalists, editors and television producers, however, is how to handle such a behemoth with an aggressive media strategy and ideological bent?

Here’s some more information about the Institute’s media profile.

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE STAFF EMBEDDED IN COLORADO MEDIANo organization on the left or right of the political spectrum has so many of its staffers doing part time media gigs on the side:President Jon Caldara hosts his own talk show on KOA radio and KBDI Channel 12. In addition, he subs for Mike Rosen on KOA.

Jessica Peck Corry, policy analyst for II, is part of the current crop of Denver Post Colorado Voices columnists, and she’s the “Diary of a Mad Voter” blogger on the Post’s new website.

Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, is an “On the Media”
columnist at the Rocky, as well as a regular guest on KBDI’s Colorado Inside Out.

Amy Oliver, operations director for II, has her own radio show on KFKA 1310, Greeley/Ft. Collins.

Undoubtedly, some left-leaning organizations wouldn’t want a media gig. They’d rather focus limited funds on lobbying and PR work that targets a narrow segment of the population. Being a host on KOA, for example, isn’t a wise use of time for the leaders of many nonprofit groups.

But surely at least some left-leaning organizations would jump at the chance to have one or more of the media platforms enjoyed by the Independence Institute.

KBDI President Wick Rowland told me he’d work with a group like the Bell Policy Center on a show, and the Bell spokeswoman Heather McGregor said her organization would produce some type of show if it had grant money.

“We’d like to be invited on Colorado Inside Out more often,” McGregor told me. “Wade [Buchanan] and Rich Jones have been on 4 or 5 times. There’s no cost to us.”


Here’s a list of op-ed placements by Independence Institute staff.

Staff Name and Position                                                                    Op-eds

Pamela Benigno, Director, Education Policy Center                               0

Linda Gorman  , Director, Health Care Policy Center                            0

Dave Kopel, Research Director                                                          18       

Randal O’Toole, Director, Center for the Am. Dream                           0

Jessica Peck Corry, Policy Analyst, Property Rights Project                  6

Ben DeGrow, Policy Analyst, Education Policy Center                          0

Marya  DeGrow, Research Associate, Ed. Policy Center                      0

Penn Pfiffner, Director, Fiscal Policy Center                                          0

Amy Oliver, Operations Director                                                          1

Jon Caldara, President                                                                          0

It doesn’t look like II staff places more op-eds in the dailies than the staff from comparable organizations, if you don’t count Dave Kopel, who writes bimonthly for the Rocky. Jessica Peck Corry has the temporary “Colorado Voices” position at the Post, accounting for three of her op-eds.

It could be worth analyzing placements by II “fellows,” like Jay Ambrose, whose op-eds are distributed by his former employer, Scripps Howard. He had six op-eds in the Rocky this year, on a variety of subjects.

To be fair, you’d have to compare op-eds placed by II fellows with those published by advisors to comparable left-leaning organizations. The results of such a comparison might not be all that meaningful, since unpaid advisors presumably have their own agenda.


Independence Institute is mentioned in staff-written news stories by the dailies more than any other comparable issue-advocacy group.

Group                                                              News               Post
Independence Institute                                    19                    19

Bell Policy Center                                          2                      8                     

ProgressNow and ProgressNowAction            5                      5

Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute                        4                      6

Focus on the Family                                       13                    15

Colorado Union of Taxpayers                          1                      1

Colorado Progressive   Coalition                      6                      7

Journalists turn to the Independence Institute for a wide variety of opinions, ranging from FasTracks to green subsidies.

In some cases, the II is in a “newsmaker” role when it’s quoted, but in most cases it’s not. By “newsmaker role” I mean II might be, for example, releasing a report or threatening a lawsuit. I did not assess whether the “news” that II was “making” was in fact newsworthy. But you can argue that in some cases the organization got more attention for its “news” than it deserved. For example, the II got repeated ink for threatening a lawsuit on the tax freeze, even though such a lawsuit hasn’t been filed.

Jon Caldara appears to be the dailies’ number-one favorite public policy activist. He was quoted in a total of 22 news articles this year in the dailies. As a newsmaker, he was quoted eight times.

Even if you deduct the instances when Caldara was quoted as a newsmaker, he was still quoted twice as much as any comparable activist, except James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who’s not really comparable to Caldara. I did not count a guy like Mason Tvert, of Safer, who’s a newsmaker on a very narrow issue.

Name                                                              News               Post    
Jon Caldara                                                      13                    9

John Andrews                                                   7                    0

Michael Huttner, ProgressNow                         1                    4

Rich Jones, Bell                                                1                      2

Wade Buchanan, Bell                                       0                      2

Kathy White, CO Fiscal Policy Inst.                 2                     1

Carol Hedges, CO Fiscal Policy Inst.               0                      2

James Dobson, Focus on the Family                 4                      5

Bill Vandenberg, CO Progressive Coalition      2                      4

Most of the Independence Institute’s views align with the fiscally conservative branch of the Republican Party. The center describes itself as “free market.” A smaller number of its views are left-leaning.

There may be fewer conservative public policy organizations, but there certainly are conservatives willing to talk to reporters any time of day or night.

Independence Institute doesn’t have a monopoly on articulate and conservative policy mavens.

In their media appearances, Caldara and other Independence Institute staff mix up their facts, as documented by Colorado Media Matters. Click here to see a summary of this.


When reporters mention the Independence Institute, they should identify it as “conservative,” “conservative-libertarian,” “free-market,” or something like that, so readers understand the dominant ideology of the outfit.

Sometimes the Independence Institute is properly described; other times it isn’t.

Liberal groups, like ProgressNow, seem to be labeled “liberal” or “progressive” more frequently, but I did not evaluate this methodically.


Colorado Media Matters has documented that reporters will not only quote Caldara, but do so uncritically. In its May report, CMM noted that Caldara was quoted by local media as comparing Gov. Bill Ritter’s mill levy freeze to “fiscal date rape.” But Caldara was not asked to explain this statement or prove its veracity. Caldara’s point was that the Colorado Legislature did not ask voters to sign off on the tax freeze, prior to approving it. But, in fact, local districts where the freeze will be applied had already approved it. And furthermore, the freeze isn’t a tax increase. Journalists reported Caldara’s sound bite, but did not point out that local districts already approved the tax change.


The big picture and the tax-rate freeze

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Colorado Media Matters noted that the Rocky, in reporting the higher-than-expected revenue from the property-tax-rate freeze, did not state that property taxes will actually go down in 49 districts.

But as Republicans roll out attacks on the tax-rate freeze, journalists need to keep the big picture in front of the public.

When the Republicans attack the property-tax-rate freeze, Reporters should ask how the GOP would solve the state school finance mess.

In this case, do Republicans favor repealing the tax-rate freeze, just because revenue may exceed expectations? And if so, what’s their solution?


What would Gallagher do?

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

City Auditor Dennis Gallagher felt compelled to put out a news release warning about higher taxes in the wake of the property tax-rate freeze and Denver’s bond package and tax increase to fund infrastructure improvements.

He told the Rocky he was just stating the facts, but what about the fact that without these tax adjustments, the state school fund goes bankrupt in 2011, and the ctiy’s infrastructure crumbles away.

Maybe Gallagher, with his historical involvement in limiting property taxes, thinks that the tax-rate freeze is regressive. Who knows what he thinks, because reporters haven’t asked him. It’s time they did.

I’d welcome a news release from Gallagher stating what he’d do to solve the state school fund mess and the city’s infrastructure problems.


Caldara still planning to sue

Friday, July 20th, 2007

The dailies have been silent on developments related to the property tax-rate freeze, signed into law by Ritter this year.

I heard a rumor that the Dick Wadhams’ had found that polling on the issue wasn’t looking as good as he hoped. I asked Jon Caldara in an email if this was true. He wrote:  

“Hadn’t heard that rumor.  I doubt it is true, but polling doesn’t matter about a legal question of constitutionality.”

Caldara also wrote me that his lawsuit to stop the freeze is still a go.

“We have retained Hale-Friesen to represent us,” he wrote.  “We are working out our legal strategy.  We plan on taking the time to do it right.”

Andrews’ again says he was duped

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Former Senate President John Andrews writes that I called him a liar in my column yesterday. In fact, I wrote that he’s either a liar or seriously confused. I didn’t suggest that he could be both, which may be closer to the truth. But there really could be some explanation.

We don’t know, because Andrews hasn’t explained how Sen. Norma Anderson used “sleight of hand” to trick the former Senate Prez and other Republicans into voting for the tax-rate freeze in 2004, when Republicans not only overwhelming supported it but also debated it. See post below.


2004 CO Senate Debate on Tax-Rate Freeze

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Dick Wadhams’ has proven himself to be a master at yucky campaigning. But Wadhams’ dream to be the next Karl Rove took a hit when the word “Maccaca” came out of the mouth of Virginia U.S, Senate candidate George Allen. Wadhams was Allen’s campaign manager, and Allen lost his Senate bid, thanks in part to his Maccaca line.

After the 2006 election, Wadhams came back to Colorado, where he became Chair of the State Republican Party. He’s been looking for slime to throw at Colorado Democrats. It seems that he believes he’s found some really good slime to nail them with.

He’s trying to use the Democrats’ efforts to clean up the state’s school finance mess against them in the next election. The Dems passed a law, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter on May 9, 2007, that freezes planned reductions in most property taxes statewide. If property taxes would have been reduced as planned, the state would have been forced by law (Amendment 23) to continue increasing funds for K-12 school funding, even though less and less money would have been collected from property taxes to pay for this. (The state school fund was projected to face a $100 million deficit by 2012.)

As a result, a larger and larger portion of K-12 school funding would have come from other state funds, depleting funding for other budget priorities, like higher education, healthcare, and more. Democrats have fixed this mess, for now, by freezing most property tax rates. But the Independence Institute says it will sue to stop the freeze, claiming that it must be approved by voters because it’s a tax increase. Dems counter that voters have already approved it. Now back to Wadhams. He’s licking his chops, according to a Rocky headline, because he’s planning to accuse the Dems in the next election of increasing taxes based on their support for the tax-rate freeze. Gov. Bill Ritter responded this way to the political heat. Denver’s news media has downplayed the fact that, in 2004, the Republican-controlled Senate approved the tax-rate freeze.

The Post reported that four current members of the Colorado Senate voted against the tax rate freeze this year, but voted for it in 2004. However, these Senators were not interviewed to explain their flip flop. Instead, the Post interviewed Sen. Andy McElhany, who explained the flip flop of his four Republican colleagues by saying that they were, at worst, confused. McElhany opposed the measure both in 2004 and this year.

Outside the Legislature, some high-profile Republicans support the tax-rate freeze. There’s this support, too. 

The News reported that former Sen. Norma Anderson was the Senate Republican who pushed the tax-rate freeze in 2004. Rep. Keith King was “instrumental,” according to the News, in removing the tax-rate freeze from the bill.

John Andrews was Senate President in 2004. He also voted for the tax-rate freeze in 2004. A Post editorial highlighted his flip flop. Today, Andrews blames Anderson for using “sleight of hand” to push the tax-rate freeze through the Senate. Andrews says that, thanks to Anderson, he cast an ill-informed vote for the freeze. This was reported here and here.

Anderson, who’s no longer in the Senate, told me that, in her experience, legislators pay attention when property taxes are under consideration by the Legislature.

And there’s evidence that, in fact, Senate Republicans were paying attention to the tax-rate freeze in 2004, despite Andrew’s claim that Anderson duped the Republicans.

The tax rate freeze was the subject of a raucous debate on April 7, 2004, in the Senate chamber featuring Sens. McElhany, Anderson, Ron Tupa, and Ron Teck.

Here’s the transcript:

April 7, 2004

9:15 amColorado SenatePresent …• 33Absent/Excused …• 2; Gordon, VeigaSenator Taylor is acting as Chairman. Sen. McElhany: Thank you, Mister Chairman. Yes, I would ask for a no vote on severed section 2. What’s happening here is that, and what you don’t have benefit of is the fiscal note from the Appropriations Committee [“They have it” is heard in background] Is it in this- It shows that the effect of this part of the amendment has the effect of freezing the mill levy where it is right now on property tax assessments across the state. And when-. What happens when that mill levy freezes then as -. The way it works now, as these assessments go up, in order to stay within the Constitutional limits, as assessments go up, the mill levy drops. And if you adopt this portion, it freezes the mill levy. And when you freeze the mill levy, then, if you look at your fiscal note, what that does it will cost property tax payers an additional $18 million dollars the first year. And then, after that, as property values increase that becomes more and more dramatic, amounting to potentially hundreds of millions of dollars over a five- to ten-year period.Sen. Anderson is saying that this is not an increase. It’s just eliminating a decrease. And it depends on the property tax classification and the property tax jurisdiction and what’s happening with the value of your own property, depending on what happens.

But if you freeze this, what it does is it saves the state money at the expense of people paying property taxes. Now that’s pure and simple. So that’s what you’re voting on if you vote in favor of this, and I’d ask for a no vote.

Chairman: Somehow, something tells me, Sen. Anderson has a different discussion on this.

Sen. Anderson: Sen. McElhany, you don’t understand it at all because you weren’t here in …94 when we put this in the statute. What we put in the statute, and one of the big reasons-. There’s two reasons that we’ve transferred costs from local government to the state, from the school district to the state. There’s two reasons. One is Gallaghar, which you love to talk about assessements, and that’s wonderful, and this has absolutely nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing. The other is, we put in 94 a constant reduction of mill levy into the statute, and if you stop reducing the mill levy, you stop shifting the cost of school finance to the state. So what we’ve done over the years, we’ve gone from 40 percent of funding from the state to 62 percent. And what I’m trying to do is stop at the 60 or 62 percent, thank you very much. And stop dropping that mill levy when it should be paid at the local level where they have the schools.

Sen. McElhany: Sen. Anderson, I think we agree on one thing. And what this amendment would do is it stops the mill levy from dropping. Then, as property values go up, you’re gonna pay more in taxes because your mill levy doesn’t drop any more.

Sen. Anderson: You’re going to pay more in taxes when the value goes up anyhow, whether this is here or not, Representative McElhany.

Chairman: (Corrects Sen. Anderson’s use of the word “Representative”) Senator McElhany.

(background laughing and “woooo.”)

Sen. McElhany: (laughing) Thank you, Representative Anderson.

(laughing in background)

Chairman: You’re both out of order. Sen. McEhlhany. [Because they referred to each other as “Representative,” not “Senator.”]

(more laughing in background)

Sen. McElhany: (laughing) I would just ask for a no vote.

(More laughter)

Sen. Ron Tupa: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Sen. McElhany. That’s vintage dragon lady from the House, as you well know. I was going to ask, how does your back side feel?

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I’m glad someone else is taking some heat from Sen. Anderson. It’s not just me. But on this one, Sen. McElhany, Sen. Anderson is correct. I think what she’s trying to do is stop that perpetual shifting of costs from the local share of school finance to the state share. And what she’s saying is it’s inherently inequitable what’s continuing to happen, that the entire state is paying more and more and the locals are paying less and less. And Sen. Anderson, I think, is trying to slow if not stop that from occurring. And so somebody’s going to end up paying for school finance. What you’re saying is that is should be and it’s appropriate for the state to pick up more of the tab. And what I think what a lot of us feel is it’s actually more appropriate for the locals to pay more of their costs to get their kids through school. So, I will be supporting the Anderson, I think it’s the Committee report on this. You’re asking for a no vote and I will be asking for a yes vote on that section that you’re striking.

Sen. Anderson: And Sen. McElhany, I apologize. I got carried away. I remember you in the House. We debated there.

Sen. McElhany: Thank you Senator Anderson. Apology is not necessary. I just enjoy re-living some of these experiences, although it would be just as enjoyable not reliving them. And anyway, I would say the shift from the local level to the state level is for all kinds of different reasons. The fact that the state has partly chosen and partly been forced to fund schools at a higher and higher level, whereas the local jurisdictions and school districts have been inhibited for a whole lot of different reasons from doing that, one reason being that at some point we take their property tax away from them and equalize it across the state. But that goes on and on, and what this simply does is the local property tax payer is going to end up paying more money if you vote for this part of the amendment, and I’d ask for a no vote and we can move on.

Sen. Anderson. And I ask for a yes vote because what it does is stop the cost shift and it also does not increase. It stops the decrease.

Sen. Teck. Mr. Chairman, I was a little concerned I was stepping in between Senators McElhany and Anderson there. I was afraid I might get hit. I just wanted to add my support to Sen. Anderson on this and ask for an aye vote on this issue.

Chairman: Further discussion on the severed section two. Seeing no further discussion. All those in favor say aye (ayes heard in background). Those opposed no. (one no heard in background.)

This debate ended in a voice vote, which is in accordance with the normal rules for a Second Reading.

In the end, the School Finance Bill (HB04-1397), which contained the tax-rate freeze amendment, passed the Senate by a recorded vote of 29-6, with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats. Andrews, as Senate President, voted for the bill. Those who voted against it were: Veiga, Tapia, McElhany, Lamborn, Grossman, Groff.