Sonnenberg opposes popular vote bill
By Marianne Goodland
State Capitol Correspondent
The past week has been intense at the Colorado General Assembly, with Republican lawmakers holding fast to the saying that “the majority has its way and the minority has its say.”
That was proven in a long debate recently over whether Colorado should join the “National Popular Vote” movement.
Senate Bill 42, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mike Foote of Lafayette, would allow Colorado’s Electoral College votes to go to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. The bill would make Colorado part of a multi-state agreement that already has 11 states plus Washington, D.C. — with a combined 172 electoral votes — as members. Once the agreement has drawn in 270 electoral votes, the minimum number required to elect a president, the agreement goes into effect. It does not require Congressional approval.
The 11 states already signed onto the agreement are mostly Democratic-leaning. Colorado would be the first out of the Mountain West to join the compact.
Another nine states, with a combined total of almost 80 Electoral College votes, have passed the agreement in at least one chamber of that state’s legislature. Most of those states are Republican-leaning.
Foote pointed out during a recent Senate debate that the current system forces candidates to visit only a handful of states, like Ohio, and ignore voters in others. In Colorado in 2016, he said, 1.2 million voters cast ballots for President Trump, but all of Colorado’s electoral vote went to his Democratic opponent, “giving the illusion that 100 percent of Coloradans voted for the Democratic candidate. Every vote in a national popular vote is equal and every vote matters.”
But the movement got a chilly reception from Republican senators, led by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.
In that debate, and during the final vote debate on January 29, Sonnenberg pointed out that had National Popular Vote been in place in the 1968 election, Richard Nixon would have won states like Alabama and Mississippi, which instead voted overwhelmingly for former Gov. George Wallace. Nixon got just 13 to 14 percent in those states, he said but under a National Popular Vote would have gotten all of the electoral college votes.
“Is that representing the people of those states? Why cede power that we have? Our forefathers got it right. They saw what was coming,” what would happen to rural America votes.
“Every vote does matter, even those that are different from mine,” Sonnenberg said. “Just because you are the losing side of a vote doesn’t mean your vote doesn’t matter. It probably matters more.”
“If we don’t have the Electoral College our vote won’t matter, either.”
Senate Bill 42 passed the Senate on a party-line 19 to 16 vote and is now awaiting action in the Colorado House.
In other news at the Capitol:
A measure to reduce the state’s individual and corporate income tax, which appeared to have the support of Gov. Jared Polis, failed to win over Senate Democrats in the Senate Finance Committee.
Sonnenberg’s Senate Bill 55 would reduce the state income tax rate from 4.63 percent to 4.49 percent. It also would lower the alternative minimum tax, which is paid by high income earners, by 0.4 percent.
Sonnenberg told the finance committee on January 29 that with a billion-dollar surplus, the state can afford the $280 million in tax revenue that would be reduced under his bill. But Democrats on the committee said that the measure’s permanent reduction could cause headaches if and when the state heads into another recession. Economists, both at the state and national level, say the state is overdue for a recession.
Polis has made an income tax rate reduction a part of his agenda for 2019, mentioning it in his January 10 State of the State address as well as on the campaign trail in 2018. He tweeted a thank-you to Sonnenberg and House sponsor Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells on January 17 for introducing the bill.
“I look forward to working with you to achieve even lower rate than 4.49 percent, coming up w/agreeable ways to reduce tax expenditures to ensure revenue neutrality,” he tweeted. But Sonnenberg told this reporter he never heard from Polis about the bill other than in the tweet.
The bill granting a reprieve to rural restaurants that double as area liquor stores is nearing the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 28 won unanimous support from the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on Tuesday and is awaiting what’s expected to be a modest debate in the House. Republican Rep. Hugh McKean of Loveland and Democratic Rep. Julie McCluskie of Dillon are the measure’s House sponsors.
Senate Bill 28 would allow those who hold both on-premise and off-premise licenses to continue to sell beer (one is for when you’re in the restaurant, the other is for take-home beer sales). The bill intends to address an unintended consequence from the 2018 beer law which would have required restaurants – like the Last Stand in Weldona, for example – to choose which license to hold. The 2019 measure allows an exception for businesses in certain rural communities.
Kate Greenberg of Durango has now won full Senate approval for her nomination as the state’s commissioner of agriculture. Next on the agenda: the confirmation vote for Dan Gibbs of Breckinridge as executive director of the Department of Natural Resources.
But it was all in jest. The concerns were from former state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray, a long-time friend of Gibbs, who is also a former state senator. The two teamed up in 2016 as the public faces of Amendment 71, aka Raise the Bar, the constitutional amendment that raised the percentage for voter approval of constitutional amendments from 50 percent to 55 percent.
The National Western Stock Show wrapped up on January 27, and the stock show’s annual Jr. Livestock Auction benefitted from the generosity of lawmakers and those they could cajole into helping with funds for purchasing a Colorado animal.
The General Assembly raised $15,245, according to Sonnenberg, who led efforts in the state Senate. They bought a steer from Trista Lebsack of Bennet. They also used some of their funds to team up with the Future Farmers of America Foundation, and purchased a lamb from Chloe Crider of Eaton. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the National Western’s scholarship fund. The rest goes to the exhibitor, usually for college expenses.