Bull semen debate gets sticky at Colorado statehouse

In January, we introduced you to Matt Arnold of ClearTheBenchColorado.org, who thinks four of the state's Supreme Court justices shouldn't be retained because of the way they've twisted the spirit of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, better known as the TABOR amendment. Our headline begins: "Throw the Bums Off the Colorado Supreme Court..."

Well, on Friday, Arnold got pretty much the same treatment during testimony before the state finance committee. As Arnold tells it, Representative Joel Judd, a Denver Democrat, prematurely cut off his comments about a bill to lift tax exemptions for farmers and ranchers on a slew of items, including bull semen, gaveling testimony to a close and telling Arnold he could leave.

Arnold's response? "I said, and this is as close to an exact quote as I can remember, 'You really are an arrogant SOB,'" he recalls, adding, "At least I was polite in calling him an SOB."

Legislators at the state capitol spent much of last week hearing testimony on a slew of tax matters, including one targeting candy; learn more about objections to that measure by clicking here. Sessions ran into the wee hours of Wednesday and continued on Thursday and Friday.

Arnold had hoped to speak his piece about what he calls "these dirty dozen tax bills" that first day, but by the time he arrived, a throng of commenters and protesters had already signed up. (Although some observers have suggested that most of these people were lobbyists, Arnold thinks only about 10 percent of them on each side fit that description, with the rest being average taxpayers.) As a result, he got bumped -- so he made plans to return on Friday.

The first bill he signed up to testify about was the farmers-and-ranchers measure, "which talks about lifting the tax exemptions on pesticides, animal feed and even bull semen," Arnold says. (Read his take on it here.) About this last subject, he says the members of the finance committee "all joked about that. But obviously, it's, so to speak, an insertion into the production process. That's where little cows come from, but you don't normally tax the ingredients. You tax the end product. So this is really an additional tax that's going to hit Colorado ranchers and farmers pretty hard."

While trying to make this point, however, "Representative Judd repeatedly interrupted me," Arnold maintains. "He wouldn't let me finish my sentences and rudely jumped in -- and eventually, he gaveled me down, saying, 'Testimony is closed. There will be no further testimony. You can leave now.'"

As Arnold was rising to leave, he "let slip" his SOB line, to which Judd "said something like, 'Get out of here.' It was basically, 'Don't let the door hit your butt on the way out.'"

Nonetheless, Arnold wasn't expelled from the statehouse. Indeed, he got a chance to testify before the finance committee later in the day, this time about "a bill that would put a cap on the amount of losses that could be claimed by businesses" -- which he believes is unconstitutional even in light of what he sees as a TABOR loophole created by the Colorado Supreme Court, and therefore a likely target of litigation. And this time around, he was able to make the points he wanted to make without rancor from either side.

"Representative Cheri Gerou [a Republican] issued an apology," he points out. "She said, 'I'm sorry for the treatment at the hands of the committee.' She was quite gracious."

Not that Arnold believes those pushing to remove the tax exemptions were listening.

"They're trying to ram these things through as rapidly as they can -- trying to limit public testimony and public input," he allows. "It's pretty rapid fire.

"This is not a partisan issue," Arnold continues, noting that some Democrats voted against some measures on Friday. "This is a constitutional issue."

Moreover, he suggests that the brusque manner in which he was handled during his first remarks "was by no means extraordinary. I saw one person brought to tears by their treatment." In his view, Representative Judd is just one legislator who "has forgotten both the 'civil' and the 'servant' part of his job description."

And to think, it all started over bull semen.

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