It's no surprise, nor improper, for Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to order up an opinion on the legislative plan to balance the state budget with surplus assets of Pinnacol Assurance. It is inaccurate to call the opinion a ruling, however, as The Denver Post did in its Saturday morning editions.
The opinion is just politics; how one plays the game. And, yes, Republican AG Suthers is trying to influence the Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly.
If Suthers can keep the Democrats from passing a law to take $500 million in employer-paid workers' comp insurance premiums from Pinnacol, the AG's office won't be forced to defend the law when some taxpaying or insurance-premium-paying Republican businessman or woman challenges it in court.
As The Post pointed out in its coverage, which started on its front page, the challenge to the Pinnacol law before it is even enacted echoes Suthers' challenge of a Ritter administration policy last year that allowed the state to collect more tax money from school property taxes. That law passed despite a negative Suthers opinion of it; it was challenged and upheld by the state Supreme Court; and the tax money that was collected helped fund Colorado schools.
The same result probably would be repeated in the Pinnacol situation.
Pinnacol is a quasi-government entity created by the state to offer employers low-cost workers' comp insurance and it has done such a good job of that it has built up a surplus of assets -- some might call the money surplus business taxes -- that serve to overprotect Pinnacol's ability to pay claims as well as serve as equity to support Pinnacol's ability to offer the low rates it charges private businesses.
Pro-business people naturally suggest the money should be kept by Pinnacol to enable it to continue the business tax breaks they get via the low insurance premiums.
Democrats who argue the money belongs to the state are essentially suggesting it be used for the common good of all Coloradans, not just to enhance the state's business environment.
Still, Suthers' opinion has weight and ought to be considered.
Democratic lawmakers, however, need not treat it like a ruling, and probably ought to do the same thing with it they did with the property-tax law: Pass it; get the governor to sign it, let the law be challenged, and then collect the money after the Colorado Supreme Court rules it's okay. Pinnacol might even have more of a surplus by the time that all happens, and new funds could help cushion the pre-set hit.
It may be that the Supreme Court could throw its own opinion into the legislative debate and save a lot of people a lot of wasted time.
But the Court's decisions can be just as political as the AG's, and, in politics, timing is everything.