After legislators adjourned the 120-day legislative session Wednesday night, they convened at Stoney’s Bar & Grill in downtown Denver. Gov. John Hickenlooper made the rounds with a message: Don’t make any vacation plans for the rest of May.
He told reporters Thursday he’s going to think about it through the weekend before deciding if he will call lawmakers back to Denver to work some more on transportation, funding the state energy office, health care policy and rural broadband internet, outcomes from the session that Hickenlooper called disappointing.
“With a special session you have a little more time and maybe bills can be assigned to a place where they can get a fair hearing, a public hearing,” the governor said.
“Then the media, therefore the entire state, can see exactly who’s saying what.”
An omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the session relies on existing state revenue. Transportation would get about $1.9 billion over the next 20 years. But from that, $500 million would go to rural infrastructure and $200 million to mass transit.
About $1.1 billion — parceled out by yearly budgeting — would go for “other” transportation needs, including clogged interstates that have driven most of the conversation to make massive new investments in the state’s transportation system.
Hickenlooper said that’s not nearly enough against $9 billion in identified needs, and eventually the state’s traffic jams are going to start hurting the state’s robust economy.
Asked by Colorado Politics what he would ask lawmakers to do differently, Hickenlooper suggested taking another look at sales taxes, but not the high 0.62 percent (on top of the state’s existing 2.9 percent), but something more reasonable might pass with voters in November.
“Let’s do it!” Sandra Hagen Solin of the business coalition Fix Colorado Roads said in a text message after the Hickenlooper’s meeting with reporters. “Let’s finish the conversation. Let’s find the middle ground on a proposal to fund our most pressing corridors that can be supported in both chambers and can secure a favorable vote by the voters.”
Legislative leaders shared a message for the governor: What’s the point?
“If he wants a tax hike, is there a legislature that’s going to put that on the ballot for him now?” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said in a statement. “Not this legislature, as we’ve already seen.
“Unless the governor can point to successes on any of these issues he’s guaranteed to have, he’ll just be wasting taxpayer dollars. I appreciate his desire to get things done. But we had an opportunity for him to have engaged on these issues during a 120-day session, and now it’s Day 121.”
House Speaker Crisanta Duran told reporters Senate Republicans have already demonstrated they won’t support a tax hike for roads, but instead want to take the money from other state programs and services. House Bill 1242, which she and Grantham co-sponsored, would have asked voters to pass a sales-tax hike in November to raise about $700 million a year.
“There were so many ideas incorporated in the 1242 that was the result of anybody willing to have the conversation, anybody who was willing to come to the table,” she said. “Unfortunately there were some who were just not willing to come to the table.”
With the centerpiece of the session in tatters, lawmakers were able to come together on a separate bill that will restructure the a state fee on hospital beds to move it out from under a constitutional spending cap that triggers rebates to taxpayers.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said he wouldn’t call the session a failure — “no session is a failure” — even though fellow Senate Republicans rejected the transportation bill he negotiated and co-sponsored.
“Keep working on transportation,” he said Wednesday, as the session was finishing up. “That’s all we can do.”
The governor is also concerned that the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on fully funding the Colorado Energy Office. Lawmakers came to an impasse on the last day of the session, severely crippling the energy office.
Broadband is another concern for the governor. Lawmakers were able to come up with $9.5 million to expand broadband into rural areas. But they weren’t able to come up with a steady more permanent stream of money.
Several of the governor’s priority health care bills also failed this year, including a bill that would have required hospitals to submit more information about how they spend the state’s Medicaid dollars.