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Democrats call out Stapleton on money for roads, rural Colorado

Author: Joey Bunch - July 19, 2018 - Updated: August 7, 2018

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StapletonWalker Stapleton speaks after he won the Republican nomination for governor during an election night watch party on June 26. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives are accusing State Treasurer Walker Stapleton of dragging his feet on paperwork to greenlight millions of dollars for transportation and rural Colorado.

Stapleton also is the Republican nominee for governor.

The legislature passed Senate Bill 267 in 2017 to raise $1.8 billion over the next 20 years by selling state buildings and leasing them back through lease-purchase instruments called certificates of participation. The earliest the certificates could have been sold was July 1, but Stapleton’s office said the law gives them until the end of the fiscal year to complete the sales.

“There is no delay; the office is on track to issue these COPs in September,” said Rachel George, a spokeswoman for the treasurer’s office. “The faked outrage from Democrats is nothing more than a poorly orchestrated and ill-informed political attack because Walker also happens to be running for governor.”

Democrats previously have sought to characterize Stapleton as a poor administrator unfit to be governor. He faces U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the general election.

Stapleton’s campaign would not comment on the accusations, referring them to the treasurer’s office.

SB 267, titled Sustainability of Rural Colorado, reclassified a state fee on hospital-bed occupancy to get it out from under a spending cap set by the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The beneficiaries included rural health care, schools and especially transportation. It created a 20-year program to direct $1.2 billion toward roads and highways.

The first round of certificates of participation (COPs) is expected to generate $380 million for transportation and $119 million for “high priority” capital construction and maintenance projects.

The letter sent to Stapleton Wednesday was signed by Reps. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo and Chris Hansen of Denver, who serve on the legislature’s joint Capital Development Committee.

“We believe it is in the best financial interest of the state to move forward on these projects, and are very concerned about the delay,” they stated in the letter. “Needlessly delaying extremely urgent projects could put the physical and financial health and safety of Coloradans at risk; these critical projects have been prioritized and should be expedited. Furthermore, delays could unnecessarily waste tax dollars as interest rates rise and horizontal and vertical construction costs continue to escalate. Some estimates of cost escalation rates for delayed capital construction projects are as high as six percent per year. In order to make the best use of public funds and get these critical projects started rapidly, the COPs should be issued as soon as possible.

They said they were told by staff at the committee meeting on June 18 that the certificates wouldn’t go out at the beginning of the fiscal year, “as originally planned, but would be delayed until a date uncertain,” according to a press release from House Democrats.

Stapleton’s office said the staff member was not fully informed.

The office has hired a new bond lawyer, because their previous counsel thought the certificates should be delayed while a separate but possibly related lawsuit was in the courts.

“[…] the General Assembly and the Governor provided clear authority and direction to fund these vital projects and no injunction has been granted that would prevent the COPs from moving forward, so your office should not delay the issuance of funding based on ideology or this pending lawsuit any further,” the letter from Esgar and Hansen stated.

Rep. Dave Young, a Democrat from Greeley running to succeed Stapleton against GOP nominee Brian Watson, issued a press release Thursday, as well.

“As Treasurer, Stapleton has prioritized partisan politics over what is best for everyday Coloradans for years and this shirking of responsibilities is no exception,” he stated. “Stapleton’s negligence needlessly wastes taxpayer dollars and puts the health and safety of Coloradans at risk. Colorado needs a Treasurer that shows up to work.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.