Sen. Irene AguilarSen. Irene AguilarMay 22, 20178min738

Measures brought before the Colorado General Assembly in this legislative session have shown that the contentious national debate on immigration has been jolting our state’s politics as well. As the federal government has shifted its policies to penalize so-called sanctuary cities and aggressively deport immigrants, we’ve seen conflicting bills introduced here on whether our state and cities should cooperate with the government to enforce immigration laws.


Sen. Daniel KaganSen. Daniel KaganMay 19, 20175min519
Daniel Kagan
Daniel Kagan

As I write, Gov. John Hickenlooper is contemplating whether to call the Legislature into special session in order to pass a comprehensive transportation bill. He should do it, and give the Legislature a chance to resuscitate the transportation proposal that so narrowly failed during the regular session.

Almost everyone agrees that we need to repair and improve Colorado’s transportation infrastructure. Consensus breaks down, however, as soon as you ask, “What improvements shall we make?” and “How shall we pay for all this?” To arrive at a set of fair, acceptable answers to those questions, legislators of both parties and the governor negotiated throughout the 2017 session. The result of those discussions was House Bill 1242, and the plan was to put the bill’s comprehensive transportation infrastructure proposal before the voters this November so the people of Colorado could decide the matter. House Bill 1242 found bipartisan support in both chambers and survived numerous committees, but it failed by one vote at the near-to-last hurdle, in the Senate Finance Committee on April 25, 2017.

I was bitterly disappointed, but continue to believe that though the bill failed, it need not die. I hope the governor will conclude over the next few days that he should call a special session, use his renowned powers of persuasion in a few choice quarters, and get the House Bill 1242 proposal, or something very like it, before the voters.

The most contentious dispute over 1242 was whether the hefty bills should be financed by new taxes or by diverting existing revenue streams toward infrastructure projects and maintenance. Proponents of new taxes argued that was the honest approach, allowing for the pain to be uncamouflaged and openly discussed. Those advocating for use of existing revenues said the pain did not have to be specified in advance, and would not be severe, if only the government would trim its tendency toward frivolous spending.

The 1242 deal opted for new taxes, fully described, and subject to voter approval; the revenue would be raised by increasing the state sales tax rate. We considered, but rejected, alternatives, like instituting per-mile-traveled vehicle user fees, raising the state income tax rate, or doubling the per-gallon gasoline tax. The amount of the proposed state sales tax increase bobbed around, but finally settled at half a cent, taking the sales tax rate from its current 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent, which was projected to raise about half a billion new dollars per year.

Other salient details of the proposal were to scrap late vehicle registration fees, reduce the road safety surcharge from $23 to $9 and issue up to $3.5 billion in bonds to cover capital projects, using primarily the new sales tax revenue to service the debt.

A group I call “The Asphalts” wanted the lion’s share of the new money to go to roads and bridges, whereas environmentalists wanted it to go in large part to mass transit, bike routes and pedestrian-friendly improvements. Local governments, especially the rurals, wanted most of the money to go to them, but Front Range interstate users wanted more to go to the State Highway Fund. We ultimately settled on 35 percent of the new money going to the State Highway Fund, 50 percent going to counties and municipalities, and 15 percent going to a new “Multimodal Transportation Options Fund” to pay for transit, bikes and pedestrians.

The proposal garnered enthusiastic and well-moneyed support from business groups, labor, liberals and conservatives. Significantly, the president of the Senate, speaker of the House, governor of the state of Colorado, chairs of both transportation committees and a majority of both chambers all supported the bill. But it failed, as I said at the outset, because the “no new taxes” argument persuaded three of the five members of the Senate Finance Committee to vote “no” on that balmy April evening.

This need not stand. The voters should be allowed to have their say. Gov. Hickenlooper should call a special session.


John TomasicJohn TomasicMay 18, 201716min468

State House Minority Whip Lori Saine said she had been working on the memorial resolution offered for Bill Armstrong during a joint session of the Legislature on and off for a year. Same with the eulogy she delivered — and she was clearly charged with deep feeling as she read it out to a chamber packed with past and present elected officials. She was speaking Friday, April 28, from the well of the House. Men and women lined the walls, including members of Armstrong’s family.


Albert J. DownsAlbert J. DownsMay 2, 20176min466

The “Colorado Secure Savings Plan” (CSSP) — which passed the state House and then died in the Senate “kill committee” last week — would have established a government-run retirement savings fund, paid for by “automatic payroll deductions” and managed by an unelected board of trustees. Although the bill did not make it past the Senate’s State, Veteran and Military Affairs Committee, it is worth discussing the proposal given its potential resurrection in a future session. HB 1290 was an ill-guided attempt to expand our state’s safety net based on poor assumptions about personal savings. It would have created undue risk to taxpayers and limited worker freedom and choice.


Aaron HarberAaron HarberMay 1, 20176min395

It’s long overdue for one of the absurd practices of some Colorado government offices to end. Specifically, Senate Bill 40 has been proposed in the Colorado General Assembly to close a loophole created by officials and bureaucrats avoiding their responsibilities to provide citizens access to the information which everyone always has agreed is public.


Paula NoonanPaula NoonanApril 28, 20175min412

The state boosted its per pupil funding for public school students by 2.8 percent out of the General Fund to $6,585,800,182 for 2017-2018. That number works out to $6,546.20 per student, according to Senate Bill 17-296. Adding other sources, the Colorado Department of Education estimates that the average per pupil funding for next year will be $7,605, up from $7,420.


John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 25, 201716min541

Kevin Grantham sat deep in his chair, his left foot, shod in a large cowboy boot, resting on his right knee, the Capitol press corps arrayed in front of him brought by text messages sent out near 10:00 p.m. the night before. It was Thursday morning, just two-and-a-half weeks ahead of the end of the legislative session, and the state Senate president was explaining that three members of his Republican caucus planned in committee the following week to kill the legislative centerpiece transportation bill he had sponsored with Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran, that there was little he could do about it, and that another Republican legislative centerpiece — a bill that would balance the session’s lopsided budget — was on life support.