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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 18, 20173min518
Colorado has a transportation plan on the table to spend $68 million on mass transit, greener fuels and a network of charging stations for electric vehicles. The only public hearing on the proposal is Monday afternoon in Denver. The money has to go for clear-air programs related to vehicle exhaust, according to the $14.7 billion […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 7, 20176min1620
Chuck Smith

Colorado was the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, and being the first in anything poses both significant challenges and unique opportunities.

Consider that in just three and a half years, Colorado’s cannabis industry has evolved from opening the doors to the first marijuana retail store to becoming the fastest-growing business sector in the state, creating thousands of jobs and generating more than half a billion dollars in tax revenue. And as a truly local industry with an economic impact of $2.4 billion, the money generated in Colorado stays in Colorado.

Members of the cannabis industry are also an integral part of the community. We are entrepreneurs and small-business owners who create jobs and pay taxes.  Our employees and co-workers include laboratory technicians, farmers and security guards. It is estimated that over 18,000 Coloradans are employed in the industry. We are your neighbors, the parents sitting next to you at PTA meetings, and volunteers at the town fundraiser. And we are proud that marijuana tax revenue has helped fund school drop-out and bullying prevention programs, substance abuse and mental health services, college scholarships, homelessness programs and local road improvements.

The rapid growth of the industry has not come without challenges. By partnering with elected officials and regulators, law enforcement, public health leaders, and others, the cannabis industry has worked hard to help shape Colorado’s comprehensive regulatory framework that protects public health and safety while fostering a positive business climate.  When unforeseen or unintended consequences of legalization have surfaced, we worked side-by-side with those same state and community leaders to find solutions. In fact, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman recently co-wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling Colorado’s system “a model for other states and nations.”

As business owners, parents, concerned citizens, and proud Coloradans, we take our responsibility to protect the health and safety of the public seriously. We vehemently oppose driving while under the influence of marijuana. But voicing concerns is not enough, which is why industry members are part the Colorado Task Force for Drunk and Impaired Driving and work with the Colorado Department of Transportation on its public education campaign warning of the dangers of impaired driving.

It is also why the marijuana industry has proactively launched public service campaigns on safe and responsible marijuana consumption, including advising consumers not to take marijuana across state lines.  And perhaps most critically, the industry has undertaken numerous steps to ensure children and teenagers don’t have access to legal marijuana. Retail shops enforce stringent ID policies, and the industry has educated adults on ways to keep marijuana in their homes locked away from kids.  The industry has also worked with state regulators and elected officials to ensure edibles have childproof packaging and do not include forms appealing to children, such as animals, people or fruit.

We are encouraged that youth marijuana use in the state has not increased and that the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health actually shows a 12 percent reduction.  And while we are also encouraged to see the number of drivers the Colorado State Patrol considered impaired by marijuana drop 21 percent in the first half of 2017 as compared to same time period the year before, we support the development of reliable detection technology and data collection to make our roads safer.

People may think they know Colorado’s cannabis industry. But too often, it is the stereotypes and one-dimensional portrayals of the industry that shape public perception. As business leaders who believe that a responsible cannabis industry is an integral part of Colorado’s community, we aim to change that perception through public education and fact-based discussions.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 21, 20178min290

Picture six Broncos games getting out at the same time on the same stretch of road. That's what traffic generated by Monday's total eclipse of the sun — a once-in-a-century event in these parts — could amount to, the Colorado Department of Transportation is warning state motorists. And for those stuck in traffic between Friday and Monday, AAA Colorado has some tips and a musical playlist guaranteed to brighten even the darkest day.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 16, 20174min130

Scott Franz of the Steamboat Pilot has a tale of raised voices, a hypothetical billionaire and which taxpayers should pony up the impact of traffic.

The Steamboat Springs County has a discussion featuring “some raised voices” on fees charged to developers to offset the impact traffic from new homes or rentals would have on the city system.

The fees are based on the cost to the public, through local and state taxes and grants, Franz said. But a couple of council members, Heather Sloop and Scott Ford, didn’t think the city should be collecting money from developers to offset what state taxpayers put in.

Sloop called it double-dipping.  Fort called it extreme to intercede on behalf of the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Reported Franz:

He asked whether it would be fair if the city charged a developer an impact fee for an intersection improvement, but then Bill Gates decided to open his checkbook and pay for the improvement himself.

“Would we still think collecting this money (from the developer) was fair?” Ford asked.

Yeah, but CDOT ain’t Bill Gates and Colorado taxpayers ain’t Microsoft, especially to the benefit ski-town developers. And Gates doesn’t have the state Supreme Court and Colorado legislature behind him.

The Pilot story doesn’t mention it, but impact fees are written into state law by the legislature in Senate Bill 15 in 2001. The law gave local governments the authority to set reasonable fees, and gave the developer the right to challenge the fees in court.

The City Council re-examined the $24,500 impact fee it billed the developer of the Captain Jack subdivision on the northwest side of town for an intersection improvement nearby, which the development needed. CDOT paid $3.6 million and the city chipped in $877,000 improvement project at the intersection at at Lincoln Avenue and Elk River Road, Franz said.

The developer asked for a refund of about a three-quarters of his assessment, because the city put in only about a quarter of what the state paid. The developer wants to pay only a share of the city’s cost.

The city denied the request in June.

Councilman Jason Lacy told the Pilot that that doesn’t tell the whole story of traffic cost to the city.

“If you looked at these projects as a whole, developers have probably had a break,” Lacy said in Franz’s story.

The request to cut future developers a break hit a brick wall and died.

Read the tale of traffic, money and local politics here.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 14, 20178min190

By chipping away at The Gap, El Paso County voters could do something that some state legislators encourage and others dread: siphon off support for a statewide transportation plan by spending their money locally.

The Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority board last week approved a ballot question to ask voters if it’s OK to set aside $10 million to help pay to widen a 2-mile stretch of Interstate 25 in El Paso County. The seed money is part of a larger effort to widen the interstate from Monument to Castle Rock, a 17-mile stretch known as The Gap.

I-25 narrows to two lanes in each direction between the two reasonably well-off communities, causing traffic jams and collisions. The state Department of Transportation says it doesn’t have the money in its current budget, and state lawmakers haven’t figured out a way to get them enough. Statewide, CDOT needs $20 billion over the next 20 years just to keep up with growth, the agency contends.

CDOT has estimated the Gap will cost $290 million and $600 million. Colorado leaders have even appealed to the White House for help, calling the Gap a critical transportation corridor.

If voters allow it, the PPRTA would put up $10 billion for roughly a 2-mile stretch in El Paso County, if other money joins it. Where that money comes from, nobody knows.

President Trump has promised a $1 trillion national infrastructure investment, but it remains to be seen if he can pass it and how much, if any, would go to Colorado’s overburdened interstates. The result of getting that money, however, could mean toll roads.

The Gap is one of the three main arguments for voters and lawmakers to find money to address the state’s critical transportation needs. As symbolic projects go, the Gap joins I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins and the Interstate 70 mountain corridor as the chief selling points to statewide voters.

Legislators in the last session discussed a sales tax to pay back a $3.5 billion loan for projects statewide, including the Gap. Three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee, including Colorado Springs’ Owen Hill, didn’t like the tax increase and voted down the bipartisan House Bill 1242.

Colorado Springs leaders were skeptical of raising the state sales tax, since  cities rely on sales taxes. Hiking the state sales tax would make it more difficult for local governments to pay for local projects in the future. The Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Corp. preferred lawmakers look instead at the state gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1991.

Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver warned before the session started that if lawmakers didn’t pass a statewide plan, then communities such as El Paso County that can afford to pay for local needs won’t later support state money for communities that can’t.

El Paso County is proving she’s right.

Proponents of the El Paso County plan hope putting up local money will spur financial support from other local governments and make the project more attractive for federal and state dollars.

“Taking this to the voters shows consensus and solidarity and support,” said Jim Godfrey, chairman of the PPRTA Citizen Advisory Committee, which unanimously favored adding the issue to the ballot. “It would be hard for the state to ignore if we put money up against it.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County, told Colorado Politics in June that communities should work on such local options, because statewide solutions are slow and elusive.

El Paso County voters might have the chance to approve another source of funding for the project, as well.

The County Commission is weighing options for what to do with about $15 million in excess tax revenue. Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, limits annual growth of some local government tax revenue and requires the surplus be returned to taxpayers or used for voter-approved purposes.

 

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller hopes another ballot question will ask voters if some of the county’s revenue surplus — he’s pushing for $7.5 million — should go toward the I-25 widening. Commissioners have until Sept 8 to add issues to the ballot and finalize language.

The I-25 Gap Coalition, made up of state officials and local leaders from communities along the roughly 17-mile two-lane stretch of road, met for the first time in June to explore options to speed the widening.

“This is a huge step forward to get this on the ballot,” said Waller, vice chairman of the PPRTA board of directors and a former state House minority leader. “In order for us to be able to really make the case to the state and the federal government, it needs to be a collaborative effort.”

State and local leaders have so far been unsuccessful in identifying other sources of funding for the Gap, which state transportation officials say could be finished by 2021 if the money is available. Two federally-required environmental planning studies, paid for by money originally earmarked for the C-470 Express Lane, are currently under way, said Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Wilson.

CDOT hopes to find some contributors by the end of the year, Wilson said. Federal grants or state funds are two possibilities. In May, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 267, a bipartisan omnibus bill aimed much more at helping rural hospitals and rural transportation than clogged interstates.

By monkeying around with how an assessment on hospital bed occupancy and selling and leasing back government buildings, the legislature thinks it can generate more than $1.8 billion for transportation over the next 20 years. But 25 percent off the top goes to rural counties and another 10 percent to transit. The rest of the money hasn’t been attached to specific projects yet. The Gap won’t get much in the next few years against many competitors for a divvied-out share.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct that Chris Holbert is the Senate majority leader not the house leader.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 27, 20175min200
Jesse Mallory

Driving in Colorado isn’t easy, and it’s getting harder every day — from potholes to all the time wasted sitting in traffic. But the fix to these problems requires politicians to make the same kind of tough decisions that small businesses and families make every day.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) says it needs $900 million per year over the next 10 years for new transportation projects alone. The department currently budgets only $80 million a year for these projects. At this rate, it will take nearly 31 years just to complete everything on the department’s high-priority list.

Lawmakers across the political spectrum acknowledge the need to address this shortfall, yet too often they present voters with false choices in their attempt to secure more funding. Rather than prioritizing transportation, lawmakers fund their own priorities and then hold transportation hostage, demanding an increase in taxes to fund it.

Not surprisingly, polls have found Coloradans oppose schemes to raise taxes for transportation. During the 2017 legislative session, 57 percent of Coloradans opposed a transportation tax hike proposal before opponents even began campaigning against it, an indication that no amount of money spent in support of the measure would have convinced voters to pass it.

We didn’t get in this transportation mess overnight, and we won’t get out of it in one legislative session. But lawmakers can start by reallocating funds, eliminating waste and ending cronyism in the state budget.

For one, they need to analyze where our user fees for highways are being spent. How much is frittered away on non-highway spending, like transit projects and decorative landscaping in medians?

They should tackle the cronyism in the state tax code that benefits special interests while shortchanging taxpayers. That includes fuel tax exemptions for favored companies and industries that are cutting into our desperately needed transportation funds.

The legislature can also put an end to special tax giveaways for people who buy hybrid and electric vehicles – a program that costs taxpayers $7.6 million per year. Next time you’re stuck in traffic and see a $100,000 Tesla sitting next to you, remember that your tax dollars helped pay for it.

Hollywood also benefits from taxpayer handouts, as we pay more than $9 million in subsidies for movies produced in Colorado. While that number will be cut down to $1.5 million next year, it deserves to be scrapped altogether.

Lawmakers who would rather raise taxes are saying there’s simply not enough money in the budget. They should look harder. A forthcoming issue paper by the Independence Institute has found nearly $700 million in the state budget of questionable programs and expenditures. Reallocating even a portion of these funds in a responsible manner could provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for high-priority transportation projects.

In addition to eliminating waste and cronyism, legislators should consider setting aside sales taxes generated by vehicles, tires, parts and other auto accessories for the transportation budget, as lawmakers have done in the past. These and other general fund transfers provided more than $2 billion for roads before the transfers were targeted by lawmakers seeking to use those dollars for other purposes.  Restoring these user-generated revenues to the purpose of improving roads is one way to ensure a reliable stream of funding for highway improvements without hitting taxpayers with yet another tax or “fee.”

Legislators should pursue these and other alternatives before ever asking for new taxes. And rather than hoping they find the political will to give transportation funding the priority it deserves, citizens should contact their state senators and representatives and demand they prioritize transportation funding in 2018 without raising taxes.

Coloradans shouldn’t have to sit in traffic while lawmakers wait for yet another statewide tax increase proposal to fail. It’s time to get Colorado moving again.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 13, 20172min190

The Colorado Department of Transportation, which builds, patches and plows the state’s highways, isn’t just some faceless bureaucracy in Denver. It answers to a board that, in turn, answers to the motoring public. The Colorado Transportation Commission‘s 11 members represent distinct districts across the state and are supposed to ensure the entire transportation grid — from Craig to Campo, from Cortez to Julesburg — gets attention.

Granted, that setup does little to dispel misgivings in every corner of the state as well as in metro areas about whether each is getting its fair share of funding. At least, though, the board gives every region of Colorado a voice in transportation policy. The legislature’s budget writers also have plenty of say, too.

Commissioners are appointed by the governor, confirmed by the state Senate and serve four-year terms.

And just to make sure the public knows where to turn, the transportation department announced the latest lineup for the commission this week:

Newly appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper this year are two Commissioners: Luella Chavez D’Angelo of Lone Tree, serving District 3; and Karen Stuart of Broomfield, serving District 4.

Re-appointed by the governor to serve an additional four year term are three Commissioners: Shannon Gifford, Denver, District 1; Sidny Zink, Durango, District 8; and Bill Thiebaut, Pueblo, District 10.

Continuing and completing terms are the remaining six Commissioners: Ed Peterson, Lakewood, District 2; Kathy Gilliland, Livermore, District 5; Kathy Connell, Steamboat Springs, District 6; Kathy Hall, Grand Junction, District 7; Rocky Scott, Colorado Springs, District 9; and Steven Hofmeister, Haxtun, District 11.

 


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Jared WrightJared WrightJune 16, 20176min110

A major step forward for transportation occurred earlier this year with the approval of the Central 70 project by the federal government. This project involves the reconstruction of a 10-mile stretch between I-25 and Chambers Road and the replacement of a 50-year-old viaduct on Interstate 70. With the approval, the Colorado Department of Transportation could begin work in early 2018.


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Rachael WrightRachael WrightJune 1, 20178min12

Thirty Years Ago this Week in the Colorado Statesman … State Rep. Faye Fleming, D-Th0rnton, switched her party affiliation from Democratic to Republican Feb. 14, 1987, only six weeks after she took office. One of her campaign contributors, United Steel Workers Local 8031, threatened to sue her for misrepresentation. The influential union also took to the streets contacting her constituents. A signature drive operation for Fleming’s recall had already been on the ground since March.