Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 23, 201811min1046

The Colorado Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday afternoon served up the official opening volley of another contentious fight over how to pay for transportation to keep up with Colorado’s growth.

The first bill Senate Republicans filed this session would ask voters next November to borrow $3.5 billion and repay it with about $300 million a year from the state budget for the next 20 years. The bonds would jumpstart major projects such as widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and Denver, as well as find solutions to the constant snarls on I-70 through the mountains.

Democrats contend that while Colorado can afford to invest in roads while the economy is booming, when money gets tight obligating that much every year from the budget would mean cuts to schools, social programs and a host of state agencies that also are struggling to keep up with growth.

Senate Bill 1 passed, 3-2, on a party-line vote after a three-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon. The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee then, assuming it passes, to the floor, where Republicans have a one-state majority. In the House, Democrats have a nine-seat edge.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, chairman of  Transportation Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said he wasn’t offering the perfect solution, but the it’s better than the state has done in the past.

“You all know we’ve been down here the past four year and we’ve done nothing — nothing,” he told the committee. “And we fall farther behind all the time.”

Conservation Colorado is one of the groups who want to see more emphasis on getting vehicles off the roads via mass transit.

Baumgardner pointed out that 10 percent of the money in his bill is for transit.

Sen. Nancy Todd voted against the bill and she’s holding out for a bipartisan “Colorado solution.”

She said bonding is being inaccurately being pitched as a cost-free solution, when it’s really debt that strikes a barely one-third of the needs. She characterized Senate Bill 1 as a patchwork solution and thought legislators should find a permanent new funding source to allow the state to plan for its growth.

“I’m tired of Band-Aids,” said the Democrat from Aurora. “I’m ready for full surgery.”

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he would like a Colorado solution, too. And he pointed to $1.7 billion in bonds in 1999 for 25 T-REX projects, mostly in the Denver area.

“If it’s good enough for Denver, why isn’t it good enough for the rest of the state,” he said.

The bill refers a measure to the November ballot to ask voters to borrow $3.5 billion to be paid back — up to $5 billion — over 20 years. The repayment would come from 10 percent of the state sales tax revenue.

State agencies are fretting they’ll face cuts down the road, if a tight budget first has to cover bond payments. The departments of education, human services and higher education all spoke against the bill.

Christina Rosendahl, the chief lobbyist for the Department of Corrections, said the agency is opposed to the bill because it’s worried about future budget cuts.

“We appreciate the discussion and truly believe funding transportation is both needed and laudable, and is something that’s important to all of us in Colorado,” she said. “That being said, this bill does take significant dollars out of the budget and really puts pressure on other agencies that rely on General Fund dollars.”

Business interests told the committee that traffic woes are choking the economic lifeblood from the state. At the same time, tax increases and partisan solutions that aren’t politically

“Overreach on these solutions don’t really help us,” said David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance.

Mizraim Cordero, vice president of government affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports Senate Bill 1 as a starting point to a bipartisan solution for transportation that could get to the governor’s desk.

He said Coloradans are “fed up with the increasing congestion and deteriorating condition of their roads.”

Rachel Beck, vice president of government affairs of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC told the committee the legislation needs four components:

  • A significant and ongoing contribution from the budget
  • New revenue tied to transportation services (meaning not a sales tax).
  • A focus on statewide corridors of regional significance.
  • It has to politically viable, “because we might get only one shot at this.”

“This is a good start, but there are still a number of components that need to come together to get to a solution that really does address these needs on a long-term basis,” Beck said.

Sandra Hagen Solin spoke for business interests along the state’s major corridors when she testified on behalf of Fix Colorado Roads, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance and the Vail Valley Partnership.

“She said that after a prior Senate Bill 1 passed in 1997, it put $2.2 billion from the budget until it was repealed 12 years later, In the ensuing decade the General Fund budget has provided only $357 million.

“The restoration of General Fund dollars that’s afforded in Senate Bill 1 is an incredibly important step to addressing our challenges,” she said. “We can certainly have a host of competing conversations around who’s hurting worse in this state with respect to our budgets. The reality is there’s growth in this budget to allow us to address many of the concerns that are facing us.

“Transportation has been waiting for a long time.”

May said the state can’t continue to wait on a political solution to funding. Every year the costs rise with the population, and every year the traffic gets worse.

“Every year we don’t out a solution on the table we are hurting the citizens of the this state,” he said.

Tony Milo, the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, whose members work on most of the public works infrastructure projects in the state, said money from the state budget, alone, won’t solve the problem long-term, and when times get tough there’s no assurances transportation would face indirect cuts. The state has to find a sustainable source of funding for transportation, not the boom and bust of borrowing and spending.

“CDOT has documented a need of $1 billion a year,” he told the committee. “Our cities and counties across the state also have shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars to relieve gridlock on city streets, improve safety on our rural roads and provide mobility on a local and regional basis.

“SB 1 as written is a good start to helping CDOT address a limited number of high-priority projects, but does not address continuing maintenance of the existing system nor does it provide any additional funding to our cities and counties who collectively are in just as much of a funding crisis as CDOT.”

Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, shared that concern that the deal only helped state projects, not local ones, as well. Last year’s failed House Bill 1242 would have steered some of the $3.5 billion to local governments.

Cooke pointed out that local governments already get transportation money from the state, which won’t change if Senate Bill 1 passes and voters approve the bonds.

She said the chamber is in a “monitoring” position on the bill.

“But make no mistake we do consider transportation our highest priority as an organization this year,” she told the committee. “We applaud the fact we see a bill early in the session, and we are also very excited about the potential for being able to bond on some existing revenue rather than asking for a tax increase.”

Mike Salisbury, a transportation expert for the Colorado-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, agreed local governments should get money and expanding broader forms of transportation is critical.

Local roads, state highways, bike paths and transit services Coloradans are relying on have become increasing inadequate,” he said.

R.J, Hicks, representing the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, spoke of the long struggle to find a transportation fix that lasts.

“This bill is just a continuing saga we’ve been in in the General Assembly for a number of years. stretching well over a decade,” the veteran lobbyist said.

Like others grateful for any major investment in transportation, he said a permanent solution is better than a good-times handout.

“When the economy tanks are we going to see the casualty being the funding of our roads again?” he asked the committee.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 30, 20176min540

Grassroots support is growing in Colorado for a possible U.S. Department of the Interior plan to move the headquarters of three federal agencies to Denver.

The plan would be an economic efficiency move at a time the administration of President Donald Trump is being accused of ignoring environmentalists and allowing private industry to overdevelop government-owned property.

A relocation of three agencies to Denver was first reported by E&E News, an online site that reports on energy and environmental issues.

Zinke reportedly suggested moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation away from Washington, D.C., to Denver. All three of them are overseen by the Interior Department.

A location closer to the sites where they perform most of their operations on federal property would make them more effective, Zinke reportedly said during a July meeting with U.S. Geological Survey executives in Denver.

Zinke is preparing a reorganization and downsizing of the Interior Department tentatively scheduled to begin in 2019.

The relocation suggestion won quick agreement from organizations that operate close to federal lands in Colorado.

Don Shawcroft, president of Colorado Farm Bureau, said he would like to see regulatory relief come from a move of the federal agencies to Colorado.

“We feel this will create needed reforms to federal regulations that have been driven by Beltway bureaucrats who don’t see firsthand the impacts of overburdensome rulemaking,” Shawcroft said.

Diane Schwenke, president of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said moving the three Interior Department agencies to Colorado would put them closer to their “stakeholders outside the Beltway, like many of us in Colorado, where our local economies are closely tied to the management decisions they make.”

The Bureau of Land Management is the largest of the three agencies with 11,621 permanent employees. It administers more than 247.3 million acres of public lands, or one-eighth of the nation’s land mass.

Most of the land is located in 12 Western states that include Colorado.

The Bureau of Land Management is supposed to protect the wildlife, natural resources and national monuments on public lands. Private development is allowed through permits.

Ranchers hold nearly 18,000 permits to graze livestock on public lands. Other permits and leases allow oil and gas companies to operate about 63,000 wells on government property.

A Trump administration policy that eases restrictions on oil and gas leases drew a recent warning from the Coalition to Protect America’s Parks, a nonprofit organization of retired National Park Service employees.

“As former land managers, we understand the need to balance competing priorities,” the coalition wrote in a letter to the Interior Department secretary. “But we fear the pendulum is swinging too far to the side of development.”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation manages the nation’s water resources and operates hydroelectric power plants in western states.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces laws to protect the nation’s fish, wild animals and their natural habitats while promoting environmental conservation programs.

Colorado organizations that support moving the agencies west were most interested in the economic benefits.

“The Colorado Wool Growers Association is definitely supportive of the effort to move these agencies to Denver,” said Bonnie Brown, executive director of the Delta-based association. “There is oftentimes a disconnect between [Washington] D.C. staff and what is actually happening on the ground. Having staff live and work near the resources they manage is just common sense.”

She acknowledged that the costs of moving federal agencies away from Washington could be large but added, “The short term transition costs should be offset by the long term savings.”

Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, said he liked the idea of moving the agencies to Colorado but wondered whether Grand Junction might be a better choice than Denver.

”When we spoke with our congressional delegation during a legislative trip to Washington D.C. in April, we had suggested the Western Slope of Colorado would be an ideal place for the [Bureau of Land Management],” Singer said. “One of the benefits of a [Bureau of Land Management] move to the Western Slope would be job opportunities in that part of the state.”

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, including Republicans Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, have previously advocated moving the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado.