Patrick-Neville.jpg

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 9, 20174min17
House Speaker Crisanta Duran is outraged over recent comments by her Republican counterpart suggesting that Democrats have a “plan” to destroy Colorado’s roads. Calling the comments from House Republican Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock “absurd,” Duran, a Democrat from Denver, pointed out that she worked this year for a bipartisan solution to come up […]

This content is only available to subscribers.

Login or Subscribe


APTraffic1024-1024x609.jpg

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.

 


I25Gap-W.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 15, 20176min81

We put the question a bit differently earlier this week: Can a community spend too much on law enforcement when there are underfunded, competing needs?

Perhaps not — at least, for the two Douglas County commissioners who nixed a proposal by the commission’s third member late Wednesday to ask voters to shift some of the county sheriff’s generous revenue stream toward widening DougCo’s chronically congested stretch of Interstate 25. Now, their three votes are the only ones that will be cast on the idea.

Freshman County Commissioner Lora Thomas had wanted to go to the ballot with a plan to reconfigure a long-standing county sales tax that has poured funding into wide-ranging law-enforcement upgrades. A little over half of the revenue from the 0.43 percent Douglas County Justice Center Sales and Use Tax, approved by voters in 1995, would have gone to upgrade I-25 south of Castle Rock and improve other roads in the burgeoning county.

The county was a very different place when the tax was enacted — essentially, a vast expanse of scenic open space with then-sleepy county seat Castle Rock as its hub. In the decades of explosive growth since then, DougCo from Castle Rock north toward the county line has become a sprawling suburban flank of metro Denver.

That has put increasing demands on law enforcement as well as the regional transportation grid. Law enforcement has been able to keep up — to say the least — because of the dedicated sales tax. Transportation has fallen ever further behind.

And because of that same growth, which has fostered a booming retail sector that includes the likes of Park Meadows Mall, the sales tax is pumping far more revenue into the sheriff’s coffers than voters back in 1995 likely ever imagined possible. As Thomas pointed out in a fact sheet on the issue:

Since 1996, the Justice Center tax has raised over $360 million; over $26 million was raised in 2016 alone.  It has financed the Justice Center to include courtrooms, jail cells, a dispatch center and a state-of-the art coroner’s facility, the Highlands Ranch Sub-station, a jail infirmary, an employee parking garage, a driving track, a regional crime lab, an evidence warehouse, radios, radio towers, body cameras and cameras throughout the facility.  In fact, the last two courtrooms at the Justice Center were just finished but remain unused.  The mission of the Justice Center Sales Tax Fund has been accomplished.

In that light, Thomas’s proposal arguably sought to inject some balance into the county’s fiscal priorities.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock didn’t like the idea. He maintained that without the full revenue stream, he couldn’t ensure public safety, and he and his staff showed up to a two-day hearing before commissioners to make that point. So did a number of citizens who saw it the sheriff’s way and mobilized to turn out for the hearing.

It may be reasonable to assume the two commissioners who wound up voting with the sheriff Wednesday probably were inclined to see things his way, as well. One, David Weaver, is himself the immediate previous county sheriff; Spurlock was in fact his undersheriff before becoming sheriff. And the other commissioner, Roger Partridge, acknowledged in the course of the hearing he has two sons who work at the sheriff’s office.

No conflict in any of that, of course; it’s just politics. But it also may say a lot about an institutional mind-set: Law enforcement is sacrosanct; I-25 is the state’s problem.

So, maybe the outcome was inevitable.

Yet, is that the kind of political establishment that can look at the longer-term needs of a growing county in which law enforcement can’t always be the top priority?

Thomas, reached for comment, was philosophical: “While I’m very disappointed that the citizens in Douglas County won’t be allowed to vote on how their tax dollars are spent, I’ve been assured that fixing I-25 and our other county roads are a priority.”

Commuters certainly must hope so — whatever voters would have said if they’d had the chance.


I25Gap-W.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20175min140

A proposal now on the table in Douglas County attempts to find a balance between two perennial public-policy priorities: law enforcement and transportation. Freshman County Commissioner Lora Thomas wants to ask burgeoning DougCo’s voters to shift some county revenue from the former to the latter.

Her pragmatic solution, up for consideration by the commission on Tuesday: Reconfigure a long-standing county sales tax that has funded wide-ranging law-enforcement upgrades so that it can help widen I-25 south of Castle Rock and improve other county roads.

The solution answers one question that has daunted policy makers in the legislature and across the state — how to raise more highway dollars without raising taxes? — while posing another: Can a community sometimes spend too much on law enforcement amid underfunded, competing needs?

It’s a politically ticklish point, but then Thomas arguably has the cred to bring it up: She is a former county coroner and a retired major with the Colorado State Patrol after 26 years of service. No squish on public safety.

However, she has watched the stretch of I-25 through her county grow more congested year after year even as the county sheriff’s budget and infrastructure have benefited steadily from the revenue-churning, 0.43 percent Douglas County Justice Center Sales and Use Tax, approved by voters in 1995.

Thomas points out in a fact sheet on the issue:

Since 1996, the Justice Center tax has raised over $360 million; over $26 million was raised in 2016 alone.  It has financed the Justice Center to include courtrooms, jail cells, a dispatch center and a state-of-the art coroner’s facility, the Highlands Ranch Sub-station, a jail infirmary, an employee parking garage, a driving track, a regional crime lab, an evidence warehouse, radios, radio towers, body cameras and cameras throughout the facility.  In fact, the last two courtrooms at the Justice Center were just finished but remain unused.  The mission of the Justice Center Sales Tax Fund has been accomplished.

As Thomas told Denver Channel 4 News’s Brian Maass:

“Somehow related facilities has morphed into a driving track and a crime lab and I don’t think that’s what citizens thought they were voting for when (the 1995 ballot issue) said ‘Justice Center.’”

Earmark a tax for any public agency, of course, and it’ll find needs to spend it on. And by all indicators, the sales tax has generated way more money than voters likely could have imagined over 20 years ago.  Booming DougCo’s thriving retail economy has seen to that.

Thomas wants to take a little over half of that generous revenue stream and shift it to roads.

Ask motorists who routinely thread the needle along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs, and they’ll tell you Colorado should be spending more on highway expansion and other upgrades. Ask about hiking taxes to pay for it, and they get squeamish, as polls show.

So, how would they feel about taking it from an existing tax, instead? We’ll find out if Thomas’s proposal makes it onto the ballot.

She needs at least one of her two fellow commissioners to agree with her in order to put the measure to voters in November. Will her peers go along? One, David Weaver, is a former Douglas County sheriff, and the current sheriff, Tony Spurlock, has come out against Thomas’s proposal.

As is so often the case, law enforcement seems to have a built-in lobby to safeguard its turf. Will Thomas’ own extensive law-enforcement credentials be enough to carry the day?


strickland-1-1024x687.jpg

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.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 3, 20172min80

This just came over the transom from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce:

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce announced its position on one bill working its way through the Colorado General Assembly. 

The Chamber opposes:

The chamber is of course a key barometer of the state’s business community — which badly wants better roads — as well a stakeholder in efforts throughout the 2017 legislative session to forge a compromise transportation-spending plan.

The latest iteration of such a plan, the GOP-authored Senate Bill 303, debuted in a Senate committee last night, as reported by ColoradoPolitics.com’s Joey Bunch. Unlike its predecessor — House Bill 1242, which fizzled for lack of Republican support — this version contains no tax hike. Republicans think it will fare better with the public, which still would have to vote on the new measure’s bonding provisions even without new taxes.

Perhaps in the chamber’s eyes, however, the lack of a tax hike means the proposal will be less politically acceptable to legislative Democrats, or less sustainable as a funding source for transportation.

In any event, the chamber isn’t pleased.

The clock is ticking; the session ends in a week.


Duke-ADL-1024x598.jpg

Rachael WrightRachael WrightDecember 1, 201612min11

… Fifteen Years Ago this week in The Colorado Statesman ... Politicos and policy wonks from Denver braved the treacherous mountain passes on I-70 to visit the Western Slope for an economic roundtable, featuring Colorado's chief executive, Gov. Bill Owens. The Republican governor stated that allowing businesses and consumers to buy “Chevrolet instead of Cadillac” health insurance plans would give a big boost to small businesses struggling to pay premiums. That would lead, he said, to a better economy in rural Colorado where most of the jobs were in small business. Because of the Legislature’s requirement for fifteen specific things all health insurance must cover, health insurance costs have sky-rocketed, Owens explained. Owens held roundtables in five locations around the state and the Grand Junction event drew nearly 200 people.