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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 7, 20174min89
Update: Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, provided Colorado Politics a statement Friday morning: “We know transportation is already costing Coloradans billions of dollars a year — $6.8 billion to be exact. That’s what we lose to our deficient roads in lost time, damage to vehicles and lost gas […]

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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 25, 201710min1510

The gloves are off and the fur is flying in the Republican primary for Colorado's next state treasurer. In a series of emails sent to state GOP activists and donors Thursday, state Rep. Polly Lawrence accused her fellow state treasurer candidate state Rep. Justin Everett and his allies — "his minions" was the phrase she used — of spreading lies and mounting "traitorous attacks" on her, while an independent expenditure committee backing Everett blasted Lawrence for "lying to get re-elected, only to conspire with liberals and vote like Democrats."


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 14, 20178min1440

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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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 13, 20179min410

With the the grease fire that is Republicans’ too-big-to-fail promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, it’s time to remind D.C. how the Colorado legislature got things done this year, from healthcare to switchblades.

The state Constitution forces the legislature to balance its budget each year, that’s a big part of it. Moreover, Republicans and Democrats in the statehouse got tired of losing.

Republicans control the Senate. Democrats control the House. If you’re a partisan under the Gold Dome, that’s a losing proposition unless you have friends across the aisle. Partisans might as well howl at the moon. They’ll get just as far. The only point in picking fights when you don’t have the votes is politics, not governing.

As no small side note, our Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is making the rounds with Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich.

They’re telling Washington that states want to work across party lines to fix health care. The issue is too important to spoil with brinksmanship.

The legislative session ended three months ago, and usually there’s finger-pointing and backbiting by the time the state fair rolls around. This summer, noticeably, the bipartisan victories.

Bipartisanship is turning into a Colorado thing, like legal weed and light rock music.

Let’s air out the session’s dirty laundry, however. When they convened in January legislators from both parties said their biggest priority would be to adequately fund transportation.

They didn’t.

But you can’t blame bipartisanship. It was an all-Republican knife fight that gutted House Bill 1242, co-authored by Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham.

The Democratic House majority passed a bill to ask voters to approve a sales tax hike. Three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee couldn’t support that. The Republican majority in the Senate then couldn’t agree on a replacement bill.

Colorado found a way forward on health care, however. The bipartisan breakthrough, Senate Bill 267, put millions into rural hospitals and some into transportation, while raising Medicaid co-pays and lowering the state government spending cap. Both sides got some wins there.

Then to prove bipartisanship happens in baby steps, Republicans got in a spat with the Democratic governor on where the  bill would be signed. The peace pipe has not been completely smoked.

The divided legislature also found a middle ground on construction defects litigation, fairly funded charter schools, forced law enforcement to better disclose the assets they take in forfeitures and more (driverless cars, more convenient contraceptive access for women and money to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis).

Democrats and Republicans did some real giving and taking. It paid off.

A lot of the progress had to do with Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican outdoorsman from Douglas County, and Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, the Democratic pastor from Denver who is the someday leader emeritus of the LGBTQ Caucus.

For six of the eight years of the Hickenlooper administration, Republicans and Democrats will have shared control of the legislature. Before this past session, bombast had a way of spoiling things.

Bipartisanship starts with better relationships, Holbert said. The Senate leadership in both parties tried to keep a lid on the accusatory, overblown rhetoric that makes subsequent bipartisanship a heavy lift.

“What we’ve tried to do is to reach across the aisle quite literally by standing in that center aisle and to shake hands and to embrace and not use that kind of (negative) rhetoric with each other, first just to set that example and to encourage other people in the caucus,” Holbert said.

Guzman said relationships at least provide an open ear across the aisle when the votes are against you.

“I’ve known President Grantham since we came in together,” Guzman said. “He and I traveled to Israel together. We’ve done lots of things together.”

Holbert said the Colorado Constitution forces the legislature to work together to pass scores of bills, including balancing a budget.

“The way we have to do our jobs is different than most other states and could be different than all other states,” he said.

It’s complicated and detailed, so he wrote out Colorado’s unique governing requirements for me.

For my fellow Colorado government geeks. Holbert’s lesson:

Single Subject Rule

Everything in a bill before the Colorado General Assembly must fit under the title of that bill. This restriction prohibits “pork barrel” legislation and deal-making when unrelated issues are combined into one bill.

Every Bill Must Receive a Hearing

In many states, legislative leadership or committee chairmen have the authority to decide whether a given bill will receive a hearing. If a bill does not receive a hearing, then it cannot pass. Here in Colorado, all bills that are introduced must receive a hearing.

No Pocket Veto

In Colorado, no one legislator or even the Governor has the authority to kill a bill simply by ignoring it. Bills in our legislature can and do die by vote of a committee or chamber, with at least a simple majority of members voting against the measure. If a bill passes both chambers, our governor must either sign it into law, sign it as a veto or the bill becomes law without his signature.

Balanced Budget Requirement

The Colorado Constitution requires our state legislature to pass a budget each year and that the budget be balanced. The Colorado General Assembly cannot deficit spend, meaning that it cannot spend more than it has. With our current spilt legislature, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate must work together to pass a balanced budget.

Voter Approval Required for Taxes

Unlike many state legislatures, the Colorado General Assembly does not have authority to create a tax or increase an existing tax rate without voter approval.

Term Limits

Individuals may serve up to eight years in each chamber of our state legislature. House terms are two years each and Senate terms are four years each.

Limited Session Time
The Colorado Constitution limits the annual general session to no more than 120 days, including weekends and holidays. Unlike other states that limit session duration, here in Colorado, neither the legislature nor the Governor has authority to extend a general session beyond 120 days.

Lobbyist Restrictions

Colorado voters have also amended our state Constitution to prohibit lobbyists from giving anything of value to a state legislator. Whereas non-lobbyists can currently spend up to $59 per year entertaining a state legislator, lobbyists can spend nothing on such activities.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 19, 20176min32522
Bicycle tax
State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, has a tax in mind to support Colorado transportation. (Via Facebook)

Senate Republicans in the last legislative session wouldn’t allow any new taxes to pay for roads, but Sen. Ray Scott has found one he can embrace: taxing bicycles.

Scott, an influential Republican from Grand Junction, first made the announcement on Facebook Wednesday morning, atop a Washington Times story about Oregon becoming the first to implement a statewide tax on bicycles.

“We will be proposing something similar,” Scott posted. “They use the roads also.”

In an interview with Colorado Politics, Scott said he’s soliciting feedback to see if it’s viable, but he’s serious in his consideration.

“One way to get feedback is to put it out there and see where it goes,” he said.

Every other vehicle has a tax or sticker, but bicycles, which are ubiquitous on Colorado roads, get a free pass, even though they often have dedicated lanes, law enforcement and other taxpayer-funded public services.

“Maybe we should start from the other direction,” Scott said. “If we’re not going to tax bicycles, then let’s not tax boats, ATVs and every other vehicle out there that already pay all these taxes … how many rights do we give to cyclists that we don’t give to everybody else on the road? I’m asking.”

In Oregon, Democrats included a $15 excise tax on the sale of bicycles that cost more than $200 with a wheel diameter of at least 26 inches, so kids bikes are exempt. The tax was promoted by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.

According to Fox News, Oregon Republican Party Chairman Billy Currier called out Brown for  “anti-healthy, environmentally-unfriendly policies” who “continues to view the people of her state as nothing more than a piggy bank to fund her efforts to impose job-killing policies.”

Sen. Andy Kerr, a Democrat from Lakewood and a cycling enthusiast, didn’t think much of Scott’s idea.

“So the Republican Party now wants to put a special tax on my 13-year-old, who rides an adult bike?” he said. “Do they want to tax all students who ride their bikes to school, or anyone who likes to use their bike to get to work?

“Utterly ridiculous. People riding their bikes helps get people out of their cars, which in turn reduces traffic and wear-and-tear on our roads. We should be working to expand transportation options, and not decrease them with an anti-business, anti-freedom policy this Republican ‘bike tax’ would be.”

Sen. Mike Merrifield from Colorado Springs, another cycling Democrat, said the proposal is misguided.

“We should be encouraging people to go biking, not making it more difficult and expensive,” he said.

In the last session, House Bill 1242, co-sponsored by Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, would have imposed 0.50 sales tax for transportation projects statewide, which lawmakers for most of the session called their top priority.

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee killed the legislation out of the opposition to the tax.

Scott’s post Wednesday morning drew more replies than likes.

“I own 3 houses in CO, have 4 cars registered here too,” replied Susan Shepherd, the former Denver City Council member. “Hubby is the senior-most biz partner of a firm that has $3-4 M in annual earnings. We pay tons in taxes annually, several times the annual salary of a state legislator. Why should I have to pay an extra tax when my kid and I are bicycling on roads and streets? CDOT and municipalities need to get their priorities straight!!!”

Grand Junction orchard owner Josie Bolton posted in reply to Scott that bicycles shouldn’t be taxed because they don’t damage the roads.

Scott replied to the post, “Snowmobiles don’t hurt the snow, ATV’s don’t hurt the dirt, boats don’t hurt the water and they pay a tax, maybe we should eliminate those taxes.”

Editor’s note: This blog was updated to include comments from Colorado Politics’ interview with Scott after his Facebook post, and again to add reaction from Kerr and Merrifield. Also I corrected that it was the Senate Finance Committee, not the Senate Transportation Committee that spiked the bill.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicMay 10, 20177min48

<a href="http://capitolsolutionsinc.com/about/" target="_blank">Sandra Hagen Solin</a>, spokesperson for the <a href="https://www.fixcoloradoroads.com/" target="_blank">Fix Colorado Roads</a> economic-development coalition, worked the legislative trenches all year to bring Capitol leaders to a place where they could make a deal to pass a major transportation funding proposal. After months of back and forth, leadership this session brought out House Bill 1242, which failed spectacularly. Critics called it a mess of conflicting impulses and ambitions. Republicans hated it for being centered around a sales tax hike, and few observers on any side of the political spectrum believed that voters would even approve the tax hike if it made it to the ballot -- which made the whole exercise feel academic, like it was a deal and a proposal in theory only.



Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 3, 20172min240

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.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 28, 201710min681

The session’s unloved grand bipartisan transportation measure, <a href="https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb17-1242" target="_blank">House Bill 1242</a>, is dead, but the closing remarks — you might say the sickbed epitaph — delivered for the bill by Republican sponsor and Senate President Kevin Grantham are worth revisiting, especially given that, in the last week, and with a little more than a week left in the legislative session, three new transportation-related bills have been introduced. Grantham spoke right before the bill was dispatched Tuesday by the Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee, addressing the bill and its critics with words that might come to resonate beyond the committee hearing, even if in a ghostlike way, floating into remarks made years from now by lawmakers begging please for someone somehow to expand I-25 south of Castle Rock or to find a way to get their aged mother or father to the doctor in the middle of the day.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 27, 20174min510

“Senate Bill 267 will be laid over,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kevin Lundberg. “We’ll begin with…” But the room wasn’t listening to him anymore. Nearly all of the reporters and lobbyists sitting arrayed before the committee members rose from their chairs and headed to the door. “Thank you for coming, everyone,” joked one of the members. Another said something like, “Did someone throw a skunk in the rom?”


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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 25, 201716min670

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.