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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 31, 20177min25
I got to know four of our Republican gubernatorial candidates in front of a few thousand of their friends at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver recently. The Centennial Institute, which puts on what amounts to spring break for conservatives outside the D.C. Beltway, asked me to chat up Victor Mitchell, Steve Barlock, Doug Robinson and […]

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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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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.


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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?


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 8, 201710min17
  Fix Colorado Roads has been working for years to get lawmakers to put more money into major roads, with lots of promises and limited follow-through. This session was supposed to turn a corner, but instead interstates 25 and 70 will continue to wait, just as the motorists do in routine traffic jams. Colorado Politics […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 4, 20174min150

The Colorado Springs Gazette recently reported that Colorado is unlikely to receive any new significant transportation funding from Washington. (“Insights: Trump’s deal on transportation is a ‘no deal’ for Colorado.”) The story concluded that federal policy is pushing Colorado toward more toll road — but I am here to say that another alternative exists.

Namely, to define spending priorities within state government and conclude roads and bridges are a priority.

Each year for the past ten years Colorado state spending has grown, on average, by more than a billion dollars per year. We’ve gone from just over $17 billion in state spending in 2007 to $28.3 billion in the budget just signed by the Governor. Yet our roads and bridges crumble and traffic routinely grinds to a congested stop on our key roadways.

Conservative legislators offered amendments to this year’s budget to shake loose some cash for roads. I myself offered two amendments, which combined would have redirected more than $315 million for roads and bridges. While it’s disappointing that both failed in the Democrat-controlled House, the point is that such a redirection of funds is not mathematically impossible.

It’s a question of priorities and the politics around choosing those priorities.

So what has been the policy choice and where does the money go? Between the 2007 budget and this year’s, the Health Care Policy and Financing Department, whose most expensive job is managing Medicaid, has grown 178% from $3.5 billion to just a tick under $10 billion. A big share of that money is federal pass-through dollars. But the state general fund money — the money generated primarily from sales and income tax, the money your state legislators have direct spending control over–grew by more than 90% ($1.3 billion) in the same time period to reach $2.8 billion in this year’s budget. Here’s the kicker: In those same 10 years, generalfund spending on transportation was limited to $331 million for all ten years.

Each year, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) uses State and Federal gas tax dollars and other fees and taxes like those you pay when you register your car mostly for road maintenance. And CDOT says they need another billion dollars a year to keep up with Colorado’s growing population.

A crisis the size and scope of the roads and bridges breakdown in Colorado deserves the attention of general fund dollars. We need to have the tough conversations inside the state, and stack up every dollar for other policy items against our transportation needs.

Colorado should welcome funding help if it comes from Washington, but not expect it. The current budget proposal in Washington would cut transportation programs and promote solutions that will translate into toll roads here in Colorado. The administration in Washington has been open to reducing regulatory burdens associated with road improvements, which would ease the cost of construction and speed its completion. This is helpful, but it’s not a solution.

The big question is this: Are roads and bridges paid for with the taxes already collected from the people of Colorado a priority or not? I say yes. Let’s have the tough conversations about the state budget. Let’s allocate the tax money that is already being redirected from the every day budgets of hard working Coloradans into taxes and pay for the roads and bridges those same Coloradans deserve.



Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 28, 20175min90

As vacation season nears, the shuffle of Colorado Politics never stops. This past week political races for next year continued to take shape, and President Trump’s plans for the nation continued to raise cheers and jeers.

These are the stories our staff thinks will continue to make news in the weeks and months ahead, so catch up while you can:

 

Barbara Brohl
(Photo courtesy of the Colorado Department of Revenue)

5. Tax chief Barbara Bohl is heading off on an adventure

Colorado is losing its Department of Revenue chief in August, ahead of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s departure after 2018. What’s next for Barbara Bohl and why she chose to leave. (The answers were vague.)

Read the full story here.

 

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(Courtesy of the Telluride Mountain Club)

4. Look up to find Fowler and Boskoff

Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez are asking Congress to name two peaks near Telluride after legendary local climbers Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff, who were killed climbing together in Tibet in 2006.

Read the full story here.

 

Coffman challenger Levi Tillermann
(Photo courtesy of Levi Tillemann)

3. Tillemann offers shakeup for CD6 primary to face Coffman

A scion to one of the best-known families in Colorado politics, Levi Tillemann, could make it very interesting in the Democratic primary dogfight to run against the seemingly unbeatable U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman next year.

Read the full story here.

 

A view of two large alcoves along the Sand Canyon Trail at Canyon of the Ancients National Monument contain standing ruins of Native American homes. (The Gazette file photo)

2. Leave our canyon be, Mr. President

Colorado’s congressional leaders sent a letter to President Trump telling him to leave be the Canyons of the Ancients near Cortez as his administration reviews the worthiness of large national monuments designated since 1996.

Read the full story here.

 

(Courtesy of Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City)

1. And Moreno makes 3

State Sen. Dominick Moreno became the third Democratic state legislator to jump in the race to fill the seat in the 7th Congressional District next year with Sen. Andy Kerr and Rep. Brittany Pettersen. Incumbent Ed Perlmutter is running for governor, instead. A fourth lawmaker thought to be considering the race, Rep. Jessie Danielson, prefers her politics local. She said she’ll run for state Senate instead.

Read the full story here.