That Grantham speech on doomed transportation bill may haunt the Capitol

Author: John Tomasic - April 28, 2017 - Updated: April 28, 2017

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, in his Capitol office, January 23, 2017. (Photo by John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)
Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, in his Capitol office, January 23, 2017. (Photo by John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman)

The session’s unloved grand bipartisan transportation measure, House Bill 1242, 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.

Grantham said running this year’s bill was a brave and bold move. He said the bill was unloved on the left and the right because drumming up billions for much-needed transportation upgrades in a politically and ideologically divided swing state was always going to be — and is long likely going to be — a slog.

He said people in the Capitol have to begin seeing transportation in new ways, and doing that is hard to do. He suggested that the long era of roads and more roads and single-occupancy privately owned vehicles no longer serves the population of the state the way it once did — and particularly the state’s younger and older populations — and that transit, meaning mass-transit, is popular with residents even if it’s unpopular with lawmakers.

He said statewide solutions and local solutions have to go hand in hand, that local decisions have to be respected, but that a patchwork transportation system will fail to serve today’s wide-ranging mobile population.

He also said the result of failing to pass legislation is that no legislation gets passed and that the state’s enormous transportation problem will just grow more enormous and more daunting in the future.

Grantham was sitting with Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulfur Springs and a member of the Senate Transportation Committee. His bill mainly proposed asking voters to pass a sales tax increase that would pay for $3.5 billion in bond money.

Some highlights from Grantham’s remarks:

“There were some witnesses today who implied that supporting this bill showed a lack of courage. Can I offer that that is completely ridiculous! There is no one more courageous than the man sitting next to me who put his name on this bill. To imply otherwise honestly makes me kinda sick to my stomach… Some of the people who imply it that it takes a lack of courage to support this bill or put your name on it are the same people that would be too scared to put this to a vote of the people and actually find out if they do or do not support it.

“Some say this was a disingenuous attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Colorado. Really? This is the process here. This bill dropped in order to open it up to the public through their representatives — you five here on this committee, the five on the Transportation Committee, the entirety of the 100 legislators that sit in both of these chambers here. It’s insulting to this body and to each and every one of you…

“People think the bill doesn’t give enough money to [the Colorado Department of Transportation… But this is not a bill for any one industry. It’s not simply for the interstates. This is a statewide solution. Yes, it contains things that both sides might cringe at, ‘options,’ some call them — but we have to start looking at some of these things.

“We have to start looking at how to move people around this state, whether it’s local, whether it’s urban or rural. We have to start looking at how we move people around the cities, around the counties, around the state — and that doesn’t always mean bike paths. Sometimes that actually means a senior citizen shuttle in Ordway, Colorado. Sometimes that means a shuttle for the disabled in Craig, Colorado.

“It means different things to different communities and (with this bill) they have those options to be able to use money to those ends. You don’t have to put in a light rail down in Durango. I’m guessing that they won’t. If Boulder wants to put in a gold-plated gondola, by all means — if they can meet the 50-50 match and spend their money so unwisely, okay. They get to answer to their people for how they spend that money. This is about a statewide solution.

“Much was said about polling. Much can be made about polling. Much can be made or mis-made about a snapshot in time. But we can’t ignore what the rest of the polling said… Unfortunately, things that we don’t like to look at — transit — it actually polls very well. [The bill] polls worse without the transit than it does with it. So, if we want to look at polling, let’s really look at all the polling. That’s not comfortable for me to talk about, but it is reality, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves…

“What if this doesn’t make it onto the ballot? We’ve seen what Colorado Springs has done in passing their local tax. But what did that do for I-25 between Castle Rock and Monument? Not a thing. It will not address that. That money is for local city streets, roads, potholes, et cetera. It won’t address the problems of moving traffic and moving commerce in the state, including moving commerce in to and out of El Paso County.

“We do worry about the Balkanization of our state roads system. If Colorado Springs and then northern Colorado and other RTAs start passing their own [funding and development plans], there will be donut holes throughout the state that will be left out of improvements and will never get the improvements that are needed. Maybe that’s the preferred solution for some. It’s not for me… But that is the direction we are heading, and I think it’s a dangerous one…

“I know you all have heartfelt ideas about how best to approach this. I get that. But what will we do this session that will actually get to the people and let them decide?

“There was testimony that said this won’t pass. I don’t know that… We can poll within our own echo chambers and, I get it, we can talk within our own groups — we all hate [the bill] or we all love it…

“I don’t know what would happen if it went to the people… But I know, without a doubt, that if it doesn’t get on the ballot, then it will definitely never pass. We only get so many bites at the apple — I’ve heard that a lot today — but if the number of bites we get is exactly zero, then zero is the result we will get.”

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.