Each of the State Departments were the biggest winners this week, as the Senate took their final votes on the supplemental budget bills that now head to the Governor's desk for his signature. For everyone else, it was more of the same; awaiting a threat or promise (depending on which side of the issue you're on) on this session's avowed priorities - transportation funding, Public Employee Retirement Act (PERA) reform, and energy regulation.
Conversations on how to fund transportation seem more robust outside the capitol, as SB18-001, this year's $3.5 billion bonding bill, still awaits its hearing the Senate Finance Committee. Early next week, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce will file will file language next week for three separate ballot measures with the state that would raise money for transportation projects by increasing the state sales tax.
The three variations of the proposal each collecting a different sales tax -- .05 cents, .62 cents, or a one cent. If passed, the measures will raise an estimated $500 million, $620 million, and $1 billion a year, respectively, for transportation. 40 percent of revenue will be reserved for cities and counties, and 15 percent for multi-modal projects. The rest would go to pay down the Colorado Department of Transportation's $9 billion Development Program.
Solving challenges for a growing Colorado workforce is central to the need for a fix, much like the next major issue that is facing the state, the future solvency of PERA.
In November the $32 billion problem came to a head when Standard & Poor's announced, for the first time, a negative outlook for Colorado in part because of the troubles PERA is facing.
Over the last few years, Illinois has found itself on a similar path, but has largely ignored the problem. Their state pension's unfunded liability now totals more than $250 billion and, according the state Treasurer Walker Stapleton's office, is on track to become the first U.S. state to have its credit rating downgraded to "junk" status. While, Colorado is not facing a downgrade right now, if a solution for PERA isn't found this session, some say it could be a possibility.
Multiple proposals have surfaced including one from Treasurer Stapleton, one from the PERA board and one from Governor Hickenlooper's office. Sen. Jack Tate (R-Centennial) and Majority Leader KC Becker (D-Boulder) are taking the lead at the legislature to craft a proposal that somehow threads the needle between those who want to see a plan that includes only a "defined contribution" versus a plan that includes only a "defined benefit." That "needle" will also need to balance reliance on employee benefit reductions and payments against the portion that the state will have to pay for underfunding the program since the last legislative fix in 2011. This week the first legislative stakeholder meeting were held and input is being taken from all stakeholders and if bets were being taken, odds would favor this bill coming out in the final weeks of session.
The final issue that too seems to be in a holding pattern this week, but is highly anticipated is energy. Many candidates on the left are taking pledges that would require Colorado to have one hundred per cent of it's electric to be generated by renewable sources, even though the feasibility of such a move is doubted by the scientific community. The intent of these pledges is more about taking a stand against oil and gas development in the state and less about de-carbonization. The political polarity building on this issue is quickly becoming a party litmus test not unlike abortion rights or gun control which is starting to prevent thoughtful dialog on the subject of energy development. This politicking is playing out in state government in a few ways.
The House has passed and the Senate will kill a bill that would among other things upset the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conversation Commission (COGCC), rewrite financial assurance requirements, and embed court decisions in statute.
There will be other bills that help some answer the "How Liberal/Conservative are you?" question on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and property rights that likely will be fuel to each party's echo chambers in this election cycle. In spite of this, there are still those that are looking for opportunities to advance cogent energy strategies. Specifically, in the regulatory arena.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission (COGCC), following its mission to ensure public safety, upgraded its rules on Tuesday that deal with installing, testing and abandoning flow lines, which carry oil and gas from wells to nearby equipment. The rules, which are the most comprehensive in the country according to some of the commissioners, require energy companies to report the locations of many pipelines to regulators. The rules are in response Firestone home explosion last spring. That event is also one of the animating forces for an 811 ("Call before You Dig") bill that was introduced this week.
There is hope for movement on many of these issues in the next week as the March 1 deadline for the passage of bills from their house of origin approaches.
If that deadline is not waived and late bill designation is not granted, all House or Senate bills that haven't passed on third reading in the chamber they started in will effectively be Postponed Indefinitely, sharing the fate of much partisan legislation.
If these bills continue to stall, look forward to a chaotic March and a busy April as the legislature tries to piece together a budget and work on the legislation that needs to pass for the state to work.
Until next week!
DCBA BILL TRACKER: http://douglascountybusinessalliance.com/legislative-information/
The South Metro Denver Chamber Legislative Action Committee recently took the following positions on the bills described below: