COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado lawmakers had more money to approve this Spring than any other in recent history, following over a year in a pandemic where economic woes dominated the concerns of elected leaders.
It helps when the federal government throws $3.8 billion your way. That was Colorado’s total from the American Rescue Plan, with around $2 billion spent this year, the rest coming in 2022.
“This session will go down as the most productive, most ambitious in recent history,” said Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Democrat from Pueblo that served as House Majority Leader.
Lawmakers were busy outside of the pandemic as well, successfully passing long time priorities, while trying and failing on others.
On the successful end, the years long battle to comprehensively change how Colorado fund road and transportation construction finally was solved in the Spring of 2021.
Senate Bill 21-260 will generate $5.4 billion for projects over the next ten years, $3.8 billion of that is raised from new fees. Starting in July 2022, new fees will be applied to “usage fees” for gas and diesel purchases, as well as a new registration fee for electric cars. Rideshares and retail deliveries will also get new fees, along with rental cars in order to fund as much as $200 million each year, according to the state’s fiscal projection for 2022-23.
“We need this bill in order to successfully compete,” said Governor Jared Polis. “Colorado is very poorly positioned without this bill to attract matching funds to our state.”
Matching funds, most often, come from federal government grants and Gov. Polis said the federal government is more friendly to the states that adequately fund the projects they’re looking for financial assistance on.
For Republicans, who are in the minority in both chambers, they hoped for more dedicated road and bridge funding.
“Voters, when they talk about transportation, they’re talking about roads and bridges,” said Rep. Larry Liston, a Republican from Colorado Springs. “Unfortunately, this bill passed this year really, in my mind and for many people, is a sleight of hand.”
Gov. Polis said 78% of the bill was dedicated to roads and bridges after grants to local governments were included.
“There is more than roads to transit so we also, with that 22 percent, had multi-modal and air quality for the air we all breathe,” Gov. Polis said.
Liston also sees the implementation of fees without voter approval as an afront to the Tax Payer Bill of Rights and Proposition 117 that voters approved in the fall, that required large state enterprises to be approved by voters.
SB 260 had bipartisan support, including from Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, though he also has said he wished for more dedicated road and bridge money.
Massive changes to the tax structure for small businesses that aimed to reduce their bill to the government also was approved this Spring.
For years, many Democrats had hoped to pass a public health insurance option in the state, to increase competition in areas with just one insurer on the market.
Half a dozen gun-related laws were passed, including one to mandate safe storage and another to allow local governments to create stricter controls, passed largely along party lines.
For years many democrats, including the Governor, hoped to pass a public health insurance option to increase competition in the market place, predominantly in communities with one insurer.
The bill democrats hoped to do that through, House Bill 1232, ended up as a skeleton of what was originally proposed.
Gone is the broad public option and in its place, requirements to lower health insurance premiums by 15% over three years (or have the state insurance commissioner set the price if the target is not reached) and a below-market price option for individuals and small groups across the state.
Gov. Polis and democratic leadership said that was a win in a press conference Thursday because their goal of lowering the cost of health care is achieved if insurers meet the target that was set for them.
Liston, in the end, says he and fellow republicans hope they have more say in the way next year’s round of pandemic relief funding is spent, and overall in the state government.
“What we really need next year is balance. Right now, we have one-party control and one-party control, makes things out of control,” he said.