Republicans Kill Transportation Funding Bill

No road repairs for you!

As John Frank reports for the Denver Post:

A bipartisan measure backed by Colorado’s top lawmakers to seek a sales tax hike for transportation reached the end of the road Tuesday.

A state Senate panel defeated the proposal to pump $3.5 billion into improving the state’s highways along party-lines with the three Republican members citing ideological opposition to increasing taxes.

The outcome became clear a week earlier when the Senate’s bill sponsors hastily announced an impasse in the negotiations on the term’s No. 1 priority, a major setback for legislative leaders and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“This is a statewide solution bill,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City. “Yes it contains things both sides may cringe at. … But we must start looking at some of these things.”…

Most supporters urged the Senate Finance Committee to allow the measure to reach the Senate floor, where it has the votes to pass, and emphasized the need to take action. [Pols emphasis]

But the bulk of opponents criticized the tax hike and suggested lawmakers cut spending elsewhere to prioritize money for transportation, suggesting everything from reductions in spending on libraries to selling an airplane used by the governor.

As Frank notes, there were enough votes in the Senate as a whole to get this transportation legislation out of the Upper Chamber and onto the Governor’s desk…but three partisan Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee refused to allow the bill to advance (despite support from Senate President Kevin Grantham). Senators Tim Neville (R-Jefferson County), Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) and Jack Tate (R-Centennial) did the bidding of the Koch-funded group Americans for Potholes Prosperity, making the same tired old argument that we can just find enough money in the couch cushions of various state offices if we look hard enough.

For partisan Republicans like Neville, Hill, and Tate, it’s easier to just say “NO” to everything than it is to try to actually come up with solutions.

Wingnut Pressure Groups: Why Colorado Can’t Have Nice Things

We mentioned this developing story in today’s Get More Smarter roundup, but the crisis over Republican intransigence on a deal to increase revenue for transportation spending in Colorado is getting worse by the minute–recapping the Denver Post’s report today on an “alternative” to the bipartisan deal between the Senate and House leadership from the #2 Republican in the Senate:

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg calls his effort “supplemental” but the proposal is a clear alternative to the one put forward by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran.

Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said his draft bill would not increase taxes and would use $100 million in existing state dollars to cover a much smaller $1.3 billion bond, which is only enough to improve small local roads.

“I am going to do a supplemental transportation bill that may reduce the tax increase, may provide for some help if this transportation bill doesn’t pass,” he said Monday in a briefing with reporters in Grantham’s office.

At the same time, conservative activists led by the Independence Institute are pushing an “alternative measure” called “Fix Our Damn Roads,” which directs the state to find money in the existing budget to pay for roads improvements:

On Friday, Jon Caldara, head of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, filed his own ballot measure with the Colorado Legislative Council that calls for $2.5 billion in bonding without the tax increase and without the transit funding. There’s enough money in the existing budget to pay for road improvements, he said, and the legislature needs to stop messing around.

And at the top of the Republican food chain, national conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is leading opposition under the Gold Dome to the bipartisan roads compromise:

Watching Americans for Prosperity tear into Senate GOP leadership is particularly interesting, since there has been famously little daylight between that group and Senate Republicans ever since former Senate President Bill Cadman credited AFP with the Republican majority after the 2014 elections. The spokesman for Senate Republicans, Sean Paige, is himself a former AFP staffer–and taking fire from his former shop must be an unusual experience.

Both AFP and the Independence Institute are demonstrating a dogmatic unwillingness to compromise on this important issue, placing them well outside even the Republican mainstream–the proof of that being their opposition to a plan negotiated by a Republican Senate President. Both AFP and the Independence Institute have celebrated the “fiscal responsibility” that the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires the state to observe, but still claim there is hundreds of millions of dollars of waste in the budget that can be “reprioritized” to fund road repairs. Obviously, only one of those can be true.

At some point, you just have to understand that these groups are not interested in a constructive outcome. Their proposals can afford to be unworkable because they are not intended to be serious. These “alternatives” only exist to thwart debate on the real deal. It’s fine for outside pressure groups to draw an ideological hard line like this, but that shouldn’t be the final answer from responsible elected government officials. Governing, after all, is all about compromise.

Unfortunately, these groups wield enormous power. And too often, they write the script that Republican lawmakers read.

“Coal Rolling” Assholes Safe Thanks To Senate GOP

“Rolling coal.”

As the Colorado Statesman’s John Tomasic reports–for the second year in a row, legislation to clamp down on the practice of “coal rolling” has died in the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate after passing the Colorado House and a GOP cosponsor in the Senate:

Rolling coal has made news across the country for years. It involves modifying a diesel truck engine using performance computer chips to send clouds of black soot from its exhaust pipe or pipes, preferably into the breathing space of pedestrians, bicyclists, Prius drivers, members of the state’s outdoor cafe society — which is to say, the kind of people who would most take offense.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling, led opposition to “nuisance exhaust” House Bill 1102.

Sonnenberg, a farmer, argued that the bill could be used to target agricultural workers who drive diesel pickup trucks but who aren’t intentionally polluting or seeking to offend or intimidate anyone. He said he feared the bill could turn into “the tip of the spear” that would bring California-style stricter vehicle emissions rules to the state…

The problem is, that’s a bunch of hooey. House Bill 17-1102 dealt specifically with the knowing release of smoke from light vehicles for the purpose of harassing and annoying others on the road or on the sidewalk. It’s not a measure intended to penalize any unintentional emissions, for example from an older vehicle in need of repair. The purpose of a “nuisance exhibition” of smoke is to harass others, period. And there is absolutely no reason in the world why it should be a protected activity.

It’s one of those situations where the objections just don’t make sense. Outside of the people who do it, we don’t know of anyone who thinks “coal rolling” should be legal. It’s already illegal to tamper with a vehicle’s emission equipment, and the modifications to facilitate “coal rolling” are not necessary to achieve any reasonable goal.

Until next year, though, congratulations to the “coal rollers,” and the GOP lawmakers making the world safe for your soot! Enjoy being a detestable public nuisance while you can.

Will The Legislature Finally Put a Stop to “Rolling Coal?”

“Rolling coal.”

The Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland reports on the debate in the General Assembly over House Bill 17-1102, a second attempt by Democratic Rep. Joann Ginal to outlaw the modifications made to diesel vehicles allowing that to spew vast quantities of smoke with a flip of a switch–a practice known in the vernacular as “rolling coal.”

Given that being targeted with noxious fumes isn’t all Coloradans’ idea of fun, state lawmakers are taking a second shot at passing a bill that would make “coal rolling” – the act of using vehicle exhaust as a form of harassment – a traffic infraction with a $100 fine.

This is about public safety and public health, said Rep. Joann Ginal, a Fort Collins Democrat who showed three videos of people intentionally “rolling coal” at others during a hearing in the House Transportation and Energy Committee earlier this month.

The proposal isn’t about going after diesel trucks, Ginal told the committee. It’s more about those who modify their vehicles, usually either with a tailpipe or smokestack, in order to blast smoke at another driver, bicyclist, motorcyclist, pedestrian or other human target.

Ginal said the request for the bill came from her local police department, and would give law enforcers a tool they can use when they see “coal rolling.”

Last year, legislation cracking down on “rolling coal” died in the Colorado Senate after passing the Democratic-controlled House. But this year, as the Fort Collins Coloradoan reports, there’s a GOP co-sponsor in the Senate:

It’s the second year Ginal, D-Fort Collins, has run the bill. It stalled in the Senate transportation committee last session. This year, it has a Republican co-sponsor in Sen. Don Coram of Montrose.

If the bill becomes law, it would give police the ability to fine drivers who intentionally spew exhaust in a way that obstructs another person’s view, creates a safety hazard or in a manner that’s harassing to other cars or pedestrians. Violators would be fined $100.

Last year, Republicans took considerable fire for their decision to kill this bill, in effect siding with people who commit an act tantamount to vandalism–not to mention the negative public health effects of intentionally spewing black diesel smoke into the environment. It’s worth noting again that this is not legislation to further punish people with smoky vehicles due to age or poor maintenance. “Rolling coal” is made possible by a deliberate modification to the vehicle for the express purpose of…well, being an asshole.

So we’ll be watching closely to see if the GOP-controlled Senate lets the bill through this year.

Randy “The Stache” Baumgardner’s Got Some ‘Splaining To Do

Randy Baumgardner.

Randy Baumgardner.

UPDATE: David O. Williams updates his story with another document that directly contradicts Baumgardner’s own statement that “I don’t know anything about that.”

And documents obtained in the CORA request also show the senator does know about the incidents in question: baumgardner-sand-release-april-2015(pdf).

—–

Freelance journalist David O. Williams has a new story out today that could spell trouble for Colorado’s “Capital Cowboy,” state Sen. Randy Baumgardner–who has allegedly been beating the high cost of living by misusing state property for his personal needs:

In a recent interview with the Rocky Mountain Post, [Democratic opponent Emily] Tracy accused Baumgardner of ignoring constituents, violating the public trust and playing politics over critical economic and safety issues such as highway funding. She was particularly pointed over revelations the senator may have use state property for personal gain while working for the highway department.

“It’s a violation of public trust,” Tracy said. “It’s public money. It’s taxpayer’s hard-earned money that goes to funding all of this. It just shouldn’t be misused.”

The Rocky Mountain Post obtained the results of a Colorado Open Records Act request filed with the Colorado Department of Transportation last spring revealing that Randy and Lori Baumgardner were involved in three different incidents of personal use of state property.

Randy Baumgardner worked for the state highway department for 11 years starting in 2000, and his wife Lori still works for CDOT. Lori Baumgardner received multiple Performance Documentation Forms for incidents that also involved her husband, including the improper use of a fuel card PIN number in 2009, using CDOT sand on their ranch in 2014, and earlier this year using CDOT office photocopy machines to duplicate their tax returns.

Baumgardner’s response to these questions…is not good:

“I don’t know anything about any of that,” Randy Baumgardner told the Rocky Mountain Post. “I’m not addressing any of that. Like I said, you can make out of that whatever you want to. I don’t know. I’ve not worked for them since 2011. [Lori] still works for them. I’m not going to get into the weeds on that.”

CDOT officials would not comment on the CORA findings, citing personnel reasons, but officials did verify the results of the records request, which included emails from supervisors who were very concerned about the misuse of state property by the Baumgardners. [Pols emphasis]

It’s of course extremely unlikely that Baumgardner doesn’t know about these incidents, which left a paper trail of emails that prove it was a known problem within the Colorado Department of Transportation. Any appropriation of government resources for personal use by a government employee is unacceptable, and it’s naturally worse when that government employee also happens to be a sitting state lawmaker.

We’ll have to see how this story develops–but if you’re looking for the type of scandal that might actually cost a quasi-safe legislator their seat with elections only a few weeks away, we’d say this could fit the bill.

Sorry, Jon Caldara: Bustang’s a Hit

BustangHiResAs the Denver Business Journal’s Cathy Proctor reported last week:

Bustang, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s foray into regular statewide bus service, had a stellar first year, according to the agency better known for road and highway construction…

The agency had forecasted Bustang’s first year ridership at 87,376.

Actual ridership was 17 percent higher, with a total of 102,577 people taking Bustang through the end of June, said Bob Wilson, a CDOT spokesman.

CDOT expected revenues from paid fares to hit $647,817 for Bustang’s first year.

Instead, the actual revenue was 57 percent higher, with $1,014,781 recorded through the end of June, Wilson said.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported this weekend, with the success of the system’s first year there is growing interest in expanding the Bustang service west:

The first-year success of the new state transit service called Bustang is spurring increased hopes of it one day galloping past Glenwood Springs to serve Grand Junction as well…

Wilson said the idea of extending the western service to Grand Junction is on the agency’s radar. There’s just no timetable for it occurring, and any expansion would require approval from the state Transportation Commission, whether additional funding is required or not.

“But extending it from Glenwood to Grand Junction is part of the plan,” [CDOT spokesman Bob] Wilson said. “… It’s become more likely as time has gone on because of the success of the west route.”

This story takes on added political significance because in this year’s legislative session, Republicans introduced legislation to eliminate funding for the Bustang system entirely. Even with income and ridership exceeding expectations, fares aren’t enough to cover the total budget for the Bustang service. The system is funded in part by revenues from the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act of 2009 (FASTER) fee program. Longtime readers will recall that Republicans bitterly fought against FASTER as a violation of at least the spirit of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), suing and losing all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court–and perennially vowing revenge at the ballot box for this skewering of their most sacred cow.

Well folks, now they’d be taking something away that benefits voters. It’s easy to understand why even the conservative bastion of Grand Junction would want this additional transportation option. The practicalities run up against their rigid ideology, and ideology loses.

And with apologies to the ideologues, that’s how it should be.

“Rolling Coal”–Seriously Republicans, WTF?

Rolling coal--ladies, please don't encourage this.

“Rolling coal.”

Nick Coltrain at the Fort Collins Coloradoan reports on the death Tuesday of Rep. Joann Ginal’s House Bill 16-1319, legislation that would have outlawed the practice of intentionally modifying your diesel vehicle to spew black soot on unsuspecting pedestrians, Prius owners, and other such wussies:

Ginal, D-Fort Collins, said she wrote the bill to target the activity, not the modifications. She had input from Fort Collins law enforcement and city officials on the bill. The bill would have created a $35 fine for those who rig light diesel trucks to blast thick, black exhaust and use it to obscure roadways or harass pedestrians, referred to as rolling coal. It would have also tacked two points on the offender’s license. Too many points in a one- or two-year period will lead to license suspension.

The bill passed out of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote earlier this month. It failed on a party-line vote in the Senate transportation committee, with the three Republicans voting against it. A phone message to the chair of the committee, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey, was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Prius-RepellentLet’s have no confusion about about the plain language of HB16-1319:

The bill prohibits “coal rolling”, or “rolling coal”, which is the act of intentionally blowing black smoke through one or more exhaust pipes attached to a diesel vehicle after modifying, disabling, bypassing, or removing the vehicle’s pollution controls, for the purpose of harassing another driver, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian or obstructing or obscuring the view of another driver, a bicyclist, or a pedestrian. A person who violates the prohibition commits a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense, punishable by 10 to 90 days in jail or a $150 to $300 fine, or both, and is subject to 3 points assessed against the person’s driver’s license.

As you can see, we’re not talking about a new law to bust down poor people with old smoking vehicles. The citizens who would face penalties under this bill have intentionally modified their diesel vehicles to emit vast quantities of sooty diesel smoke from their exhausts at will. There are diesels on the road that emit more than their share of smoke already, but this is a modification that produces far more than any engine problem. If you’ve ever seen someone “rolling coal,” you know that the pall of smoke they generate can dangerously obscure an entire major boulevard–not to mention choke out anyone unfortunate enough to be walking outdoors nearby.

Safe to say, it’s a very bad practice that should most definitely not be legal–any more than it’s legal to defeat your emission controls in a regular car. And since it’s something done with the express purpose of harassing others and creating a nuisance…yeah. It’s ridiculous. Throw the book at ’em.

But no, Sen Randy Baumgardner and his Republicans colleagues on the Senate Transportation Committee chose instead to protect your God-given right to “roll coal.” So remember to keep your Prius’ windows rolled up tight and don’t make eye contact.

Americans For Prosperity Eats Its Own, John Suthers Edition

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs.

We noted it in today’s Get More Smarter, but worth its own mention as the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Billie Stanton reports:

Americans for Prosperity says no sales tax increase is needed to fix Colorado Springs roads, but Mayor John Suthers says that contention is based on “an incredibly uninformed analysis.”

AFP, a Republican political advocacy group, issued a news release Thursday saying a certified public accountant had reviewed the city’s budget and found Colorado Springs has “more than enough money” to fix its infrastructure without pursuing a sales tax increase…

So, here’s the thing about driving around in Colorado Springs: the roads are in very bad shape. We know you all regularly drive over rough patches in your commutes wherever you live, but in Colorado Springs, those rough patches are more like the whole road. As with just about every other public service in Colorado’s world-famous conservative mecca, the maintenance of the city’s ribbed backsides has always been carried out on a shoestring budget.

But forget all that, folks, this is the land of the Ronald Reagan Highway! And if a shining city on a hill like Colorado Springs were to vote to raise taxes on itself to pay for something done by the government, why, those pesky liberal blogs would never let them hear the end of it.

Americans for Prosperity.

Americans for Prosperity.

And that is how conservative Republican Mayor John Suthers of Colorado Springs, the state’s former attorney general, would up on the wrong side of Koch brothers-funded conservative astroturf group Americans for Prosperity.

Suthers said he had been in office about a week when Jeff Crank, formerly of AFP, asked if his budget expert could look at the city budget. But no one did, nor did they contact the city’s finance office or the citizens committee that’s studied city budgets for six years, the mayor said…

Suthers completely dismissed [AFP accountant Steven] Anderson’s recommendations, pointing out that sales tax money comes from more than city residents, [Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority] money is distributed as it should and tax rebate deals to promote development bolster the economy and create jobs. Furthermore, he said, the only entities excluded from city property taxes are churches, nonprofits and the military.

“Do you think the citizens of Colorado Springs would vote to tax churches and nonprofits? We’d be the only jurisdiction in Colorado that did that,” Suthers said. [Pols emphasis]

It’s tough to say how this one will play out. Groups like AFP are masters at pushing the precise messaging buttons needed to turn out the blind-charging anti-tax conservative base in droves, and the deep pockets to give them all T-shirts. Against that, you have the credibility of a popular conservative Republican mayor, asking for money to fix his city’s monumentally crappy roads.

The outcome will show who’s doing the proverbial wagging: the tail or the dog.

Or maybe AFP is the dog now.

Greg Brophy Demands More Subsidies for Greg Brophy

It appears former state Sen. Greg Brophy is settling into his new life in D.C. as the Chief of Staff for Congressman Ken Buck (R-Greeley). He’s even taken to using Washington’s local bike share program, which allows him to get to Union Station and complain about things.

We know this because Brophy tweeted about it this week, snorting that he was using the “commie bike share program.” He also suggested he should be paid for not parking his bicycle somewhere besides Union Station, which he said always has plenty of empty spots on the bike rack.

So, what you’re saying is that you deserve — we’ll call it a “subsidy” — for your commie bike riding?

We’re talking about the same Greg Brophy who has received $113,000 in corn and wheat subsidies since 1999 from commies taxpayers. Perhaps he can start a fundraising campaign to help him pay for his bike share membership.

So You Don’t Like Toll Roads? Well…

U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project.

U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project.

The Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela has a story up today about the long-term shortage of federal funds for transportation projects, and what that’s forcing states like Colorado to do to provide for the infrastructure needed to sustain economic growth–not to mention keeping your commute from driving you totally insane:

Congress faces a July 31 deadline to pass legislation addressing the country’s transportation needs. But recent history suggests lawmakers will fall short of passing a long-term funding bill, instead opting for yet another stopgap measure.

Over the last six years, Congress has passed short-term transportation funding extensions 33 times.

The temporary funding measures are unsustainable, Mendez said, if Congress intends to repair roads and bridges…

[Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez] called on Congress to take action on the Grow America Act, a six-year, $478 billion highway funding bill supported by President Obama and Mendez’ boss, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

According to Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez, passage of the Grow America Act would bump Colorado transportation funding up 20%, with an even bigger increase for transit projects. As you can imagine, though, the measure is going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Congress:

“There’s difficulty getting it through the Republican House right now, which is sort of par for the course,” said Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents the 7th Congressional District.

The U.S. Senate has introduced a more modest bipartisan proposal, cosponsored by GOP Sen. Cory Gardner, that would increase transportation funds by a smaller amount via a relatively gimmicky incentive for corporations to repatriate overseas earnings at favorable tax rates. Anything would help, of course, but the huge long-term deficit in funding for transportation projects, both to maintain current infrastructure and to provide for the future, is much bigger than what Gardner’s bill would provide for.

But there’s another big difference between the two proposals: the President’s bill relies on provisions that Coloradans may not like, even though they are being embraced by cash-strapped Colorado transportation officials right now. The Grow America Act would significantly ease restrictions on tolling of existing interstate highways, as well as encourage so-called “public-private partnerships” to build new transportation projects. In Colorado, the new U.S. 36 Express Lanes Project is an example of what the future would look like under the Grow America Act–new infrastructure, but at a significant long term cost and loss of control:

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Neville Nutters: Repeal FASTER Late Fees, Because Freedom

Bridge repair is important.

Bridge repair is important.

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reports on this year's attempt to repeal part of the road and bridge construction funding stream created in 2009 via increased vehicle registration fees known as FASTER, a perennial target of the "Tea Party" faction of General Assembly Republicans:

“It is one of the most egregious fees,” said Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton. “A fee is supposed to be a charge to cover the cost of handling something. There really is no cost to the government here.”

He and his son, rookie Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, are sponsoring Senate Bill 18 to repeal the vehicle registration late fee, which starts at $25 a month and is capped at $100. It’s the first bill from the father-son legislative team…

Because FASTER was passed by the General Assembly instead of a statewide vote, and has the net effect of increasing revenue available to fund Colorado transportation projects, conservative Republicans seethe annually about the program as a violation of the spirit (and, as opponents have unsuccessfully argued in court, the letter) of the 1992 Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). The problem, of course, is that TABOR has hobbled the ability of the state to properly fund transportation projects for decades, and the only way for the state to keep up with the growing burden of maintenance and new infrastructure is to resort to alternate sources like registration late fees. In recognition of the unreasonable restriction imposed by TABOR on the legislature's ability to tax and spend, the Colorado Supreme Court has made an important distinction between fees and taxes in other cases.

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

Sen. Tim Neville, Rep. Patrick Neville.

In previous years, despite the clamor on the right to repeal FASTER, Republicans in the legislature have been ultimately checked by their leadership. The last time Republicans had control of one chamber of the Colorado legislature in 2011, then House Speaker Frank McNulty's chief of staff was the former lobbyist for the Colorado Contractor's Association. The relentless drive to "shrink government" that serves as an article of faith for so many Republicans simply breaks down in the face of the reality that the state need these funds–and smart Republicans understand that to do nothing to address pressing needs like bridge repair would ultimately be disastrous for their own credibility.

Despite this, Bartels reports:

The bill likely will pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but its fate is unknown when it hits the Democratic-controlled House. Democrats have only a three-seat majority, and Rep. Neville is optimistic he can pull off a vote or two to help protect “the little guy.”

Missing from this bill is any plan to replace the millions of dollars it would cost the state, money that is being used right now to pay for something voters value above just about anything else–safe roads and bridges to drive on. On a matter of such basic importance, and with no alternative suggested, we have to wonder if there really isn't a single Republican in the Colorado Senate who will do the responsible thing here.

If not, it's something the voters should take careful note of.

Truthers, Lies, and Clear Choices: Commissioner and Clerk Debates in Pueblo

UPDATE: The story of how Sal Pace outed Tom Ready as a conspiracy nut, who believes that the Sandy Hook school shootings never happened, has gone national, but you saw it here first. Here is a link to video I took of Pace and Ready's remarks, with apologies for the poor quality.

The professional-quality video will be aired by Comcast Channel 19 Community Access TV according to this schedule, starting September 22. If you were smart enough to have thought of recording it, you've got it. But you won't have the priceless audience reactions.

The Commissioner debate began at 6:00 pm.

Steve Henson of Chieftain, moderator, says that there will be no questions from the audience. Only those previously submitted by readers of the Chieftain or Action22 will be asked of the candidates.

No heckling. It is not a rule he enforces against the Ready and Head supporters, who boo, catcall, etc. , pretty much unchallenged, as you will hear and see from the video.

The County Commissioner debate, between incumbent Commisioner Sal Pace, and Republican challenger Tom Ready,  was a very wonky and respectful debate, discussing tax policy, land use, water regulations, jobs and economic development. Sal Pace gave himself some well-deserved props for progress on the Southwest Chief proposal, and a new arts initiative in Pueblo. Ready declined to go after Sal Pace about Pueblo's current County Commissioner email "scandal", for which one Commissioner was fired. This reticence on Ready's part surprised me – but Sal Pace had nothing to do with the emails, so perhaps that explains it.

It was all good – up until the point when Tom went off the rails. He started off by accusing Sal Pace of personally raising utility rates on Pueblo Customers. Sal Pace was a party to the unfortunate agreement that ensconced Black Hills Energy as the town's monopoly customer-gouger, but didn't actually personally throw the switch.  Then Tom went into why coal is cleaner than natural gas, and it kind of went south from there. Sal, appropriately, responded that if Tom wanted to get negative, how about those Facebook posts about how Newtown shootings were a hoax?

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Red-Light Camera Ban Passes Senate

UPDATE: Food for thought as legislators consider Senate Bill 14-181, here are some interesting points in favor of red light cameras from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police:

Year-to-year changes in red-light running fatalities reveal an average annual decrease of 5.6% from 2007 to 2011. U.S. and worldwide studies show a 25 to 30 % reduction in injury crashes at locations with red-light safety cameras, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports. A five-year study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2011 found red-light cameras saved more than 150 lives in 14 of the largest U.S. cities, reducing fatalities by 24 percent.

Cameras get drivers’ attention, and reduce the most dangerous type of collisions – right angle crashes. A 2011 Texas Transportation Institute study of 11,122 crash records from 275 intersections showed 633 fewer crashes at intersections with cameras; and a 32% decrease in right-angle crashes…

The use of photo speed radar enforcement is already strictly limited to residential streets, school zones and construction zones. It can be used only where the speed limits is not more than 35 miles per hour. A violator must be exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour to receive a ticket. Photo speed radar vans are manned by qualified personnel. Red light cameras are deployed at selected high risk intersections. Fines are limited to a maximum $40 for speeding and $75 for red light infractions. No points are assessed against a driver’s record.

—–

red-light-camera

As the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports, the red-light camera ban bill, supported by a bipartisan election-year coalition and hotly opposed by local government reaping big bucks from installed cameras, has passed the Colorado Senate:

At its core, Senate Bill 181 would bar local municipalities from using automated vehicle-identification systems that pinpoint drivers. Along with red-light cameras, the measure includes photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The bill moved out of the Senate on a 21-14 vote. The only amendment attached allows for toll roads to continue using photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The measure has support from Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday was noncommittal toward the bill. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said at an afternoon news conference he's seen earlier versions of the bill, but has yet to view its current form.

"I think there are a number of people that feel a level of anger over what they feel is an intrusion and is not making their roads safer, and their opinion is that it's a way for local governments to try to increase their revenues," Hickenlooper said when asked about his personal views on the concept of banning photo red-light cameras. "That creates a real frustration in a lot of elected officials."

Gov. John Hickenlooper's sympathy for those poor, misunderstood elected officials notwithstanding, the public at large seems to be the most "frustrated" party over red-light cameras. The disagreement over the public safety value of these systems is difficult to sort through legitimately, due to what's perceived to be an ulterior motive to raise badly-needed revenue for local government–one thing red-light cameras excel at. Sometimes it falls to your humble hosts to remind our readers that revenue for our local governments is a good thing, or failing that at least a necessary evil–and if TABOR won't let governments get it the old-fashioned way, they've got to get creative.

A poll follows: will Gov. Hickenlooper sign Senate Bill 14-181 if it passes?

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Rivera / Crowder Town Hall Heats Up, Democracy Thrives

 

 



 

 


When Colorado Senators Larry Crowder (left) and George Rivera convened a town hall in Pueblo on Wednesday, March 19, they probably hadn't planned to be confronted, interrupted, and corrected by dozens of Pueblo citizens of various political stripes. But that's what happened.

Over the course of a two hour meeting, Rivera and Crowder discussed wage theft, the proposed SouthWest Chief Rail expansion to Pueblo, PERA, TABOR, minimum wage and the rights of workers to organize, with about fifty vocal and opinionated constituents.

Senator Rivera came out swinging as the hard-right conservative he is- he explained that he is a "right to work" guy, that he is "not a believer in… the whole concept of the minimum wage", that he would like to privatize PERA (change it from a defined benefit to a "defined contribution" model).

He does not support the  lawsuit challenging TABOR, and he would rather see people paying fuel taxes than using public transportation, a dig at the proposed SW Chief rail line, the signature issue of his opponent for SD3, Represenative Leroy Garcia.

On SB14-05,  the "wage theft" legislation passed out of Committee  and into Appropriations with no Republican support, neither Senator took a strong position.  Both Senators agreed that it is a shame to steal a day's pay for a day's work, expressed some caution about costs of the measure, and moved on.


Senator Crowder, the more experienced politician, took softer stances, or tried to avoid taking stances altogether. He did not agree with privatizing PERA. He also does not support the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TABOR, does not support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, and seems to be somewhat ignorant of what would be required to dismantle TABOR.

On the minimum wage issue, Crowder advocates for raising the "median wage", a proposal which got quite a few baffled looks from the town hall attendees. Crowder stated  that only 2% of workers receive minimum wage, when, in actuality, 59% of workers, mostly women, are paid at the minimum level. 


When directly challenged by Yesenia Beascochea (left) of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition: "How are people supposed to buy groceries on $7 an hour?" Crowder waffled until he was rescued by George Rivera's daughter, (left center) who ranted for three minutes, questioning  why anyone should support poor folks on Medicaid.

So, Crowder never answered Beascochea's question.  Crowder is also the more moderate of the two southeastern Colorado Senators; Crowder was the only Republican to vote for Colorado's Medicaid expansion and Health Exchange. Lamar's Crowder is also a co-sponsor of the SW Chief rail expansion legislation, and did not agree with Rivera on the need to "privatize PERA".


Excerpts from the Town Hall discussion:

PERA

Rivera supports a “defined contribution” plan, not a “defined benefit” plan. Rationale: it will save money.

Carole Partin, a teacher, challenged him: Privatizing PERA will change it, and those are benefits that we worked for.  A defined contribution plan goes out to the hedge fund managers.

MINIMUM WAGE:

Barb Clementi, another teacher,  schooled the Senators on how we subsidize Walmart because of minimum wages. Rivera argued that low wages, low taxes are what brought businesses in.

Rivera argued that minimum wage legislation is a "slippery slope." He wondered, "Why would it stop at $10/hr, why not $25 hr?", and predicted that businesses would pass costs to the consumer, or close down. When confronted with examples of businesses such as Costco and others which pay $10.10 an hour, and are thriving, he changed the subject.

Question: What’s your opinion on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?

Rivera: "Well, I’m not a believer in the minimum wage. The whole concept of the minimum wage.  Because, OK, you raise it up to ten dollars and ten cents. What’s the business going to do? Are they gonna sit there, and say, OK, we’re gonna pay out that ten dollars and ten cents? And all of a sudden, we’re in the red, and whereas before we were paying seven dollars, seven-fifty, and isn’t that three dollars…more?. What are they gonna do? They’re gonna raise the cost of their goods to make up that three dollars and ten cents. So all of a sudden that ten dollars and ten cents…you’re right back where you were, a year or two later, you’re chasing your tail."

"Now let me give you another, for example….why stop at $10.10?  Why not go to twenty-five? Because twenty-five dollars an hour…Heck, we’ll all agree is good money, and everyone will be happy. No, that’s not gonna work, again, because they gotta raise the cost, raise the price of whatever goods they’re selling. They gotta make up for the cost of that pay raise, whatever it is."

Q: Do you think that Walmart’s going to go in the red by paying the minimum wage?

Crowder: Here I thought I had a chance. I can wait outside. (laughter)

"Here’s the thing about the minimum wage. 2% of the people rely on the minimum wage. (he’s 57% off, according to the Dept of Labor- 59% of American workers work for minimum wage)

What we ought to be talking about is the median wage. (Audience murmurs, puzzled) We’ve lost so much ground in the middle class. That’s what we ought to do. ….we need to work legislatively to stay out of the middle class’s way, so that they can continue…I think if we take care of the median wage, that the minimum wage will take care of itself. One of the things we can do is we can look at the employment percentage right now. "

It’s 9%. What we can do is get that employment percentage down here (gestures), and

Q: Yesenia Beascochea: Can I interrupt real quick, because I hear the both of you talking about the minimum wage.  Pay the people seven dollars an hour, minimum wage, and they have to buy the groceries, as the prices rise. The prices are rising. So how are you guys expecting…and I’m talking about poor people, that can’t afford to buy groceries at seven dollars an hour?

Crowder: (doesn’t answer her question) Would it benefit the working poor if a certain percent lost their jobs?

(Rivera's daughter complains for three minutes about how health care for the poor costs money to middle class people because: Obamacare).

TABOR:

I asked both Senators about their positions on TABOR.

Crowder: "My position on TABOR is simple. Voters voted it in. It’s up to the voters to vote it out. I do not agree with the lawsuit on TABOR that’s in the courts right now. I think what it does, it…undermines the voters…If people, truly, do not want TABOR, which I believe is….you hear both sides, you know? But I do believe that, to go through the court system, when the people of Colorado voted for it, undermines them.  So if someone wants to bring a petition, and convince the people of Colroado to get that back on the ballot,  then I would support that."

Barb Clementi (left): You recognize that it would take six or eight initiatives to actually do that?

Crowder: No, no, that can’t be true.

Barb Clementi: Yes, it would take many different initiatives to undo TABOR.

(Rivera interrupts)

Rivera:  "Well, I’ll be honest with you. If we have the low taxes that you’re talking about, ….you don’t think that TABOR had something to do with that? Look at all of the fees we pay…the fee you pay when you get your license plates. What do you think that is? That’s a tax by another name, that’s all that is."

UNIONS and ORGANIZING

Ron Greenwell, (left), chair of the Pueblo Democratic party, questioned Senator Rivera about how he felt about unions in general.

Greenwell: What do you know about the Colorado Peace Act? What do you feel about unions in general? And, would you support organized labor in the future?


Rivera: On the Colorado Peace Act, I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Greenwell: The Colorado Peace Act is legislation, that, when you're going in to organize, it's not a 50 plus 1, ….it's a 60 plus 40, something like that. And so, to make it fair for those who are organizing, they have to get 60% of the vote, rather than 50% plus 1.

RIGHT to WORK (for less): Rivera: Well, I believe in “right to work”. Let’s put it that way. …

(loud disagreement, chatter, laughter, comments from audience.

Rivera: …I don't think it's anti-union, whatever…I believe in right to work.

Rivera: I think if the government just keeps out of the way of people….(interruptions by several audience members) "Government is people! ”Government is in the business of helping the common people."


GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE OK IF IT'S WOMEN'S BODIES?

Kiera Hatton-Sena countered with a pointed question: So,  the “government shouldn’t interfere” with my body?"

Neither of the Senators answered Hatton-Sena's question.

The town hall finished with Rivera proclaiming that he was happy that so many people had attended his town hall, although they were clearly not in agreement with him. Colorado Progressive Coalition had informed its members about the town hall. 

I personally found it disturbing, not that there was conflict and disagreement, but how uninformed both Senators were. Rivera did not know the provisions of the Colorado Peace Act, although he proclaims that he believes in "Right to Work". Crowder had no clue that 59% of the population, not 2%, receives minimum wage. Neither Senator knew how much work it would take to undo Tabor; when they advocated for voter initiatives, to "Let the Voters Decide," they were effectively advocating to let TABOR continue to wreak harm in Colorado indefinitely. Rivera was seemingly not aware that a "defined contribution plan" effectively privatizes people's retirement benefits.

Senators Rivera and Crowder are out of touch with the majority of their constituents who are in favor of raising the minimum wage. They don't "get" women's complaints about the hypocrisy of proclaiming that government should not interfere with people's lives, while the government aggressively interferes with women's reproductive choices over their own bodies. In pro-union Pueblo, in which most people have a family member who worked or works for a union, Rivera's hard anti-union stance will also not win friends and influence constituents.

This is what small-d democracy looks like, and it is indeed a positive thing. It remains to be seen if the Senators will follow up with conversations with, and allow themselves to be educated by their disaffected constituents, or merely heave sighs of relief: "That's over."


 

Video from 3/19 Pueblo town hall More videos at: http://www.youtube.com/user/socoteacher

 

All photos and videos of this event by the author.

 

Don’t Look Now, But FASTER Is Fixing The Bridges

As the Denver Post's Monte Whaley reports:

Colorado's drivers face fewer dangerous bridges after a six-year push to replace old and crumbling crossings statewide.

As of July 31, the state has replaced 53 bridges while another 22 are under construction and 33 are in the design phase, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said Tuesday…

CDOT says the passage of the FASTER — Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery — legislation in March 2009, helped speed bridge repair and removal. The legislation created the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, which is a dedicated funding source for replacing poor-rated bridges.

The contentious fight over the FASTER vehicle registration fee increases, both during its passage in the Colorado legislature and afterwards as an electioneering battle cry for "Tea Party" Republicans, has faded from memory in recent months. We haven't seen any response from the Colorado Republican Party, or for that matter anybody on the right, to the Colorado Department of Transportation's press release yesterday. But it's worth remembering the massive fit the GOP pitched over the creation of a dedicated funding stream for bridge repairs, with just about every Republican running for office in 2010, from Scott McInnis to Walker Stapleton citing this "tax increase" as a reason to throw Democrats out. After 2010, some Republicans continued to grouse about FASTER, although the road construction lobby's tight relationship with GOP Speaker Frank McNulty ensured no serious effort to repeal FASTER would materialize in the GOP-controlled Colorado House.

Today, after a few minor hiccups, the estimated $100 million annually the FASTER legislation nets for repairing Colorado's aging bridges is making a real difference. Voters who have read about terrifying bridge collapses in other states deserve to know that in Colorado, we're doing what we can to maintain our infrastructure. Where the right wanted to use FASTER to stoke opposition to Democrats, today FASTER is an opportunity for Democrats to close the "value loop" for voters: to show them tangibly why public investments are worth making.