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March 09, 2010 08:12 PM UTC

Clean water, federal funds, and political gimmicks

  • 1 Comments
  • by: Bowman for Senate

It should have been a routine vote, and it basically was in the House. But when the Colorado State Senate was recently asked to give a standard green light to more than 350 applications for federal assistance with clean water efforts, all 14 GOP members voted no.

For Senate District 1, represented by Greg Brophy, R-Wray, that vote translated into an attempt to block applications from 22 rural Colorado communities.

Those applications include $2 million for water system upgrades in Lamar, and $11.5 million to help replace the 44-year-old waste water filtration system in Brush. Brush administrators believe their project is so critical that they’ve already spent seven years and $900,000 on planning and engineering.

So far, in efforts to cover the nut, waste water rates in Brush have been raised to $32 per month, way above the typical $15 to $22 month residents pay in most other communities throughout the state.

In a town of about 5,000 residents, that is a serious commitment.

And they deserve special credit for being proactive – Brush waste water, after it has been through the filtration system, drains directly into the South Platte River.  

Brush City Administrator Monty Torres said, if not for federal grants and low-interest loans, waste water rates would have to climb as high as $55 to $65 per month in order to finance a project that cannot be postponed indefinitely.

Objections to the legislative measure, Joint Senate Resolution 10-004, were reportedly raised because of concerns about a retroactive component attached to the federal loan program: Essentially, Congress has stipulated that projects receiving money from the Drinking Water Revolving Fund must be in compliance with a decades-old fair-wage law called the Davis-Bacon Act.

Senator Brophy referred to the resolution as, “payback to unions.”

The loan fund in question ponied up more than $32 million to Colorado projects in 2009; for this year, $37.5 million is on the line.

The Senate resolution essentially agrees to be in compliance with federal law when spending federal money. But it was sponsored by Democrats, which may evidently be enough to warrant a “no” vote from legislators for whom party loyalties take precedence.

Those “no” votes were cast with the knowledge that problematic retroactive requirements are in the process of being worked out between governmental entities. More important, those 14 Republican Senators (and three in the House) said “no” with the full knowledge that the entire list of applications would be ineligible for consideration without approval of the state legislature.  

Being thusly informed was good enough for 62 House members and 20 in the Senate. But apparently, one fifth of Colorado’s elected state representatives see themselves as just that much smarter than the rest of their peers.

Maybe verbal commitments to clean water initiatives are not always commitments after all. Or perhaps some people have a built-in, knee jerk response that reflexively compels them to link anything that refers to “fair wages” with organized labor.

Or maybe, knowing they couldn’t really stop the resolution, a handful of legislators opted to cast their ballots with a jaundiced eye toward a gimmicky bit of electioneering.

But isn’t that sort of like lining the bottom of a chicken coop?

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