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May 08, 2008 08:00 PM UTC

Politics Prevent Road Building

  • by: Colorado Pols

As The Denver Post reports:

Gov. Bill Ritter said Wednesday that concern over Democratic lawmakers’ re-election chances was partly to blame for legislative failure to approve proposals to fix Colorado roads and bridges.

Ritter’s comments came at a news conference to talk about the 2008 legislative session, which ended Tuesday night. In it, he and Democratic legislative leaders initially blamed Republicans for the lack of any action on transportation.

That’s despite the fact that Democrats hold sizable majorities in the legislature and control the governor’s office.

“I feel like this conversation broke down around politics, that we tried to get the Republicans interested in looking at how we would put together different pots of money,” Ritter said. “We began our conversation very early in the session and could not get the Republican leadership to act on it at all.”

Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, said Democrats could never get Republicans to sign on to a plan.

“So, we are now just crossing our fingers and hoping a bridge doesn’t fall down between now” and January, when lawmakers can try again, he said.

Asked why Democrats, who have a 40-15 majority in the House and a 20-15 majority in the Senate, couldn’t pass a proposal themselves, Ritter cited re-election concerns.

“There are a lot of Democrats, and they have every right to feel and think this way, who know that they’re freshmen, they’re incumbents, they’re in districts that for a long time have been Republican districts,” Ritter said. “And then they have to go and get beat over the head by a Republican opponent saying that they unilaterally increased fees for transportation funding without us having conducted the necessary education campaign.”

Ritter also said he believed Coloradans expected that Republicans should be included in any discussions about transportation funding.

Ritter is correct that Democrats are worried about being labeled “tax and spenders,” but it’s a shame that they won’t just stand up to the criticism and tell the truth about Colorado’s crumbling infrastructure. They need point no further than El Paso County, the bastion of Republican chants of the evils of government, which is on the brink of collapse because of years of lowering taxes and spending…

El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa can’t sleep at night.

On any given day, seven deputies patrol a county that spans 2,158 square miles – almost 50 miles from north to south, and 45 miles wide from east to west. Backup is 35 minutes away.

“Sometimes,” Maketa says, “there is no backup at all.”

In this county, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1, where the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was first approved by Colorado Springs voters, and where people value small government, the county is facing a fiscal crisis.

“I think it’s frankly an emergency situation,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark. “We’ve got lots of services that continue to be provided and need to be provided, but we have a budget that is not matching the needs that we have in the community.”

A community group examining needs in the Pikes Peak region, especially those related to public safety, will hold an open forum today to discuss those needs and offer solutions, including possible increases in fees, property or sales taxes…

…”The sales tax just isn’t coming in,” said County Commissioner Dennis Hisey. “Population-wise, we’re the largest county in the state, but our budget is something to the tune of 75 percent of the next largest county.

“We’ve been doing so much more with less for so long, due to the political climate here, the reluctance to increase taxes, but you can only do that for so long,” Hisey said.

A downturn in the housing industry, deployment of Fort Carson troops to Iraq, plus an increase in fuel costs contribute to the money crunch.

Last year, county commissioners approved six new patrol positions for the Sheriff’s Office – the first increase in the patrol division since 1991.

Calls for service are up 51 percent since 1998. In some areas of the county, including Black Forest, the response time involving a potentially life-threatening situation is nearly 21 minutes, well above the department’s goal of 10 minutes.

The sheriff tells deputies not to respond to dangerous calls without backup, but it happens anyway.

“That really bothers me, but when they think someone else’s life is in danger, they set their own safety aside and they do it. That one thing keeps me up at night,” Maketa said.

At the jail, 148 inmates live in a tent because there’s no room for them inside, where each deputy is responsible for an average of 67 inmates – well above the informal national standard of one deputy for 50 inmates. There is a need for more than 400 maximum-security beds and 860 jail beds to meet needs for the next 10 years, Maketa said.

“We have more deputies resigning on the spot,” Maketa said. “They’re burned out. In the last 18 months, we’ve had three cases where the burnout has been so extreme that . . . three of them have gone to Cedar Springs (psychiatric hospital) for treatment.”

The Sheriff’s Office is not the only department in crisis. For months, most county offices have been open four days a week. County commissioners decided in December to close the offices one day a week to save money on utility bills.

At the County Health Department, there is a need for more food inspectors.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends the county have 15 food inspectors. It has eight inspectors, who are unable to inspect food establishments at least twice a year, as required by the state.

Democrats have been scared by Republicans into not spending money on vital public services, but this is an issue they should be able to own. The message is easy: Republicans are content to watch the state fall apart, but Democrats are making the tough choices.


15 thoughts on “Politics Prevent Road Building

  1. They’re like puppies that have been abused. They have a learned passivity and they can’t seem to shake it.

    Hey guys, you won the governor’s office by a HUGE margin. You greatly expanded your majorities in the legislature. The people want you to provide the solutions Republicans have refused to provide.

    Time to stop acting like you’re barely clinging to a majority and start taking charge. It’s really frustrating to hear these excuses time after time. At some point leaders need to lead.  

    1. Do you want prisons?


      Safe Roads and Bridges?


      Reasonable tuition?

      Then we have to pay for it.  There are no free rides.

      If you don’t want these things-fine.  

      If you do-we need to pay for them.

    1. That was my take too.

      Basically the majority Democrats didnot have the political will to stand up for the values they profess because they fear it would be an election issue.


    2. about the party with the clear majority when it won’t even put up a tax increase on the ballot for things that even a conservative like myself supports?  They don’t want the responsibility of running the state, they just want to be in charge.

    1. The dem majority could have passed this and let 7 or more of their folks vote no (assmue some Rs would have voted yes its 7+).

      Sure sounds like the dems didn’t do their job.

  2. no different than those in Congress. The partisanship, especially since the resurrection of Dick Wad, has gotten out of control with the Colorado Republicans who are willing to say and do anything (i.e. Mike May straight up lying to Romanoff over the TABOR and Amend. 23 fix) to play gotcha politics.

    It’s not just transportation, it most agenda items (there was some bipartisanship work on K-12 funding, CSAP’s, etc.) where the Republicans would ring false alarms and begin their attacks.

    I find it telling that the GOP would actually take campaign playbook onto the House floor during debate to use their talking points.

    What happened to Republicans like Norma Anderson? Now we’re stuck with people like Greg Brophy.  

  3. The Democrats have the votes to pass good legislation.  It seems a total cop out to say that they will not pass a  bill unless the Republicans pat them on the head and say it is OK to do so.  

    1. A third or more of the democratic delegation in the legislature is made up of moderate democrats in highly vulnerable seats or republicans-in-all but name only who have been driven out of their party. Republicans have a completely unified message which is no taxes, gut everything else and build roads. Democrats have been obsessed with being main stream and lovable and fear the tax question.

      Given that math no one has the votes to do anything at this moment.

      The governor might have used his commissions to try to build coalitions but apparently he has no talent for that work. So industry and the rogues, left and right, are left to take the initiative.

      1. If the Dems do nothing, the Repubs run against the “ineffective” legislature. If they do something, they run against the “tax & spend” legislature.

        Better to come up with something that you can defend.

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