February 17, 2020

What Ref. C Means for Colorado

State Representative Andrew Romanoff – the Speaker of the House – wrote a nice bit on the recent budget agreement between the Dems in the state House and Senate and Governor Owens. The long and short of it is that the governor will sign both the School Finance Act and the State Budget, and that is good news for education, health care, and transportation. I figured the easiest thing to do was reprint part of Representative Romanoff’s post here:

The package boosts funding for K-12 education, higher education, health care, and transportation, in keeping with the voters’ decision last fall. As Hank Brown put it in describing the first allocation of Referendum C dollars, this is a case of “promises made, promises kept.”


Here, in more tangible terms, is what the budget agreement really means (with apologies to Harper’s):

1. At-risk children who will be added to preschool and kindergarten rolls: 2,000

2. Children with developmental disabilities who will no longer have to wait for early intervention services: 613

3. Colorado seniors who will qualify for the Homestead Tax Exemption: 140,000

4. College students who will see increases to the College Opportunity Fund: 124,000

5. Estimated economic impact of tourism-related promotions: $2.6 billion

6. Low-income households that will receive help with heating bills and greater energy efficiency: 110,000

7. Transportation projects green-lighted: 36

8. Children who will receive improved instruction through special education: 80,000

9. Uninsured Coloradans who will benefit from investments in community health centers: 50,000

Open Space, Ref. C, and Bus Terminals

Late last week I attended a briefing, hosted by the Transit Alliance, on the Union Station project in downtown Denver. I will tell you I think it's an amazingly cool project which will integrate local city buses, regional buses, light rail, Amtrack, Greyhound and other bus services, and every other kind of transit you can think of under one roof. Although I will be sad to see all the open space of the South Platte Valley (near LoDo in downtown Denver) vanish, if they pull this off it will be urban infill done right, and the entire Denver region will benefit from the incredible transit center that Union Station becomes. They just released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement in case you want to dig into the details, but if you are more interested in the quick overview of what it will all look like I suggest RTD's power point presentation.Union Station has a lengthy history, and as best I can tell the project will do a good job of preserving its historic character and the large, open plaza despite the substantial expansion of the building and the complex.

This week I attended the TransitWest meeting and learned more about efforts on the I-70 corridor to push CDOT to consider something other than their typical "maximum asphalt" solution to congestion.

I also attended a briefing sponsored by the Bell Policy Center and a large bipartisan group of state legislators. They offered the clearest explanation of the state budget process I've ever heard, and made very clear that they are honoring their promises during the Ref. C campaign regarding how the legislature would spend Ref. C funds. The take-home message was pretty clear: Ref. C is allowing the state to tread water with respect to many critical programs like community colleges and other higher education funding needs, services for the mentally ill and the poor, transportation projects, K-12 education, and health care. I asked the distinguished panel (which included Senate Majority Leader Joan Fitz-Gerald, our own State Senator Moe Keller, and our own State House Representative Gwyn Green) where in this process they would establish reasonable sideboards on their transportation funding to ensure that CDOT appropriately prioritizes funding for transit and appropriately considers the needs of local communities before ramming careless, ineffective, and expensive projects down their throats. No one had a particularly satisfying answer ("this is just the appropriations process and those are policy questions"), although to Representative Green's credit she did politely point out the way in which many in the state legislature defer to CDOT's arm twisting. I think decisions about appropriations are policy decisions, and the legislature has a responsibility to ensure that CDOT and all other state agencies spend the taxpayers money appropriately.

Finally, this evening I attended Plan Jeffco's annual banquet, which was in part a celebration of the protection of the Ralston property and some adjacent land owned by the Mt. Vernon Country Club. Lots of folks deserve credit for pulling off the deal, including the Northwoodside Foundation, Clear Creek Land Conservancy, Jefferson County Open Space, Mt. Vernon Country Club, and of course Plan Jeffco. I like celebrations, and celebrating the protection of important open space is particularly satisfying.