What does Mark Ferrandino most desire as he finishes up his final session as speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives? There are lots of potential answers, but one comes to mind:
Ferrandino, a Denver Democrat, would like to figure out how to snatch back the $120 million in tax increment funding that the state Economic Development Commission awarded to the City for Champions project last December.
Ferrandino, who opposed the RTA when it was first passed by lawmakers, is convinced it takes tax money that should be used for critical state needs and diverts it to politically connected, private-sector entities.
We in Colorado Springs may see things differently. For decades, Springs officials have complained that the city has been consistently shortchanged by the state in funding education, transportation and other needs. The RTA award is just a way of evening the scales.
In a classic case of locking the barn door after the horse is gone, Ferrandino introduced a bill, HB 1350, that limits the power of the Colorado Economic Development Commission and makes it unlikely that any other city will succeed in getting substantial project funding under the Regional Tourism Act.
Ferrandino’s bill, as recently amended, forbids the commission from allocating more than 50 percent over the amount recommended by the third-party analyst and bars it from funding more than two projects during 2014. The act is set to expire this year in any case, and the House Speaker’s action makes it clear that it won’t be renewed.
Language was added in committee that may shield Colorado Springs from ex post facto actions by commission staff. Nevertheless, it may be that the staff, which was blindsided by the commissioners’ decision to override their C4C funding recommendations, would feel empowered to obstruct the funding process.
Denver is expected to apply for RTA funding this summer, to help finance renovation of the National Western Stock Show complex. It’ll be a crowded field, with as many as six other cities jostling each other for funding. Had we waited, we’d be standing in line with the rest.
Denver officials went ballistic over Ferrandino’s maneuver, lobbying successfully to soften the impact of the bill, which had originally restricted the EDC to a 25 percent increase over the third-party recommendation.
“Ferrandino wanted to get rid of the RTA last year,” said a seasoned observer of state politics, “but he got sidetracked by marijuana and guns. We knew that he would go after it this year, so that’s why the City for Champions application was fast-tracked and kept secret.”
Suddenly, everything about City for Champions makes sense.
Ferrandino’s hostility toward the Regional Tourism Act meant that Colorado Springs officials couldn’t proceed cautiously, involving all of the players in the community, carefully vetting every facet of the proposal and deferring the application until 2014.
We in the media criticized the structure of the plan, which seemed to have been hastily thrown together. We couldn’t believe that usually sensible community leaders (you know who you are) had gone all political on us, refusing to return phone calls and responding evasively to simple questions.
The secrecy contributed to the proposal’s botched rollout, as well as to the skepticism expressed by many community leaders who had been excluded from the planning process. That in turn fueled grassroots opposition from residents who wondered whether the proposal was a deal cooked up by rascally developers and unscrupulous politicians.
We didn’t know what Mayor Steve Bach, Dick Celeste, Bob Cope and Bill Hybl knew. We didn’t know that it was then or never.
Having snatched $120 million in state tax dollars away from the grasping hands of Ferrandino and like-minded state legislators, we should be proud of our canny team. Instead, we’re quarreling over the money, second-guessing the projects, and wringing our hands over the bad things that might happen if we build them.
Wake up, folks! We won’t get a do-over. Remember “Oceans 11,” that delightful heist movie in which George Clooney and an all-star cast snatched $140 million from Andy Garcia’s casino? We got away clean with our $120 million and now we’re fighting over the loot.
As we learned in the movie’s sequel, Andy Garcia neither forgave nor forgot. Mark Ferrandino is C4C’s Andy Garcia — wily, influential and ready to snuff out our hopes if he can.
If he succeeds, we might just as well fire up Netflix and watch another Andy Garcia film.
“Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.”