Colorado Springs leaders say they are prepared to work with people on both sides of the aisle when the new legislative session begins in January.
In what’s being called a blue wave, Democrats claimed both houses of the state legislature, the governorship and top state offices — including secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general — in the Nov. 6 general election.
Voters also rejected three of the nine proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot and three of four statewide propositions.
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said the results on the ballot measures were telling.
“I believe voters sent a strong message to the state legislature that it needs to prioritize transportation funding,” Suthers said in an email statement. “Regardless of political majority, all representatives need to work across the aisle to create a plan that utilizes state funding without raising taxes. I look forward to working with all our elected officials to come up with a plan that will accomplish this in the very near future.”
Suthers said Proposition 110, which would have authorized a $6 billion bond issue and a 0.62 percent state sales tax hike for 20 years, would have diverted sales tax funding from local to state road projects, “as the sales tax would have been too high to seek extension of Ballot 2C.”
Colorado Springs voters in November 2015 approved Ballot Item 2C, which allowed the city to impose a 0.62 percent sales tax increase. The measure went into effect in January 2016 and is expected to yield revenue of about $50 million over a five-year period. The revenue is solely devoted to road projects.
“Since our voters already stepped up to address our roads, it didn’t make sense to Colorado Springs to trade in that investment for a state tax that would effectually divert money away from the city’s efforts,” Suthers said.
The mayor said he also was pleased that voters rejected proposed Amendment 73, which would have raised taxes on high-income earners and corporations to support education, and Amendment 74, which would have required that property owners be compensated for reduction in property value caused by state laws or regulations.
“Both measures … would have been costly to the city and city services,” Suthers said. “I do recognize a need to fund our schools, but Ballot Measure 73 was not the answer as it was overly complex and detrimental to many other municipal organizations.”
Rachel Beck, vice president for governmental affairs at the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, said the nonpartisan group will continue to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle.
“While certainly we will expect to see a change in the number and kinds of bills affecting businesses, we are prepared to work with the Democratic-controlled legislature,” Beck said. “We employ Republican and Democratic lobbyists … to make sure our businesses are thriving and employees are taken care of. We have great relationships with our elected representatives. … I’m confident we can continue.”
Business issues and the economy affect everyone, regardless of party affiliation, Beck said.
“Our issue is how we make that happen,” she said.
Beck said legislators may propose bills the chamber would not view as business-friendly, that may have a better chance of passing next session. Of particular concern are those that would add regulations concerning labor and employment and might require more paperwork for businesses.
“We’re just going to have to make the case to legislators that those bills will do more harm than good,” Beck said.
The chamber has had a good working relationship with Gov. John Hickenlooper, a business owner, and Beck noted that Gov.-elect Jared Polis founded several businesses.
“That will be experience we will appeal to,” Beck said. As a congressman, “he has been very available to our organization. I think that’s a good sign.”
Workforce needs, infrastructure and streamlining regulations top the list of issues the chamber will focus on during the new session.
“It’s difficult to ensure businesses have the skill levels and workforce they need, with such low unemployment,” Beck said. “With the state growing so rapidly, we certainly see some challenges to our infrastructure; that’s something we intend to continue advocating for. We always want to see cost-benefit analysis of any regulations and keeping them as simple as possible — making them easy for businesses to understand and comply with.”
Beck said the chamber in general was pleased with the outcome of the vote on the ballot measures, with the exception of the failure of Proposition 109. The so-called “Fix Our Damn Roads” issue would have authorized $3.5 billion in bonds to fund statewide transportation projects without raising taxes.
“We’ve been working to realize additional state investment in transportation,” Beck said. “The top two things we hear from businesses are [concerns about] workforce and transportation. They are having a hard time with the congestion on roads; it means additional costs and additional drivers and having to change delivery times.”
The chamber opposed Proposition 112, which would have imposed distance restrictions on new oil and gas development projects, “due to the huge impact on the state economy,” Beck said. The measure was defeated with 55.22 percent of the state’s voters opposing it, according to the Colorado Elections Department’s unofficial results.
The chamber also opposed Amendment 73, rejected by 53.64 percent of voters.
“While we’re certainly supportive of a well-funded, high-performing educational system, Amendment 73 would have been really detrimental to the state budget and economy. It also would have made it difficult to attract top talent in high-income brackets,” Beck said.
Read more about election results and impacts in the Nov. 16 edition of the Business Journal.