The First Regular Session of the 71st General Assembly of Colorado convened on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 at 10:00 am. Per the State Constitution, the Legislature will meet for no more than 120 days, with adjournment sine die occurring no later than midnight on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.
The “split chambers” Colorado has experienced in the last two years will continue – the Republicans maintained control of the Senate 18-17, and the Democrats maintained control of the House, gaining 3 seats for a 37-28 majority.
There are a number of high profile, key issues that will be discussed in 2017: transportation funding, Hospital Provider Fee, construction defects, and the budgetary impact of the Gallagher Amendment. Of course, many more issues will be debated and discussed this session.
- The Economic Development Commission, who oversees such programs as the Strategic Fund, Job Growth Incentive Tax Credit, Rural Jump Start Zone program, film incentive and rebate program, Advanced Industry Accelerator grants, Regional Tourism Act, and Enterprise Zones will sunset in 2017. OEDIT is asking for the Commission to be extended for five years at $5 million per year.
- Request to fund a deputy director for the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office
- Funding: School Finance Act, both the allocation of funds between districts and the amount of funds to be allocated, will be a critical discussion.
- Overrides: The School Finance Act allowed districts to go to their voters for additional funds known as overrides. Disparity has grown between those districts receiving overrides and those that don’t. The scattered nature of the overrides, and the varying amount of the overrides, leads to the question of how the existing overrides comply with the “thorough and uniform” provision of education in the Colorado Constitution.
- School Finance: Although the Governor’s budget proposal increases overall funding for K-12 education by $218 million, it does not fully fund inflation and enrollment – therefore the Negative Factor is scheduled to increase by $45 million. The $218 million total program increase is also allocated on an uneven basis across the state. Denver Public Schools will receive an increase of $26 million, yet nine districts (Calhan, Plainview, Yuma, Prairie, Kiowa, Genoa-Hugo, Florence, Clear Creek and Byers) will lose money, according to CDE.
- While there are some policy issues associated with the state’s system of public higher education, the most important issue is state support – and the related issue of tuition policy. For the last few years, the Department of Higher Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education have submitted a budget request that emphasizes the relationship between state support for higher education and tuition rates. For example, the Department (with institutional input) estimates that the institutions need a $74 million increase for inflation, salary increases, utilities, etc. This cost increase can be addressed by a combination of state support or tuition increases – and the more state support, the less tuition has to be increased. The Governor’s budget proposal requests an increase of $20 million for higher education and the remainder of the inflationary increase would be addressed through tuition increases.
Environment and Energy:
- Given the current political makeup, any substantive legislation on fracking or modifications to environmental policy is unlikely to be adopted.
- This year, the legislature will be reviewing the mission and programs of the Colorado Energy Office, which is scheduled to sunset in 2017. The office was created under Governor Bill Ritter to improve efficient use and consumption of Colorado’s energy. With a focus on energy policy this year, this issue will be heavily discussed this session.
- Urban Renewal Authorities, and the ramifications of this legislation. The Governor’s working group on this issue is having conversations to sift through some complications (in particular the “applicability” clause); however, a compromise is unlikely to occur during this session.
- CCI will move forward this session to reform Downtown Development Authorities by applying the same restrictions on DDA’s as applied to Urban Renewal Authorities in 2015. This effort could certainly spark another battle between counties, municipalities, and special districts.
- Construction defects will still be an issue for the 2017 legislative session, and stakeholders are actively working on policy solutions that will aid in the building of more attainable units while also protecting consumer safety. After the breakdown of negotiations late last session, many feel that 2017 may be the year we see a legislative fix at the state level.
- We do expect to see legislation introduced to aid in the availability of affordable and attainable housing. The Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) has asked for a $2 million increase in state funding for affordable housing programs. We also anticipate legislation again to assess a $1 document recording fee for any document filed with a county clerk, with the proceeds going into an affordable housing fund for such things as rental assistance and home ownership grants.
- Transportation funding will be a key topic of the session. We will likely see the introduction of TRANs III to allow the state to borrow up to $3.5 billion for specific transportation projects through the issuance of bonds. The bill was proposed as a Transportation Legislative Review Committee bill in the 2016 interim, but was not approved by the Legislative Council Committee. Regardless of the particulars in TRANs III, the question remains: how will the state pay for these bonds? A bipartisan group of legislators have been looking at this question and are exploring various funding options.
Looking forward to 2017 & 2018:
The 2018 Governor’s race will be the next area of political focus. For the first time in decades, Colorado will see open, contested primaries in both parties. Already, the Denver Post is previewing likely or possible candidates. Although there will be no US Senate race in Colorado in 2018, all other statewide races will be contested – Attorney General, Treasurer, and Secretary of State. Certainly, control of both legislative chambers will be highly contested in 2018. According to Legislative Council, six House members and eight Senate members will be term limited in 2018.
With the passage of the Raise the Bar ballot measure (Amendment 71), and its geographic signature requirements, Coloradans should see shorter ballots in the future. Realistically, only issues with broad-based support throughout the state can reach the ballot – we would put education and transportation in this category, but little else.