The latest howl by Colorado Republicans over the state’s approach to transportation took the form of a stern letter.
In a three-page letter sent to the Colorado Transportation Commission by two dozen GOP members on October 28, 11 GOP members are accused of carrying water to Governor Jared Polis, who appointed them, and suggests they are increasingly serving as a “stamp.” for the Colorado Department of Transportation, which they should oversee. The list of problems included the growing outflow of project money from the expansion of highways, the Polis administration’s push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the roads, and the awarding of large project contracts by CDOT to out-of-state contractors.
In short: all the things that annoyed the Republicans had no opportunity to influence, since the party lost power in the state government for almost three years.
Ahead of 2022, expect GOP candidates for government jobs to talk a lot about transportation as they seek to reclaim their foothold by winning a majority in one of the legislatures or taking over as governor again.
Colorado Democrats have taken big steps that will affect nearly everyone, including the passage of a $ 5.4 billion transportation law last spring with the help of just one Republican MP. The campaign’s most tangible targets are likely to be new levies to help pay for these huge costs of road, transit and electric vehicle programs over the next decade. They will take effect just months before the November 2022 election, adding some extra cash per gallon of gas, retail supplies, Uber and Lyft rides, car rentals, and electric vehicle registrations.
The minority party sees an opportunity to prove Democrats have gone too far, even in Colorado, which is gaining traction. His hopes that the pendulum will return to its side were buoyed by major Republican victories in Virginia and an imminent governors’ race in New Jersey last week.
“I definitely think Republicans are opposed to gas taxes that Democrats are trying to impose,” Colorado GOP chairman Christie Burton Brown said, referring to the new levy, “because this will hit the middle class, and this will hit the Colorado villagers. while they are clearly fighting. I think it will come back to bite the Democrats. I also think that what they have been proposing over the past decade … has not made it easier for people to get to work or make it easier to move. “
One of the most outspoken critics of the CDOT in recent years has been State Senator Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction whose term of office is limited for the following year. He arranged a letter to the Transport Commission and also submitted a pending request to the Audit Legislative Committee to audit CDOT contracting practices, which he claims favors large firms over smaller contractors in Colorado. So far, a bipartisan committee has authorized an initial review of Scott’s claims, which the CDOT disputes, but not a full revision.
Scott argues that both efforts were motivated by a desire for government transparency and accountability, not a politics of bias. But he made no secret of his distaste for the Democratic leadership of the CDOT.
“The past decade has seen a huge departure from what people in Colorado want – repairing roads and bridges,” Scott said in an interview last week.
“The voters expect us to act,” says the democrat.
One of the leading developers of recent transportation and climate legislation passed by the Colorado General Assembly says Democrats were on the same page as the state’s voters as they found solutions to address the state’s infrastructure problems.
They are ready to defend their track record against Republican attacks.
“We are currently in a climate emergency,” said Senator Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat. “Issuer # 1 – transport. I think after the worst air quality we’ve ever seen (last summer), voters are waiting for us to take action.
“Our constituents demand that we deal with air quality and climate, and they also expect us to deal with transport – and we can do both.”
During the debate over the transportation package, Senate Bill 260, Scott and several other Republicans shouted that Democrats were bypassing the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. An amendment to the state’s constitution would have required voter approval for simpler taxes, so lawmakers opted for a more complex scheme involving fees.
In the end, only Senator Kevin Priola, a moderate Republican from Adams County, joined the Democrats in support of the bill. He is among 15 Republican MPs who did not sign Scott’s recent letter.
“I know it’s easy to throw stones at departments,” Priola said. “I also only understand basic dollars and cents” of Colorado’s inflationary gas tax revenue. While there is room for improvement on the commission and he respects Scott’s defense, Priola said, “I don’t always agree with his tactics.”
This fall, Republicans across the state were among the most outspoken critics of CDOT’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations, which would require state and regional transport planners to meet emission reduction targets as they prioritize road and transit projects.
The dividing lines were not strictly geographic, and many mountain communities joined the cities of the Front Ridge – along with environmental groups – either in support of the plan or in an effort to further tighten it.
The proposed regulations, which the Transport Commission could pass in mid-December, will functionally divert significant project money from road expansions, spurring projects that provide less polluting alternatives to driving. CDOT chief executive Shoshana Liu, appointed by Polis, was adamant, however, that important highway rehabilitation projects and targeted expansion projects on major highways would still continue.
Polls conducted this year by guerrilla groups attempted to capture voters’ attitudes towards all of these changes in approach to transportation, which began during John Hickenlooper’s two terms in office and accelerated after the 2018 Polis election.
Before the transportation bill was introduced last winter, Americans for Prosperity of Colorado released a survey of the five war-torn Senate districts by Republican sociologist Public Opinion Strategies. It turned out that, despite the high ratings of Polis among 750 polled voters, the idea of paying for the purchase of gas was against 56% to 38%; these voters opposed delivery charges from 61% to 31%.
But after the details of the bill were fleshed out and then signed by the governor, the Rocky Mountaineer Poll, conducted in June by the democratic organization Global Strategy Group, found broad support for the bill as a whole. When asked about the $ 5.4 billion spending package and the types of fees accepted, 66% of the 800 registered voters statewide expressed support, while 31% opposed.
More recently, a poll of 800 registered voters by the same Democrat sociologist at Conservation Colorado found 66% support this statement: “The Colorado Department of Transportation should have policies that encourage increased use of pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.”
Commission members argue with the letter
Scott wonders if voters really want CDOT to deviate from its traditional focus on roads. And while Democrats “made the CDOT mission” to take the climate and transit initiatives by passing legislation, he admitted that he claims “there is no oversight here” in the form of skepticism or resistance from the commission.
“The commission is designed to be independent from the CDOT, and not be stamped by any governor or executive director,” the letter from the GOP deputies said.
This suggests that Polis replaced critical members, but Scott was unable to name any in the interview.
He provided a copy of a bill he plans to propose next year that would appoint transport commissioners to elected positions and instruct them to appoint an executive director of CDOT, taking those powers away from the governor. But the bill probably has little chance of passing the legislature with a democratic majority.
Two members of the commission disagreed with questions about their independence.
“Personally, I was offended that someone thought that (I am) a rubber stamp or that someone on the commission is a rubber stamp – and that we do not care about the entire state,” said Karen. Stewart, former mayor of Brumfield, who was appointed by Hickenlooper in 2017 and reappointed this year by Polis.
She said casual observers of the monthly committee meetings may find that her votes on CDOT inquiries and policies are generally unanimous. But these actions often follow weeks or months of discussion in workshops as commissioners’ proposals lead to change, Stewart said.
In recent years, the composition of the commission has become more democratic, with eight current members joining the party on voter registration, including Stewart. One member is unaffiliated and two are Republicans, including current chairman Katie Hall, former Mesa County Commissioner in Grand Junction. She has been working since 2015 and Polis reappointed her during her first year in office.
“The members of the Transport Commission have worked throughout our tenure to ensure that CDOT meets the highest standards, and we have worked over the years to oversee a range of initiatives and reforms to ensure the necessary growth and improvement in the department,” says in Hall’s statement. by CDOT. She disagreed with many of the characteristics in the letter from the Republican MPs.
CDOT spokesman Matt Inzeo did the same, writing: “The letter suggests that CDOT turn back the clock. … Colorado is fortunate to have a legislature that has passed one of the most forward-thinking transportation bills in the country, with clear guidance on these and other issues, and a Transportation Commission that is committed to taking their leadership seriously. ”