OPINION: Inaction at Special Session Hurts Western Slope
On Monday, the Western Slope Democratic caucus converged on Denver to join our colleagues at the State Capitol for the first special legislative session held since 2012. The six of us arrived united in our resolve to help correct a mistake that, left unaddressed, will have negative consequences for many hard-working people in rural Colorado.
Governor Hickenlooper called the special session to correct an error in Senate Bill 17-267, which was passed in May during the final days of the 2017 regular session. Our task was to correct a drafting oversight that erroneously eliminated the ability to collect marijuana sales tax revenues for a group of voter-approved special districts, many of which provide critical services to Western Slope communities. All four original bill sponsors acknowledged that this omission was purely a mistake and that the elimination of funding was unintentional.
Two separate pieces of legislation were introduced, either of which would have rectified this omission. Considering the extensive list of supporting organizations from across the state, the strong legal precedent on their constitutionality, and the very real consequences of inaction, a “no” vote seemed illogical and irresponsible. The House version passed with all five West Slope House Democrats and a West Slope House Republican in support. However, much to our collective disappointment, both bills were killed on 3-2 party-line votes in the Senate Transportation Committee. Two of the three Republicans who voted not to fix this error are from the Western Slope.
We entered the State Capitol last week determined to protect our constituents on the Western Slope from losing a valuable source of funding for services that they have approved on the ballot. If this result stands, the loss of funding for these crucial districts in this fiscal year alone could be extensive — $66,000 for the Gunnison Valley Regional Transportation Authority, $87,000 for the Summit Combined Housing Authority, $120,000 for the Roaring Fork Regional Transportation Authority, $10,000 for San Miguel Regional Transportation Authority, and an additional though not-yet-calculated loss for the Edwards Metropolitan District.
As elected officials whose districts are wholly or partly west of the Continental Divide, we are extremely disappointed that such an important and easily rectified mistake could succumb to partisan differences on the interpretation of the Colorado constitution – especially when the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, the ultimate authorities on our constitution, have previously ruled that the legislature has the authority to make such a fix. Though this was an unfortunate display of partisan politics in the state legislature, we remain steadfast in our commitment to fighting for Western Slope communities and the services our communities need.
Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon
Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango
Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder
Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs
Rep. Donald Valdez, D-La Jara
Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail