Especially During Infrastructure Week
Everyone in government seems to be having week-long celebrations recently: Public Service Week, Economic Development Week, Municipal Clerks Week… The League’s lobbyists are celebrating sine die week for the rest of 2017, since the General Assembly does not go back into session until next January!
I want to mention a week’s celebration happening right now: Infrastructure Week.
The group championing it in Washington is Building America’s Future (BAF). Marcia Hale is its CEO; she served as head of intergovernmental affairs for President Bill Clinton when I first knew her, and she has spoken to CML many times when we have been in DC. One year, we were able to get former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who is a co-chair of BAF, to address our municipal leaders. He is one of the nicest and most thoughtful guys you will ever meet in public service, and he gave quite a knock-out speech. I remember him saying that as far as infrastructure is concerned, “America is one giant pot hole, and we need to fix the problem.”
This just-adjourned legislative session did fund a useful down payment to address transportation needs. The legislation also recognizes that this money should be shared with cities, towns, and counties through the Highway Users Tax Fund formula ($48 million for municipalities over the next two years), and there will be additional funding for transit and other multimodal projects. This will be coordinated through the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). Kudos to the General Assembly for crafting this bipartisan approach.
You may see some ballot measures this November further addressing infrastructure. One will raise the state sales tax by some amount yet to be determined. This revenue would be split with local governments and transit. Another proposal would float around $2.5 billion in bonds for CDOT-only projects. We will have more to say about each of these proposals over the weeks ahead should they secure placement on the statewide ballot.
During the session, the General Assembly - also in a bipartisan manner - generated additional revenue for our ongoing broadband build-out efforts around Colorado, largely due to the leadership of municipal and county leaders and strong support from Gov. John Hickenlooper. We thank our partners at the statehouse most sincerely.
President Donald Trump earlier this year rolled out his national infrastructure plan. It is around $1.3 trillion, and addresses a variety of initiatives. The “pay-for” is the tricky part, since a major portion of its funding will fall back upon the shoulders of the states and local governments. His plan, while certainly comprehensive, does not seem to be gaining much traction on Capitol Hill. It places a fair amount of emphasis on public-private partnerships, known among government types as P3s. We have used this model for the successful managed lane project along the Boulder Turnpike, as an example. The question always arises as to how well they could work with smaller projects, especially in rural areas of the state.
A major unanswered question is how to fund and implement many elements of Gov. Hickenlooper’s most thoughtful and comprehensive state water plan. This two-year-old document was written by the Colorado Water Conservation Board with input from hundreds of groups and individuals, including the League and dozens and dozens of municipal officials. I currently am honored to be part of an informal group looking at how to develop a funding proposal for the plan. It is far too soon to predict what we will come up with. I do think water has been left out of the infrastructure equation in our state. It is Colorado’s lifeblood. It is our obligation as good citizens and stewards to protect and preserve this precious “liquid gold,” especially as a major headwater state. It is an issue that touches the interests of municipalities, agriculture, business, environmentalists, and individuals on a daily basis. To sum up my feelings on water, I find myself inspired by an op ed-piece in the Glenwood Post-Independent written by some business owners in Carbondale - I could not agree more with their sentiments. Water funding and addressing this via the governor’s state water plan has to be a high priority.
So during this week, reflect upon the challenges we face , and the opportunities that may arise, in the infrastructure policy arena. I would love to hear from you as to how you are addressing all of this in your own community.