BY FREDA MIKLIN
The most memorable statement from the panel of four state legislative leaders who spoke to live and virtual constituents of Denver South, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and the City of Lone Tree at the 2022 Legislative Kickoff Breakfast at the Lone Tree Arts Center on January 7 came from Arapahoe County Democratic Senator and Majority Whip Jeff Bridges. He said, “Of all the bills that passed in the legislature last year, 95% were bipartisan.” In a state where both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office are controlled by one party, the Democrats, that message was prodigious.
The other legislators on the panel, all Republicans, HD44 Rep. Kim Ransom, HD43 Rep. Kevin Van Winkle, and HD39 Rep. Mark Baisley did not disagree with Bridges that the 2022 legislative session would be a relatively normal one, although the legislature has at least $3 billion in federal relief money that they can still allocate as part of their $40 billion budget. It is also an election year, which tends to tamp down some of the more extreme ideas that come from legislators, each of whom is entitled to introduce five bills during the session.
The new map of the state prepared by the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission and approved by the Colorado Supreme Court on November 15, 2021 will form the basis of the November 8, 2022 elections. Baisley said he anticipates that the legislature will be “more balanced” after November 2022. Although the state House is not expected to change its Democratic majority this year because Democrats currently hold 41 of the 65 seats, the state senate is considered by many to be in play at least partly due to redistricting. If Republicans pick up three senate seats, they will hold the majority. Both Baisley and Van Winkle are expected to leave their house seats and run for the state senate in 2022.
Questioning began with Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet asking the panelists, “J.J. Ament, president of the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, has said that Colorado has fallen from the 11th to the 29th best state to do business, due to public policy. What will you do to improve our state’s standing as a place to do business?”
Sen. Bridges said, “The reason we lose business headquarters’ to places like Utah is our poor transportation system. New fees passed last year will allow us to invest more in our roads.” He added, “People with great education move here. The education system for our kids isn’t what it once was. I will work on that too.”
Rep. Baisley, an aerospace engineer, said, “C.U. is a big quantum physics research center. Companies in Broomfield are commercializing that data. It will change how the big cloud computer companies process data.” Baisley also shared that the U.S. Cyber Command is moving to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from its current location in Texas.
Rep. Ransom expressed concern about what she sees as a pattern of increased fees in our state in lieu of increased taxes, which would require voter approval due to TABOR. She also noted that, “We are in debt to the federal government $1 billion.” Ransom referred to the pending increase in unemployment insurance premiums due to the deficit in that fund, but she said that, “Gov. Polis says he’s going to suspend” that increase. Rep. Van Winkle said he agreed with Ransom.
Ransom all pointed to the bipartisan policy of the Joint Budget Committee, where she is a member, to require all state departments to justify every component of their budget every year as an example of the care the legislature takes in spending taxpayer dollars.
Mayor Millet next brought up the issue of increased crime in our state.
Rep. Baisley’s explained his view of how crime should be addressed, saying, “If law enforcement pulls over my mother-in-law they should treat her with respect, but if they pull over the person who stole her car, I want them to lay down the law.”
Rep. Van Winkle said, “There are organized crime rings that recruit the homeless to steal for them in exchange for drugs. Lawmakers are working on that problem.”
Sen. Bridges said that the first bill he plans to introduce in the 2022 legislative session is a $5 million program for behavioral health services to assist in the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers.
Another question came from Denver South president and CEO Tom Brook, who told the legislators that companies seeking to relocate to Colorado have pointed to the lack of available housing for employees. He wanted to know how the legislature plans to address that problem.
Sen. Bridges said, “We spent the summer looking at how to use $400 million in federal funds to address the housing problem.” He said that $150 million was planned to be used for grants for workforce housing for people like nurses, teachers and firefighters, but, Bridges added, “There will be strings attached” to the money. Those “strings” could be making changes to municipal zoning codes to allow for workforce housing to be built.
Mayor Millet joined the discussion. She cited a recently completed workforce housing project in her city that she felt was very important, saying, “People need to be careful when they talk about workforce housing. Educate yourself. This will add to everyone’s quality of life.”
Attending this important event live and representing their jurisdictions were a significant number of city council members, all of whom happened to be female–from Lone Tree, Wynne Shaw; from Centennial, Candace Moon, Christine Sweetland, Robyn Carnes and Mayor Stephanie Piko; from Greenwood Village, Donna Johnston. Also in attendance and listening carefully was 18th Judicial District DA John Kellner.