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Top three Senate bills head for committees starting Thursday

DENVER — The top three bills put forth by Senate Republicans will all get their first appearances in committees over the next week.

Senate Bill 18-001, Transportation Infrastructure Funding; SB 18-002, Financing Rural Broadband Deployment; and SB-003, Colorado Energy Office, will be discussed in depth starting on Thursday by the Senate Transportation; Business, Labor and Technology; and Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy committees, respectively.

First up is Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction and SB-003, Colorado Energy Office. It will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday in Senate Committee Room (SCR) 357.

Scott first introduced a version of the bill late last year to save the 40-year old office that is centered around promoting renewable energy. SB 17-301 would have reduced the office’s budget and added more natural and nuclear resources to the office’s mission.

The House never gave it a serious thought and the Senate reciprocated on a House version that would have kept the funding in place without changes.

Despite the legislature not authorizing the $3.5 million needed and the Joint Budget Committee voting 3-3 down party lines not to authorize emergency funding to keep the doors open after July 1, 2017, the office has remained open using federal grant money.

Scott’s version of the bill this year is very similar to last year.

“Quite frankly, when you talk to the energy industry as a whole, they want to keep it in place, they want to have an energy office,” Scott said. “What they don’t want is this tilted, doesn’t make any sense version we have now, which is just all about renewables.”

Scott doesn’t expect this year’s bill to be much different than the one he introduced last year.

“I want to get that scope changed,” he said. “’There’s going to be funding requests, and we’ll have to work our way through whether we can get it funded or not.”

Key points from the bill:

  • Repeals wind for schools grant program and the renewable energy and energy efficiency for schools loan program.
  • Removes the Colorado Energy Office’s involvement with the forest service and the air quality control commission to support the increased use of woody biomass in bio-heating.
  • Removes the office’s involvement in grants with the Colorado Energy Research Institute for the development of a central resource for building trade professionals.
  • Specifies nuclear and hydroelectric power as a cleaner energy source that the office should promote.
  • Renames the clean and renewable energy fund as the energy fund and continues the general fund transfer to the energy fund for four years and adds the authority to spend the money in the fund for educating the general public on energy issues and opportunities.

On Monday, SB-002 Financing Rural Broadband Deployment will be up for conversation at 2 p.m. in SCR 354.

SB-002, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg a Republican representing northeast Colorado and Sen. Don Coram, a Republican representing southwestern Colorado, will require broadband providers to increase maximum speeds currently supplied. It also expands the definition of “unserved area.”

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2019 and through Jan. 1, 2023 the Public Utilities Commission would dedicate 20 percent of total money collected by internet service providers to a broadband deployment account for high cost areas.

Scott, who said he wants to see a successful broadband bill this session, said lawmakers need to find a way to get high speed internet services to Colorado residents in rural areas.

“We need to try to come up with a solid idea or program that all the major players can get behind,” Scott said. “We need more infrastructure, and we need expansion. There has been a lot of missteps and continual arguing about how we’re going to get this done. But the rural areas are still suffering with crappy broadband. That’s the high cost of funding that no one wants to talk about.”

Tuesday, Senators John Cooke, R-Greeley and Randy Baumgardner, a Republican representing northwestern Colorado will take the first crack at a transportation bill.

SB-001 will be heard in the Transportation Committee at 2 p.m. in SCR 352.

Cooke said the bill will not cut from other programs or raise taxes, but instead force law makers to do their jobs.

“It would be a bond using 10 percent of current sales tax revenues,” Cooke said. “No sales or gas tax increase because it would be hard to justify for anyone to ask for a sales or gas tax increase with a billion dollars in new revenue.”

Early revenue projections of $700 million and an additional $300 million expected to filter into Colorado as a result of the federal tax cuts, Cooke said, could jump start the work, while still allowing increased funding for other programs.

Cooke said the bill, which would finance critical priority transportation needs amounting to $3.5 billion, would also cancel the authorization of Certificates of Participation to fund infrastructure that were included as part of SB-267 from the 2017 session.

“The problem is the Democrats want to raise taxes, but how do you justify that with $1 billion in new revenue? Cooke said. “How do you justify to the public you want to raise taxes when polling shows that a gas tax is not very popular and a sales tax is even less popular. They won’t ever pass. Now is an opportunity to take $300, $400, $500 million dollars out of that new revenue and put it toward transportation and he payment.”

Under the bill, the bonds could not take longer than 20 years to pay off, and beginning July 1, require 10 percent of sales tax revenue to be set aside to the state highway fund to make the payment. Other key points of the bill include:

  • Any revenue from the 10 percent that exceeds the payment must be used for qualified federal aid transportation projects already included on the tier 1 project list.
  • At least 25 percent of the net proceeds must go to counties with populations of 50,000 or less.
  • At least 10 percent of the net proceeds must be used for transit purposes or transit-related capital improvements.

Voters would have to approve the bonding in the November election. Several other special interest groups are working on competing ballot initiatives, some are like SB-001 and others, such as one being worked on by Colorado’s Chambers of Commerce, would ask voters for a tax increase to pay for the improvements.

“We’ll have a steady stream of funding with the 10 percent sales tax revenue (roughly $250 million every year) that would pay off the bonds,” Cooke said. “We would get $4 billion in projects. That’s how they did T-REX.  If it’s good enough for Denver, it should be good enough for the rest of the state. If roads and bridges are priority for the public, then they’ll vote for it and put the job back where it belongs, onto us.”


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