ERIE — While politicians across the country are buried deep in contentious party politics, two Colorado state representatives opted to remind their constituents of the good things they do on a bipartisan basis.
“One of the things a lot of folks don’t realize is that in Colorado for the last several years the majority of the legislation that passes, passes with bipartisan support,” said Matt Gray, a Democrat from House District 33, which encompasses parts of Boulder and Broomfield. “Over 60 percent of the bills that were introduced last year, passed, and because Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House there is no possible way to get a bill passed without bipartisan support.”
Gray and House District 63 Republican Lori Saine held an unusual town hall on Saturday in Erie, side-by-side, showing their constituents, they do work together more often than they don’t.
Saine’s constituents are on the other side of Interstate 25 in the Firestone, Mead, Dacono area.
Saine and Gray have worked together frequently since being elected to the House. This year they even agree on something that usually pits Republicans and Democrats against each other — oil and gas — at least the safety side of it.
Saine and Gray are co-sponsoring House Bill 18-1098, which would require unspent money from the environmental response account of the oil and gas conservation and environmental response fund remain in the fund rather than transfer into other accounts at the end of each year.
“This is a best practice,” Saine said. “If we don’t spend the money one year, it should roll over into the next year and the next year and the next year. Had we done that five years ago, we would have had plenty of money to cap every one of these wells.”
Saine was referring to the ability to use money from the fund to cap old and abandoned oil and gas wells across the state.
“The oil and gas industry is very cyclical,” Saine said. “When the bust happens, there are some small companies that may go out of business and they may not properly cap their wells, and that is very dangerous. We have wells out there right now that need to be maintained.”
The two legislators took questions for two hours at the Erie Recreation Center that ranged from how to solve the Public Employees Retirement Account shortfalls to transportation to the most polarizing of all, gun control and school safety.
The latter took up most of the time, with the usual views coming from the usual folks, getting a little emotional at times.
Constituents on the left side of the aisle were adamant about more gun control, with one man saying the 2nd Amendment should be repealed and all guns confiscated, while constituents on the right side were adamant about allowing school staff to conceal carry.
Colorado currently allows school districts to arm staff if they choose via a separate “security” contract with the employee. Several school districts and schools do allow staff to conceal carry under these rules.
Those against the bill say teachers became teachers to teach, not kill and that they should not be mandated to carry a weapon in their classrooms.
No legislator in Colorado has ever sponsored a bill that would mandate all teachers must carry.
There was also disagreement on including “multimodal” transportation in transportation funding. One constituent believed the state should abandon Interstate 25 and concentrate on building alternative parallel highways. Others thought the state should focus on high speed rail. Still others thought the focus should be on roads and bridges.
Both Saine and Gray said right now, the state first needs to “catch up” on I-25.
Gray said he is frustrated that promises about train service to the Broomfield and Boulder areas have never been fulfilled, despite taxpayers in that area approving the tax increase, but he said I-25 has to be addressed.
“To spend enough money to build enough lanes to make sure there is no traffic or to frankly build the train we were promised, there is not enough money to do either of those things.” Gray said. “We are flat broke and we can’t do either of them.”
Saine said Colorado should never rely on mass transit because its populous doesn’t meet the need. Gray agreed, adding the state needs to do a better job of building its transportation infrastructure
“I’ll keep saying: ‘I think we should have rail, I think we should have had it a long time ago when it was promised,’ ” he said. “But we are not New York City. We grow out, not up. This is the west, we always grow out and not up. So, we need to move people who are in less dense areas. Those people don’t live in 19-story apartment complexes. They want to have homes and they want to have cars. We need smart growth and smart transportation.”
How to finance that, however, was also along party-lines. Gray and fellow Democrats want a sales tax increase, while Saine and fellow Republicans think the legislature needs to use existing money.
Saine pointed out that House Republicans found more than $600 million in cuts last year that were all were voted down by House Democrats. She also said she was against the use of Certificates of Participation (COPS) to fund infrastructure as Senate Bill 17-267 did.
“Mortgaging our public buildings, I’m not a fan of,” Saine said.
Gray, who works in the bond industry, talked about the risk and expense of using current money to bond out. However, he admitted the state would also have to bond at the same risks if voters agreed to a new sales tax. He also said the use of COPs carry even higher risk and expense.
Overall the two reminded the audience what the town hall was about — that the two parties agree with each other much more frequently than they don’t.
“A lot of the things you see and read about are things Republicans and Democrats argue about all the time, and they don’t become laws,” Gray said. “But most of the things that actually end up affecting your lives, are the bipartisan things.”
Saine agreed, and both joked that the non-contentious items — the bulk of the bills — don’t generally make the newspaper because they aren’t sexy enough.
“They aren’t flashy enough,” Saine said with a laugh.