Colorado's new Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, turned heads early in the annual legislative session when he vetoed his first bill — a controversial pro-labor union measure he had earlier supported. House Bill 1072 would have repealed a key component of the 60-year-old Colorado Labor Peace Act: the requirement for a second, secret ballot, super-majority election in order to create an all-union workplace.
With Democrats in control of the Legislature, the bill was quickly pushed through both houses with little testimony from business. A Republican attempt to filibuster the measure in the Senate lasted eight hours, but the measure was eventually passed and sent to the governor, who had just told members of the Colorado Contractors Association that the change would not harm economic development efforts in Colorado, and thus he was in favor of it. But on Feb. 9 he shocked everyone and vetoed the measure.
"In substance, I agree with House Bill 1072, and made that clear to labor as I was campaigning," Ritter explained. But, "a substantive change like this, that has been in the law for this long, should have more of a dialogue among the communities of interest, and that didn't happen. The message is this: We're going to do this differently."
In his veto message he added that he had "listened intently" to those "who worried deeply about the impact this change would have on our ability to attract new business to Colorado ... Changing longtime Colorado law relating to business and labor negotiations in this manner, in the atmosphere in which it was debated, is not now in the best interests of our state."
On another front, Ritter has named Doug Aden, Cary Kennedy and Bob Tointon as co-chairs of the Colorado Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel, the governor's blue-ribbon task force that will lead a statewide conversation about financing Colorado's transportation system. Aden is the current chairman of the Colorado Transportation Commission and a resident of Grand Junction. Kennedy was elected state treasurer in November. Bob Tointon is president of Phelps-Tointon Inc. and served as president and CEO of Hensel Phelps Construction Co. from 1975 to 1989. A former president of Associated General Contractors of Colorado, he is a Greeley resident.
Though the first big town hall meeting of the task force is scheduled for early April, no further members of the group had been named by early March.
Utah's legislature adjourned at the end of February after passing House Bill 314, transferring $90 million a year from general fund sales tax revenues into a new Critical Highway Needs Fund. The Utah Department of Transportation and the state Transportation Commission will establish priorities for spending the money, with the top priority to be reconstruction of Interstate 15 through Utah County, south of Salt Lake City. No single project, however, is expected to receive more than $100 million, while the I-15 project will cost over $3 billion. The goal is to fund highway work all across the state.
Utah legislators also lowered the state's income tax rate to 5 percent, and the state sales tax rate is also being reduced. Utah is trying to compete with other Mountain states that either have no personal income tax (Nevada and Wyoming) or have a rate lower than 5 percent (Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico).
In Wyoming, the legislature has also adjourned, and Gov. Dave Freudenthal has signed the general appropriations bill that allocates $102 million to highway improvements, $22.5 million to the state's long-term water project account and $21 million as Wyoming's share of the new National Center for Atmospheric Research supercomputer center at Cheyenne.
Highway funding issues are moving more slowly in Arizona and Nevada. In addition to the legislation to increase the term of state highway bonds to 30 years, thus freeing some $500 million for immediate use, business leaders around the state have taken steps to raise another $500 million immediately, ultimately leading to a request for voters to raise the state motor fuel or sales tax to generate the necessary revenue. Studies indicate the state needs an additional $20 billion over the next two decades to keep from falling into gridlock.
Nevada lawmakers, too, have been urged by a statewide transportation task force to hike gasoline taxes, vehicle sales taxes and registration fees to help make up for an expected $3.8-billion highway improvement funding shortfall by 2015. But with Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons vowing not to raise any taxes and specifically naming the fuel tax, such increases remain problematical.