Hickenlooper vetoes Democratic bill aimed at transparency in future road projects

Politics

Work is already underway on U.S. Highway 36 as part of a public-private partnership deal that will allow the companies paying for repairs to control the road for the next 50 years.

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DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday vetoed his third bill of the 2014 legislation session, Senate Bill 197, which sought to ensure greater transparency and accountability in public-private transportation projects.

Like the other two bills vetoed so far this year, S.B. 197 was sponsored by lawmakers within the governor’s own Democratic party.

The legislation grew out of frustration with the U.S. 36 overhaul and a 50-year contract, finalized during the legislative session, between the state and Plenary Roads, which is investing $20 million up front but will manage the road and collect tolls from the new lane for the next five decades.

Many residents were angry that they didn’t hear about the deal sooner and believed it was agreed to in private without adequate public input.

S.B. 197, sponsored by Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, would have required the disclosure of clear information on the costs and alternatives of such deals, public participation at three key stages in the development of any deal and more communication with state lawmakers.

It also would have banned non-compete clauses that undermine local decision-making and allowed for no deals longer than 35 years without legislative approval.

Hickenlooper, in his veto message, said that those mandates were too restrictive.

“We firmly believe that government should always strive to be transparent and accountable,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter to the Colorado Senate. “We support SB 14-197’s provisions that improve transparency, accountability, and openness in public-private partnerships.

“Unfortunately, SB 14-197 is not just a transparency bill — it also inappropriately constrains the business terms of future P3 agreements. These constraints on business terms would create a chilling component on future transactions, making investors unlikely or unwilling to bid on Colorado projects due to the increased risks this process would generate.”

Jones released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“I respect the governor’s opinion on this, but those of us elected now will not be around when our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to live with these agreements,” said Jones.  “Taxpayers have a right to know.  It’s disappointing when we seemingly trust Wall Street more than the people, and those they elect to represent them, to protect taxpayer dollars.”

Jones also said he’s already working on drafting a revised version of the bill for next year’s legislative session and working with the governor’s office to reach an acceptable compromise.

In a state where TABOR prevents the legislature from raising taxes and most of the general fund budget is spent on K-12 education, public-private partnerships offer the state a new way to upgrade its infrastructure.

Hickenlooper also announced an executive order to increase transparency around such projects.

“Colorado’s transportation needs remain underfunded, and we must do more with less,” Hickenlooper’s executive order says. “P3s are a necessary tool the state can leverage to deliver important transportation projects.”

As part of the order, Hickenlooper is urging lawmakers to discuss creating a “Center for Excellence” to determine best practices around future P3 projects.

 

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