House hits blockage on low-flow toilet bill; Senate digs into budget

House hits blockage on low-flow toilet bill; Senate digs into budget

 

House hits blockage in low-flow toilet bill debate

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Poop. Two-flush poops, frozen turds, upset septic systems, dictatorship and toilet police — it was all-out on the House floor today as members debated a bill almost as ripe for puns as controversy. SB 103 would prohibit the sale of water inefficient plumbing fixtures after September 2016.

“The benefits from this legislation include providing a calculated savings of up to 40,000 acre feet of water by 2050. That’s 13 billion gallons of water per year that can be saved through the implementation of SB 103,” said sponsor Rep. Randy Fischer of Fort Collins.

Republican opponents of the bill said, essentially, that’s a load of crap. The debate extended nearly three hours.

Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, who has high-efficiency fixtures in her rural house that she doesn’t like, said that, while the measure may not rise to the level of a war on rural Colorado, it was certainly a war on rural Colorado toilets.

“I invite each and every one of you to come over and flush my toilet,” said Gerou, adding that, for folks in rural areas, especially those using well water, the pressure just isn’t high enough to make water-efficient fixtures, well, efficient — at flushing.

Other opponents of the measure were concerned that it simply took regulation too far and insulted consumers who are already opting for high-efficiency fixtures simply because it saves them money on their water bill.

Fischer emphasized that the measure would only impact new buildings and folks who want to replace their fixtures, it’s not like there will be toilet police coming by to force people to update their appliances.

Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso of Colorado Springs took the floor to say that Fischer’s defense of the bill sounded a lot like, “If you like your toilet, you can keep it,” and he’s heard a line like that before. He suggested that perhaps the measure should be called the “Affordable Toilet Act.”

Many Republicans brought amendments to limit the scope of the in-efficient fixture ban just to urban Denver, or else to give counties, municipalities, well-owners or owners of old houses the option to opt-out. Those amendments failed.

The only bi-partisan amendment came from Reps. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City and Jared Wright of Fruita. They proposed excluding the capitol building itself from having to install high-efficiency toilets.

“We have to acknowledge that sometimes there’s some BS in this building and we need to make sure we can properly move that … product through the channels of the Capitol,” said Moreno.

That amendment, though wildly popular on the floor, also failed.

The bill passed unamended today and will come up for one more vote before it can head to the Governor’s desk.

 

Senate works over construction questions before moving to budget itself

After a headline-grabbing debate between the Joint Budget Committee and the Capitol Development Committee over just how many higher education construction projects will get full or partial funding in this year’s budget, the Senate started off their big budget day with a big debate on HB 1342.

At a basic level, the bill address how much money from the general fund will go to construction projects, including those on campuses such as Fort Lewis in Durango or Auraria in Denver. Because higher education has been starved for funds in the last few years, and because just about every legislator would like to go home to their district and say they’ve pulled down funds for new buildings on the local campus, this particular fiscal issue has been a point of major debate that is far more regional than it is partisan.

In the House, this issue got so contentious that they added amendments to the bill creating a waiting list and committing any unexpected extra revenue to those projects. Today, the Senate did battle not just over whose projects would rise to the top of the waiting list, but whether it was a good idea to have such a list at all.

Denver Sen. Pat Steadman, a veteran of the Joint Budget Committee and the bill’s co-sponsor, actually didn’t think the waiting list was a good idea at all.

“We’re gambling with money we don’t even have … This is a $119 million wish list spending tomorrow’s money today,” he said, proposing an amendment that would cut some projects and non-urgent maintenance to bring the over-all waiting-list costs down to $78 million.

Among other things, like being unable to predict more urgent needs that might crop up as the year progresses, Steadman also opposed partially funding projects because he felt it would create the expectation for unfeasible ongoing funding and even leave campuses with $5 million unfinished basements sitting around for years to come.

Sen. Gail Schwartz of Snowmass, working hard to secure a hypothetical $5 million for Western State University in her district, disagreed. She said the waiting list amendment respected the Capitol Development Committee’s approach to prioritizing projects and that where partial funding would be allocated, the projects are designed to be completed in discrete phases.

Although Steadman’s cost-controlling amendment had good bipartisan support from other members of the budget committee as well as minority leadership, it failed in favor of a compromise amendment offered by Majority Leader Rollie Heath of Boulder that stripped only non-urgent maintenance from next year’s capitol construction waiting list.

Sick of hearing everyone squabble over hypothetical dollars, Minority Leader Bill Cadman offered an amendment to pull $10 million from an advanced industries grant he said budget committee staff don’t feel is working well in order to put it towards reducing the waiting list right away.

“We’re shorting our whole system for the benefit of a few companies,” said Cadman, saying he wouldn’t call the corporations out by name but that many of them were truly huge, multi-billion dollar, international affairs that didn’t really need the support.

It was a strange political reversal moment. In response to Cadman calling for less state support for entrepreneurs, Majority Leader Heath came forward to say that the program was bringing vital industry development and job creation to Colorado. Jobs, Heath noted, that products of Colorado’s education system might like to have some day.

Ultimately the Senate went ahead and pulled the $10 million, sending it towards building projects in universities across the state.

With that, the Senate passed the measure and moved on to debate the budget itself. With more than 30 amendments to consider, that debate is likely to last well into the evening.

 

House approves tax-breaks for natural disaster victims 

In a town meeting after the floods this fall, one of Longmont Rep. Jonathan Singer’s constituents asked him if he would have to pay property tax on his house and land, even though the house had been washed away and his property was now a river bed. Singer’s HB 1001 effectively says, no.

“This bill just keeps the government from adding insult to injury,” said Singer on the floor today, acknowledging the measure as just a step towards helping thousands of Coloradans rebuild after a summer and fall marked by nearly back-to-back natural disasters.  

Virtually everyone agreed the bill was a good one, but some worried that relieving Coloradans during natural disasters might lead to a fiscal disaster. As proposed the measure is expected to cost more than $2 million in this fiscal year alone. And because natural disasters are hard to predict, particularly in terms of severity, costs in future years are virtually impossible to account for.

Reps. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and Jeanne Labuda of Denver proposed a friendly amendment to bring the measure up for review by the legislature’s finance committees in 2017. That amendment passed, as did a separate proposal from budget committee veteran Evergreen Rep. Cheri Gerou to give the legislature slightly more control over the funds instead of allowing the treasurer to automatically withdraw them as needed.

The bill, passed without a single audible “nay,” will come up for a final vote in the House before heading to the Senate.  

 

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About the Author

Tessa Cheek

She writes and makes photos about communities. Her book, Great Wall Style, a monograph-profile-lyric essay, is out from Images Publishing. tcheek@coloradoindependent.com | 720-440-2527 | @tessacheek

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