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Prepare to Pay

When the Colorado State Legislature adjourned a couple of weeks ago, it allowed your Fremont County Commissioners and many others to finally breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Over many months, we spent countless hours, often full days, working with other counties through Colorado Counties, Inc., to figure out how certain bills might affect our taxpayers and citizens. We then lobbied long and hard – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – asking our legislators to cast their votes according to the good or harm each bill might cause.

Overall, CCI took a position on 126 bills of the 623 introduced by state lawmakers in 2021. Of those 126, Commissioners statewide voted to either support, oppose, or amend 81, leaving the other 45 as a “neutral position” or monitor only. Of those 81 where we took a position of action, 74 landed where we wanted them to. That means CCI found a success rate of 91 percent in 2021, of either helping pass the bill or helping kill it.

Of the 623 bills introduced this legislative session, a total of 503 were passed and sent to the Governor for his signature. That number is fairly high, but not unusual in a year with a single party ruling both the Colorado Senate and Colorado House.

Because rural Colorado, including Fremont County, is highly conservative but our state legislature is fairly liberal, there were many, many ideas we fought against this year. Here are only a few that your local Commissioners battled long and hard, unsuccessfully.

SB21-260, Sustainability of the Transportation System, is a $5.3 billion package that found creative ways to levy new fees in an effort to dedicate funding to the statewide transportation system. The bill itself has lots of nice language about a sustainable system and expanding infrastructure and clean fleets, as well as environmental impacts and health impacts.

Prepare to pay, folks.

Many of us, including your three Fremont County Commissioners, opposed this bill from the start. Voters have repeatedly said “NO” to various ballot measure to fund transportation, as is our privilege through the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. However, this particular legislature decided they know better than the voters do, and felt it necessary to bypass our votes to fulfill their dream vision of a futuristic transportation system for all.

Instead of calling the funding mechanisms the taxes that they are, they decided to call them “fees,” meaning the voters no longer have a say. Instead, we all have to pay.

It will begin with an increase of 2 cents per gallon on fuel, with gasoline taxes eventually rising to an additional 8 cents per gallon. CCI was a major player in stopping diesel increases at 2 cents rather than the original proposal of the 8 cents per gallon, which would have effectively killed the entire agricultural industry throughout Colorado.

It will continue with new “registration fees” to be collected at the county level through license plates. You’ll be paying these “fees” every year with your plate renewal for years to come. Oh, and don’t forget the new retail delivery fees, higher car rental fees, and more. These “fees” now are tied to inflationary indexes, to adjust automatically as prices go up.

There were a couple of other terrible bills you also should be aware of.

SB21-256, Local Regulation of Firearms, now allows all local governments to enact their own laws governing or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, or possession of a firearm. Local governments include not just municipalities and counties, but all Special Districts, such as Fire Districts, Recreation Districts, and Library Districts.

Imagine driving across Fremont County to learn the gun you were legally carrying in one space suddenly was illegal as you crossed an imaginary line into a special district. Now, imagine multiplying that confusion by as many special districts and other government agencies that exist across the entire State of Colorado. Sound complicated? It will be.

HB21-1286, Energy Performance for Buildings, now requires existing buildings of more than 50,000-square-foot, or any building with a construction or renovation cost in excess of half a million dollars, to demonstrate compliance with energy performance standards. Those new standards don’t even exist yet, but will be developed by 2023. Owners of those buildings are required to submit annual energy usage reports to the state’s Energy Office, and those deemed to be out of compliance with the new standards will be hit with financial penalties.

One of our main concerns with this particular piece of legislation is its exemption of penalties for all publicly-owned buildings. This exempts not only county buildings, but all state buildings, as well. And the government owns some of the biggest buildings in the state – think about the size of Colorado Department of Corrections prisons.

This is yet another burden placed on the backs of business owners, while your government gets to look the other way. What’s good enough for our businesses should be good enough for our governments. This is another business-killing piece of legislation.

The last bad measure I’ll mention here is SB21-249, the Keep Colorado Wild Annual Pass. This measure requires every County Clerk across the state to collect fees for an annual state parks pass on every single licensed vehicle, whether the owner wants the pass or not. Yes, there is an opt-out consideration, but how many folks will know that and understand it?

We don’t all use the state parks system. We don’t all want annual passes, but now they are being forced upon us for all the funding this will generate for the state. And just imagine, a business that owns 25 vehicles now will be the proud owner of 25 identical parks passes… bought and paid for, even if they don’t want them… unless they remember to opt out.

Although counties are authorized to retain a portion of the new revenues to cover its collection costs, the remainder of this new fee will be remitted to the Colorado Department of Revenue at least monthly.

Personal choice is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Remember these few examples when you cast your ballot in statewide elections next year.

Your County Commissioners will continue fighting for you at every turn. But sometimes, sadly, it’s just not enough.

Debbie Bell is the District 2 Fremont County Commissioner. She also serves as the 2021 CCI President.