Updated 3 p.m. with transcript -- As Colorado lawmakers head back to the Capitol for the new legislative session that opens Wednesday, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, tell us about the issues and challenges ahead.
On healthcare insurance:
They both want to wait and see how Congress handles Obamacare before they tackle state legislation. While there's been plenty of out-loud posturing by Republican and Democrats alike in Washington, there are no specific state bills planned. Duran pointed out that Obamacare gave more Coloradans access to healthcare insurance -- something that's meaningful to residents all across the state, and worth preserving. Grantham said it's worth waiting to see whether and how Republicans in Congress try to dismantle Obamacare. "We'll see if it actually happens," within the timeframe of a 120-day legislative session, he said. "We most likely will have to be dealing with something by the 2018 session for sure."
On transportation funding:
The Colorado Department of Transportation says the state should spend about $9 billion on roads and transit over the next 10 years. Duran says funding for public transit is a "10 out of 10" in terms of importance in any transportation funding measure. Grantham is "pretty optimistic" that by May, lawmakers will have a transportation funding measure ready to submit to voters (as required by law). Both agreed that voters around the state recognize the need for help for infrastructure and transportation.
On whether civility is possible after a bruising 2016 campaign season:
Duran believes that Colorado lawmakers "have a track record of being productive. We've been able to work across the aisle on a variety of issues: workforce development, affordable housing, making sure there's school safety, balancing the budget."
Grantham said of his relationship with Duran,"we've always gotten along well," and that civility is a priority. With the House and Senate split "there's going to be that partisanship" on some issues, he said. And he offered that he and the Speaker might settle disputes with an arm-wrestling match "in the most civil manner possible."
Read the transcript:
Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. State law makers officially go back to work Wednesday, but things are already popping. Legislative leaders from both parties are talking with the governor about asking voters for more transportation money. Meanwhile, the two parties are staking out very different views on how the new Trump administration with affect Colorado.
From the state capitol, I'm joined by incoming president of the Colorado Senate, Republican Kevin Grantham of Canon City and the new speaker of the house, Democrat Crisanta Duran of Denver. Welcome to both of you.
Senator Kevin Grantham: Well thank you for having us.
Representative Crisanta Duran: Good morning.
RW: Let's start with transportation. CDOT recently identified about $9 billion in need for road construction and transit, over the next ten years. We spoke with the Governor's office last week and they said he's negotiating with both parties about going to voters in November to raise taxes for transportation. Senator Grantham, would you support a tax hike for roads and transit?
KG: Well, that's part of the negotiation, obviously. We're trying to figure out what the best source for funding is. We need obviously a lot of money to take care of the needs here in the state, all of the major projects, and what that looks like in order to fund the bonding, the debt service for the bonding, and what that revenue stream looks like. That's part of the negotiation and that's what the Governor and the Speaker and I are currently discussing and trying to figure out, and I feel pretty optimistic that by the end of the session we'll be able to come up with something that we can agree upon and send to the voters.
RW: What would your, say, 30-second elevator pitch to voters be if this looked like something of a tax increase?
KG: Well, from what we're seeing, I think this will essentially sell itself. People already know the need out there in the state. Whether you're here in Denver or whether you're out in rural Colorado where I'm from, you already know the need and every time you get in your vehicle and you drive down the road, you know the condition of the roads and deteriorating infrastructure. Some of that will sell itself, and we have to be able to show, I think, the selling point that we will use the money for exactly what it was intended for, and to get these projects underway and done as quickly as possible.
RW: You have the aging infrastructure at the same time that you have lots of people moving to Colorado and more people, thus, using it. Representative, soon-to-be Speaker of the House Duran, do you support a tax for transportation?
CD: Well, one of the things that we decided to do prior to the election is convene a group of Republicans and Democrats on the 2nd floor, legislators and leadership, to start talking about the needs in transportation. What we thought would be the best approach to this is let's get together and start looking at a variety of different options and figure out when we know that there are people in this state that have a difficult time with traffic congestion, that we know we need to invest in roads and bridges and different transportation options, how do we bring people together to come up with a solution that is going to make sense for everyone? I think those conversations prior to the election that were convened have been very productive, and we're continuing to look at the details of what is possible, so that we have a transportation system that works for all, regardless of whether you live in a rural area of the state or an urban area of the state. This is about all Coloradans, and that's going to be our focus.
RW: Do you imagine that this would raise all $9 billion in one fell swoop, or that this would have a chunk of it, Senator Grantham?
KG: I think that still remains to be seen. We're hoping for at least a chunk of it in order to take care of some of the major issues, some the major projects that we're looking at right now. Hard to say-
RW: Like what?
KG: Well, like the ones that we hear about quite a bit, the viaduct project here in Denver, the I-70 West project, the I-25 North and the I-25 South between Castle Rock and Monument. All of those are major, major projects on the list that I think will be a high priority for most of the legislature. Then a lot of the, of course the outlying areas we want to make sure that rural Colorado is taken care of as well and that some of the aging infrastructure that I know of directly in Southeast Colorado, that we get that taken care of. It's hard to say at this point whether or not we're going to see the entire $9 billion, as you stated, on the front end, but we're hoping to at least make a great start and get some of these major projects underway.
RW: Representative Duran, would you hope to raise all $9 billion at once? Would that be the goal?
CD: Well, the devil is still in the details, and I believe strongly in coming up with a solution that both Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate can get behind. From my perspective, I think that if we were to go forward with something for the voters, we should be looking at long-term solutions. The last two sessions, we've had the hospital provider fee changing to an enterprise, which would have freed up dollars to invest in education and transportation. Democrats are still very, very much interested in that solution, but for some it has been a non-starter. And so what we've said going into this session is, "Let's put all options on the table and try and come up with results for the people of Colorado who are depending on us to problem solve, and not just now in the short-term, but into the future as well." So I'm hoping that we'll be able to come up with a plan that will address some of our long-term growth and needs of the state of Colorado.
RW: On a scale of one to ten, how important is it to you that mass transit be a part of whatever money is raised, or bike and pedestrian infrastructure? Senator Grantham?
KG: On a scale of one to ten?
KG: Well, how do you rate that? I think that's a different answer for where you're at. Obviously, up in the metro area, that is a different answer than for us down in rural Colorado. I think we want to be very careful when we start talking about solutions that involve any kind of tax increases, any kind of revenue increases, that we treat the different areas of the state as they are, differently. Rural Colorado doesn't have the same needs for mass transit as the urban area does, so we want to make sure that any of the formulas that we use to distribute money are taking into account the variety, the diversity of this state and the different needs in those locales. It's obviously important up here, and it's not quite as important down there.
RW: All right. What would you say, Crisanta Duran for mass transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure? On a scale of one to ten, how important is it that that be included in whatever money is raised?
CD: I think we need to make sure that there are transportation options, and that can be a variety of different options depending on the area of the state that one is from. One to ten? I would say ten. We need to make sure there's as many transportation options available to different local communities. When we think about how we organize our roads, we should think about them not in the sense of just how we move cars, but also how we move people, and also, how seniors and people with disabilities, what options that they have. I think that the more options, the better.
RW: This indeed has to be a bipartisan solution in order to get through both chambers and onto the Governor, so a question for you, incoming-Senate President Kevin Grantham, "If there were a transportation tax, would another tax have to be eliminated, in your mind, to offset it, or would you be comfortable with an entirely new tax" that, of course, voters would have to vote on under Tabor?
KG: I think we should look at those options as far as eliminating some tax, especially those that are more of a declining source of revenue, such as the gas tax. It's not the source that will take us into the future for the funding that we need. If we can save the tax payers some money on that end for something that is not the future source that we're going to need, then let's talk about eliminating it at least, and moving onto something else that we can depend on that will be an increasing source of revenue, that all Coloradans can share in.
RW: The gas tax, as you say, in really recent years, I think even decades, has been yielding less and less money for transportation, so the idea there is, if you could replace that with a more robust tax, you might eliminate the gas tax, but that's all part of the negotiation.
KG: It is all part of the negotiation. I mean that is at the essence of what we're talking about, being able to move into the future with something that we'll be able to fund all these major projects, not just ones that are on the list now, but the ones that are going to be on the list in the future. We don't know where those are at yet, and right now we do know that the gas tax relative to population growth and numbers of vehicles on the highway, is a declining source of revenue, relatively speaking.
RW: I want to get to each of your personal stories in just a moment, but we heard from Representative Duran, a mention of the hospital provider fee, and you might think, "How would a hospital provider fee possibly relate to transportation or education?" I'll try to explain this briefly, but essentially the Democrats in past sessions have proposed a budgetary move related to this fee. It is also related to TABOR, the taxpayer bill of rights. This move would free up more money, potentially, for transportation and education. Republicans have really seen this as a nonstarter. It sounds like the issue is not dead to Democrats, is that correct future speaker Duran?
CD: Thank you. Well, we're very much interested, still, in that solution. That said, we think that it's not the only solution and we should be looking at a variety of different options. That's why I, in collaboration with President Grantham, brought together a group of Republicans and Democrats before the election, to start talking about some of our needs and looking at different options as it relates to transportation specifically. But one thing that I think is really important, at the end of the session, is this notion of promises made promises kept. We have to make sure that there is transparency and accountability with regards to any option that comes forward. There's a lot of taxpayers in the state that work very hard and when they invest in transportation or if they invest in other efforts, we need to keep our promise to them and make sure that we deliver on what we say that we are going to do.
RW: That transparency is key to getting something passed potentially in November, because a lot of proposed statewide tax increases have failed in the past in Colorado and voters have cited that that transparency and accountability is a reason they voted "No." I'm not going out on a limb here, I don't think, Senate President Kevin Grantham, to say that this remains a non-starter for Republicans, the hospital provider fee and it's reclassification?
KG: It really does. We've looked at this, we've litigated it, so to speak, quite a bit in debate over the last couple of years. It's still a difficult one for us and it's just really not a place we can go. But that's not the larger part of the conversation that the Speaker and I are having right now. We're talking about a multitude of different forms of solutions that we can look at. Even if we did agree on the provider fee, there's still some question on the future of that and what that looks like going down the road. I think the solutions that the Speaker and I, and the first floor here in the capital building are looking at, are something that's going to take us into the future, not just one, two, three years down the road, but we're looking twenty years down the road here, trying to create solutions that will propel us into the future for a good infrastructure here in Colorado.
RW: What I'm hearing from both of you, and thus both parties, is that whatever solution you find for transportation funding, it can't be a Band-Aid, it has to be long term. I want to talk about the tone of the legislature this year. We're coming off a pretty nasty campaign season. We reported last week on a study that says Colorado's legislature is the most polarized in the country. That's based on information from voting data and surveys. As the leaders of the two chambers, is it important to you that there be civility, or has this election demonstrated that civility is even achievable? What would you say House Speaker Duran?
CD: I think that in Colorado we have a track record of being productive. We've been able to work across the aisle on a variety of issues, whether it was workforce development or affordable housing, making sure that there is school safety in previous sessions, balancing the budget. I mean, we have been able to sit down, have conversations, have a cup of coffee, and really dive into the issues that matter most to Colorado. I think this upcoming session, you're going to see more of that good work that is going to take place. Quite frankly, it's been taking place prior to the election. We are very much focused on making sure we don't take any Coloradans for granted, we don't leave any Coloradans behind, and that we put people first and we'll work with anybody to be able to accomplish that goal. We look forward to great collaborations with the Governor, with Republicans and Democrats, with the people of the state, to make sure that Colorado continues to move forward and we preserve and enhance our wonderful quality of life.
RW: You mentioned two issues there, affordable housing and transportation, that last year you couldn't come to agreement on. Do those actually undermine your argument?
CD: Well, there was a lot of focus on construction defect reform, but as it related to affordable housing as a whole, we had great progress actually. Let me give you a couple of examples. One issue in particular, is that now Coloradans can save money for a down payment on a home, or closing costs on a home, tax free. Republicans and Democrats came together to get that proposal through. We also passed a proposal to extend the low income tax credit, which is basically a tax credit for developers to build or redevelop more affordable housing. That has been a proven way to address affordable housing in the state of Colorado. I think that there's been many victories when it comes to workforce development, making sure that people across the state have tools to succeed, that in a changing economy that they have access to the types of skills and training to be able to meet the demands of business, and be able to get good paying jobs. We are looking forward to continuing the good work that we've been able to accomplish on behalf of the people of Colorado, and we know that we have a lot more to do, and we look forward to getting as much done as we possibly can, and being as productive as we possibly can.
RW: Mr. President, what do you say about civility in the tone of the legislature? Whether that's a priority for you.
KG: Well certainly. I think the Speaker and I, we came in together back in 2010, 2011, and we were the unknown freshmen in the crowd. Now we're where we're at and we're still the lowly President and Speaker. We've always gotten along well and I think we're able to have that civil tone and talk with each other. In those moments where we have a Democrat House and we have a Republican Senate, we're going to have those moments. I think we all acknowledge that, that there's going to be some of the partisanship, that that happens, but the Speaker and I have committed to solve any of our issues with an arm wrestling match in her office. We're going to take care of that in the most civil manner possible. Just kidding, we actually get along very well and I think the tone, already, is very positive. I think we are both optimistic over some of the things we can accomplish this year and next year.
RW: A lot of Republicans feel emboldened by Trump's election and the fact that Republicans are now in control of the House and the Senate in Washington, but it sounds like you're reflecting, Kevin Grantham, the divided government here in Colorado and don't necessarily share that feeling?
KG: Well, the, you mean as far as the excitement coming down from many across the country over the change in leadership in DC?
RW: Yeah, and whether you think that translates to Colorado, which has a divided government?
KG: It may, it may or may not. We still, regardless of what happens in DC, we still have a split legislature here and we still have a Democrat Governor. Whatever solutions that are to happen for issues here in Colorado, whatever happens in DC, we still have to collaborate and we still have to work together to come together on those solutions; be it in healthcare or transportation, or construction defects, or any of these things.
KG: We still have to work together here to make those solutions happen.
RW: Let's take a quick break. You've heard the term "Construction defects" now, twice. That is an issue that some see as related to affordable housing and I know that for you, Mr. President, that's a big issue. We're going to get back to that after a break and some other issues as well that are likely to come up in the coming session, which begins on Wednesday. My guests are the incoming Senate President, Kevin Grantham, a Republican from Canyon City, and the incoming Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran of Denver. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.
You're back with Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. This is a big week at the state capital because on Wednesday the legislature is back in session, on Thursday the Governor delivers his state of the state address. We are in advance of the falling of the gavel speaking with two leaders from the state capitol, that's incoming Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, he's a Republican. And House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver, she's a democrat.
So before the break we heard twice the term "construction defects". This is about making it harder to sue developers, particularly of condos and some see this as a step towards more condo construction and therefore potentially bringing down the cost of housing. Senator Grantham, I understand this is a real priority for you this year but it has been unsuccessful in previous sessions, what makes you think this year will be different?
KG: Well you know in any situation you only have to collaborate as the Speaker mentioned in the previous segment, there has to be talking between both sides and I think we're starting to finally see maybe the tone changing within the larger group, maybe not so much inside the building here but the groups outside the building that are doing more talking and trying to find the solutions. This is not an easy issue, this is very complex, it's multifaceted, there's no real big consensus on what the absolute solution is to making this problem go away. And so we're looking at a multitude of different things, maybe multiple pieces of legislation, maybe one comprehensive bill.
It's not an easy thing, and so that's why it hasn't been real successful in past years, but I think we're finally moving on along with good bipartisan looks at this. Plus folks out in the world and out in the industry itself, be it insurance, be it construction, be it all these various things that are all talking and I think we'll be able to come to some pieces of legislation that will actually get us a long ways down the road to solving the problem. I think the tone has changed both outside the building and maybe a little bit inside the building as well.
RW: Speaker Duran, what do you think? And this is about the balance between consumer protection and the protection of those who build buildings.
CD: Well since the end of last session, I've spent a lot of time looking at the issues and a variety of different policy proposals, and I take my role as being the next Speaker of the House very seriously. I think it comes with great responsibility and we have to make sure that we pass legislation that actually creates the results that we intended to. And so I believe that there may be some areas where there could be common ground, but I do draw a line when it comes to consumer rights. I think it's very important that people across the state of Colorado, if they purchase a home and there's shoddy construction then they have the opportunity to remedy that and that we protect consumers rights. That said, I think that there may be some opportunities to look at insurance rates specifically and try and get to the heart of the issue and we need to make sure that we have well vetted policy as it relates to any reforms that come forward.
And when I think about affordable housing, this is one component of it. But there's also a lot of other issues that people have to deal with every single day when they're trying to figure out how are they going to be able to have a job that pays them enough, that enables them to buy a home. And so we're looking at a variety of different affordable housing proposals. Also for tenants, in Colorado many tenants are engaged in different contacts to rent out an apartment and many times they don't have very much notice whatsoever in comparison to other states if there's going to be an increase in rent. And so I think there's some common sense things that we can do to really think about those issues that middle class Coloradan's are dealing with every single day and make our laws more equitable.
RW: Conversely though, landlords might hear that and have their hackles raised.
CD: Well in the state of Colorado, it's only about a week notice that people get if their rents are going to be increased and you think about people who work hard, have a family, are thinking about how they're going to get their kids through school and so forth. And a week's notice is just not enough time if you have to move, if you have to look at different options. I mean it could really disrupt the lives of families and one's life generally. And so I think that there should be more notice for tenants if they're going to have their rates increased dramatically, I think that in comparison to a lot of other states there's a more balanced approach to addressing that issue.
RW: Interesting. What do you think Senator?
KG: I think as far as the construction litigation and attainable housing issue, the first part of the conversation, taking care of the consumer, taking care of the homeowner, making sure that they still have their ability to have their rights and have their day in court, that is obviously very important. Any of us would want that ability, but also making sure that the law is weighted correctly so that it's not completely against the builder, against the generals or the sub-contractors, trying to find that right balance to protect both sides of the equation.
RW: And to that second proposal that we heard, the idea of landlords having to give more notice if they're going to increase their rent, is that something Republicans could get behind?
KG: It's something we'll take a look at. It's obviously not an easy issue, and again this is something that we'll have to negotiate and talk about and debate on what is right for the consumer, what's right for the tenant, the renter versus the landlord's rights and the homeowner's rights, so we'll talk about it. We'll see if there's a balance there that we can achieve.
RW: I want to talk a little bit about what the Trump administration and Republican congress could mean for Colorado, specifically in the arena of healthcare. So efforts to dismantle Obamacare, have now begun at the federal level. At the same time, it seems there's a lot of interest in getting insurance through the state's exchange. Sign up's were ahead 18% over last year as of December according to Connect for Health Colorado. I'll say that open enrollment ends January 31st. Do you imagine that you, as state lawmakers, are going to have to take some sort of legislative action this session to perhaps in the Democrat's minds preserve the ACA in some way, or perhaps in the Republican's mind help roll out the finer points of a dismantling? And Speaker Duran, why don't you take that first?
CD: Sure. So one of the things that I think was wonderful for Obamacare is we saw more Coloradan's than ever before being able to have access to healthcare insurance. And for the first time were able to cover pre-existing conditions and kids were able to stay on their parents plan for a longer period of time, that's very meaningful to so many Coloradan's across this state, and we want to continue to be able to preserve that coverage and preserve those specific types of coverage. I think we're always thinking about how do we build upon the foundation that we have to address some of the high rates of healthcare as it relates to the rural areas of Colorado. How do we continue to make sure that there is not waste in the healthcare system.
But overall, I am hoping and we are watching very, very closely what happens at the federal level because there are so many Coloradan's that are depending on access to health insurance that we need to do everything in our power to be able to protect that, but also thinking about how do we build upon the foundation that is there to make it even better. And that will be the focus going into this upcoming legislative session. I still think that there's a lot of unknowns. And I've said in the past since Donald Trump got elected to the White House that if he does everything that he said he was going to do on the campaign trail, he's not only going to destroy Colorado communities, he will also destroy Colorado's economy. We need Colorado specific solutions with Republicans and Democrats working together to do what is right for the people of our state and for the unique needs of our state as well.
RW: That sounded awfully optimistic when Republicans are very exuberant to dismantle Obamacare. What steps could Colorado take?
CD: Well I think that we are ready to stand strong against efforts that would limit the ability to cover pre-existing conditions, we are ready to stand strong as it relates to making sure that people have access to healthcare insurance. Those were things that came forward in the healthcare reforms that a lot of Coloradans are depending on. People that work hard, and people that need to be able to have that security for themselves and for their families, and so with that we'll be going into this upcoming legislative session watching very closely what actually happens at the federal level. I think that there still are a lot of unknowns about what this is going to look like and how it would impact Colorado specifically. But we need to build upon the foundation of what has been accomplished for Coloradans across the state.
RW: Senator Grantham on the Affordable Care Act and what a dismantling at the federal level might mean at the state level and for even the session ahead.
KG: Well you know that's going to be, the proof will be in the pudding on that, whether or not they actually get that accomplished at the federal level. And we'll see if that actually happens where we can react or do something on the state level within our 120 day session before May 10. We will have many options maybe in front of us to have to deal with, whether it's on the local Colorado Healthcare Exchange or whether it's in regard to Medicaid. We don’t know what all these reforms are going to look like, post-Obamacare, if there is a post-Obamacare. We'll most likely have to be dealing with something by the 2018 session for sure but this session I'm imagining right now that we're just going to be waiting and seeing what happens from the federal level. Either way we're going to have to figure out a, some Colorado solution for a purple state. We're, regardless of whether Republicans are in full control in DC or whether Democrats are in full control in DC, we still have a split legislature here and we still have split government and no different than it's been over the last forty years. We have to collaborate and work together to find solutions for Coloradans.
RW: Thanks to both of you. You heard Kevin Grantham, Republican from Canon City, he's incoming President of the Colorado Senate and Representative Crisanta Duran of Denver. She's a Democrat and will be the new Speaker of the state House. The legislature gavels open Wednesday.