Why The 2016 Legislative Session Was One Of ‘Missed Opportunities’

Photo: State Capitol steps (AP Photo)
Visitors make their way up the main steps under the dome of the Colorado state Capitol, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Denver.

Many Coloradans struggle to afford housing. The state’s transportation system barely has enough money to maintain existing roads – much less add lanes or create more mass transit options. And many residents feel the way the state picks its presidential candidates left them without a voice.

There was widespread agreement inside the Capitol this year that these were important issues that needed to be dealt with.

But – after a four-month legislative session ended Wednesday – agreement on the problems did not translate to consensus on how to fix them.

“I would categorize this whole session [as] basically missed opportunities,” said Republican House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso.

The two parties killed each other’s attempts to create more money for roads. Republicans preferred to go to the voters to borrow billions through transportation bonds.

Meanwhile, Democrats failed to pass legislation to retain taxpayer refunds in the coming years -- money they wanted to devote to roads and schools.

An effort to bring back a presidential primary even had support from Democrats, Republicans, state party leaders – and the Republican Secretary of State.

Yet, it didn’t happen.

“How did that happen?” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “That seemed like something that was going to be a fairly easy, bipartisan win and, again, no one has really explained to me how that fell apart.”

Another proposal that seemed poised for compromise – an attempt to limit lawsuits over construction defects to boost condo construction – fell apart in the final days.

But lawmakers did come together on some other efforts to try to boost affordable housing, like extending tax credits for developers who build affordable-housing units and establishing down-payment incentives for first-time homebuyers.

Bipartisan budget writers also worked together to avoid deep spending cuts to higher education and provide some new funding for schools and roads in a tight budget year.

And lawmakers passed an 11th-hour compromise that would allow grocery stores to sell full-strength booze – although Hickenlooper says he doesn’t know yet whether he will sign the bill.

Still, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle acknowledge they could have done more this session. And we can expect to see many of these same battles next year.

“The great news about this legislative process is sometimes things don’t happen the first time, but doesn’t mean that we are not going to try,” said Democratic House Majority Crisanta Duran.

Lawmakers may not have to wait until next year to continue their work. Hickenlooper says he is mulling the possibility of a special session in hopes of reaching agreement on some of these major issues.

But it's still unclear whether two sessions would be any better than one.