Split Houses Are Usually a Good Thing in Colorado

by Tom Clark

When Governor Bill Owens left office at the end of 2005, I asked him, “What was the best time of your governorship?” His answer was quick - and short. “When Andrew Romanoff was Speaker of the House.”  Andrew Romanoff, for those who missed his television ads, is a Democrat.

During a portion of Owens’ two terms, the Republicans controlled both houses. Owens spent a good bit of time reigning in his more ardent fellow lawmakers, eager to take on tough social and tax issues that could easily have turned off Colorado voters. In 2013, with both houses in the hands of Democrats, Gov. John Hickenlooper found himself in a similar position. It almost cost him his second term as Governor.

With the Colorado Senate now in the hands of Republicans and the House controlled by the Democrats, Hickenlooper, the poster child for crossing the aisle, should have a solid second term. Another four years of economic growth would be welcome. Also, let’s not forget that many of the changes in Colorado tax policy and improved job creation incentives were developed and passed during Democrat Bill Ritter’s term. The recent announcement by Lockheed Martin to locate its commercial aerospace headquarters was driven by competitive incentives sponsored and passed by Democrats during Ritter’s term and enhanced during Hickenlooper’s first term.

Even though the two houses are split, there are still plenty of areas for the parties to work jointly:

  • We can start with transportation -  I-70 from Golden through the Eisenhower Tunnel is a congested mess. Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) Director Don Hunt has offered a 15-20 year “Band-Aid” for this vitally important ribbon of commerce, tourism, and connectivity. He also has done us a great favor by analyzing the cost for a high speed train to Vail. (It’s REALLY expensive.) But, for a mere $2 billion or so, we can expand shoulders, add toll lanes (used only during high congestion periods), add some other tweaks, and reduce delays substantially from the Tunnel to Floyd Hill.
  • Energy development - Both can agree that it’s a good idea for the U.S. to end its reliance on unstable oil-rich regions around the world. Today, 76 percent of the nation’s oil comes from its own production (60 percent), while Canada and Mexico, our two most reliable partners in trade, supply 16 percent.  This is a good sign. A sustainable, reliable source of fossil fuel attracts foreign investment, re-shores U.S. manufacturing jobs to our country, and creates another path to the middle class for students who are not interested in four-year college degrees.
  • Construction defects - Rising rental costs and a median single-family house price of $317,000 are locking out both the young and old from home ownership. For the first time in 11 years we have an opportunity to build affordable, attached, owner-occupied housing, in a price range that would allow teachers, fire fighters, young families, and aging adults to live in areas of their choice—including new transit stations that will be popping up in the next 3-4 years.

If the new legislature could make significant progress on these three issues in 2015, it could go down as one of the most productive session in Colorado history. 

Tom Clark

Former CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Council

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