Colorado Governor Vetoes Toll Road Accountability Bill
Veto by Colorado governor preserves secrecy when negotiating long-term toll road contracts.
Critics of long-term toll road contracts complain that they are often negotiated in secrecy by unaccountable bureaucrats, cutting the public out of the process entirely. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) is not among those who see any problem with the way things are done. On Wednesday he put his veto pen to Senate Bill 14-197, the Transportation Enterprise Transparency Act, ensuring the status quo.
"We firmly believe that government should always strive to be transparent and accountable," Hickenlooper wrote in his veto message. "Unfortunately, SB 14-197 is not just a transparency bill -- it also inappropriately constrains the business terms of future P3 [public-private partnership] agreements."
Last month, the General Assembly gave overwhelming approval to a measure passed in response to a fifty-year tolling deal on Interstate 36. The administration that signed the deal is limited by the state constitution to no more than eight years in office, yet the terms are binding on the next seven individuals to hold the state's highest office. In other states, freeways have been leased to private foreign companies for as long as 99 years.
The Colorado legislation would have required public meetings disclosing the state's intentions at each relevant phase of the contract development process, from concept through execution. The General Assembly would have to approve any deal that contains potentially objectionable features. This includes any contract lasting longer than thirty-five years; non-compete clauses that drive up toll road usage by hobbling development of nearby general purpose roads; and any requirement that the public assume risk on behalf of the private companies involved.
Lawmakers also included language to encourage more mass transit and buses. The state would have to submit an annual report detailing projections and costs for all tolling enterprises. The state auditor would then check the books of the tolling enterprise on a routine basis.
Hickenlooper said he vetoed on behalf of groups such as the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, Associated General Contractors of Colorado, Colorado Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Portland Cement Association, Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure, and Parsons Brinckerhoff -- all of whom stand to lose money with a slowing of toll road development.
"We are also concerned that private sector and local government stakeholders were not adequately involved in SB 14-197's development," Hickenlooper wrote.
As a gesture to lawmakers, Hickenlooper signed an executive order, which is binding until rescinded, establishing five reforms drawn from the legislation. First, the state will hold three town hall meetings to advertise the benefits of the toll road. Second, before building any roads, the State Transportation Commission must consider spending transportation tax dollars on mass transit options instead. Third, the state website will post a scrubbed summary of the contract outline. Fourth, the order establishes that the only information that the public is entitled to in advance is any change to high-occupancy vehicle lane requirements. Finally, the General Assembly may be given additional information "with reasonable safeguards protecting proprietary information and the negotiating process."
A copy of the vetoed bill is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.
Source: Senate Bill 14-197 (Colorado General Assembly, 5/12/2014)