Monday, February 11

RTA short cut

After elected officials around Northern Colorado shot down the idea of a ballot initiative for a Regional Transportation Authority, proponents are pushing for an end run around the process.

State Senator Steve Johnson of Fort Collins and State Representative Glenn Vaad of Greeley, both Republicans, have introduced a bill that would cut city councils and county commissions out of the talks. Under the legislation, HB-1092, supporters could simply collect petition signatures to get an RTA deal on the ballot.

The "RTA-by-petition" bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Transportation and Energy Committee tomorrow. (Vaad and Loveland Republican legislator Don Marostica both sit on the committee.) At an initial hearing a few weeks ago, Sandra Hagen Solin of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance spoke in favor of the legislative change.

Solin and the alliance, a collection of local chambers of commerce, crafted the RTA that offended a majority of the Fort Collins city council, because its mix of funding priorities favored developer interests and emphasized money for roads over transit. A steering committee has tried to resuscitate the RTA this winter, but still run into opposition. The terms of HB-1092 would remove the major obstacle -- the approval of our elected officials -- to getting the proposal to a public vote.

Opponents argue that the bill would bypass intergovernmental cooperation and agreements that establish equitable terms of programs, like an RTA, and that its passage could also jeopardize a statewide tax initiative aimed at addressing transportation issues across Colorado. They're urging citizens to call committee members and ask them to kill the "RTA-by-petition" bill.

In an email to citizen activists, Loveland resident and transit advocate Roger Hoffmann (who ran for county commissioner against Glenn Gibson in 2004 and could be considering another shot at the seat) also added a little extra political sauce to this latest series of turns surrounding an RTA:
As a side note, a likely reason Sen. Johnson sponsored this bill is that he is seeking to unseat Democrat Randy Eubanks as Larimer County Commissioner; and he will be seeking large campaign contributions. The McWhinneys have been among the largest local donors to such campaigns; and they target their money to those in the best position to help them. For example, they have contributed _over $95,000_ to various campaigns in the last several years. In the 2006 County Commissioner race, they contributed $2,400 to Commissioner [Kathay] Rennels. It is reasonable to expect the McWhinneys, and other real estate figures to be prominent players in the 2008 elections. (Numbers not verified by the Chronicle.)

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