As part of the Colorado Chamber of Commerce’s annual Colorado Business Day, mayors from Denver, Colorado Springs, Lone Tree, Grand Junction and Fort Collins met on Thursday to discuss the 2020 legislative session and the most pressing issues facing their communities.
At the top of their list: transportation infrastructure, growth, health care and the need for statewide funding and solutions.
“Cities have been basically left alone to try to figure out this quandary of growth and proper investment in transportation infrastructure,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said. “The federal government and the state governments have been paralyzed by indecision and partisan politics while mayors are trying to figure it out.”
When asked by Colorado Chamber board chairman Stacey Campbell what kind of transportation ballot measure might be successful, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said it comes down to language.
“For some reason on the state level, they have not been able to figure out what local governments figured out a long time ago,” he said. “Why do we win over two-thirds of TABOR elections at the local level? It’s because we’re very specific. We do it for a certain amount of time. We say, ‘This is how much money we’re going to raise, and this is exactly what we’re going to do with it.’”
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet said when it comes to a successful transportation ballot measure, what’s holding voters back is “partisan bickering.”
“What I think needs to happen is a bipartisan solution with both Republicans acknowledging that there isn’t enough money to fix the problem within the system today, with Democrats acknowledging there is some money in the system that should be devoted to roads, and leadership at all levels of the state government acknowledging that this is a priority for us,” she said.
Up next was the issues of rapid growth and its effects on each mayor’s community.
“We’ll take the growth you don’t want,” Grand Junction Mayor Rick Taggart quipped with Hancock.
Taggart said the city has seen steady growth over the last five years, averaging an increase between 3% and 4% a year, and that there is plenty of affordable housing.
“Western Colorado is not a bad place to be,” he said.
Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell also said his community has seen steady growth and continued to maintain its identity.
“For me, it’s less about a number and more about our values,” he said, praising his community for its “innovation and collaboration.”
Hancock highlighted the benefits growth has brought to Denver, like attracting over 8,000 businesses in the last eight years and establishing more than a dozen new direct flights to places around the world, but also acknowledged its challenges, such as the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing.
Suthers said in Colorado Springs, growth is inevitable, but that one of the most critical pieces of managing it is ensuring the city creates 5,000 jobs a year and ensuring the investment of infrastructure to keep up.
When asked about health care, each city leader pointed to the importance of keeping costs down and expanding access, but none could identify a single solution.
“If I knew the answers to health care, I wouldn’t be the mayor of Colorado Springs,” Suthers said.
Troxell said there are “perversions built into the system” that need to be fixed, and that in general, “we need to rethink” the health system.
Although the mayors disagreed on a couple of issues during the lighthearted discussion, they each championed the same message: their city was the best place to live in Colorado.
The Chamber’s annual event was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Denver.