Colorado governor vetoes limits on public-private partnerships

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 6/5/2014

A bill in Colorado to place new rules on public-private partnership deals for highway projects was slapped down by the governor.

Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill on Wednesday, June 4, that covers the partnerships, commonly referred to as P3’s. Specifically, SB197 would increase disclosures, oversight and public input.

The governor said he supports transparency and accountability in government. However, he wrote in a veto letter that the bill “is not just a transparency bill; it also inappropriately constrains the business terms of future P3 agreements.”

Instead, he urged supporters to pursue more input from “the private sector and local government stakeholders before trying to rush legislation through the statehouse.

The P3 oversight effort was introduced after a deal early this year between the Colorado Department of Transportation and an Australian-based company, Plenary Group, for a portion of U.S. 36. The 50-year, $425 million deal calls for widening the highway between Boulder and Denver and adding a toll lane in each direction.

Critics of the deal said it was done secretly with little public input.

To help guard against similar actions in the future, one provision in SB197 would require public and legislative “check-ins,” including town hall meetings.

Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said the public deserves to know what’s happening with their highways.

Jones’ bill would also limit P3 deals to 35 years. Any effort for a longer lease term would need legislative approval.

Hickenlooper said the constraints on business terms sought in the bill “would create a chilling component on future transactions, making investors unlikely or unwilling to bid on Colorado projects due to the increased risks this process would generate.”

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA director of Legislative Affairs, said open doors and transparency in negotiations should not be seen by any party as a disincentive for them to make an investment, especially when public roads are the topic.

“If a P3 contract cannot stand up to approval of elected representatives, that is probably a strong sign the contract is not in the best interest of the public,” Bowley said.

Bowley said the Association is hopeful that state lawmakers will move forward with an override of the veto.

In Colorado, state lawmakers can either choose to revise the bill and send it back to the governor or attempt to override the veto with a two-thirds vote.

The Senate initially approved the bill on a 25-10 vote – which is one more than the 24 votes needed for an override. House lawmakers approved the bill on a 35-29 vote – which is eight votes short of the margin necessary.

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