Urban Renewal: Consensus*

Months of meetings, and a pending consensus bill – but some issues will still be unresolved

Prior to HB 15-1348 being signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in June, significant issues with the legislation had already been identified. The bill – completely rewritten in the final days of the 2015 legislative session – contained numerous ambiguities, conflicts, and errors in application of terminology. Although described as “perceived technical issues” in the governor’s signing statement, it was clear there were real and actual issues that began to immediately scuttle financing for projects already underway in existing urban renewal plans, as well as place a chilling effect on the future of new plans. Upon further examination, additional and equally troubling problems were discovered.

Since June, numerous meeting and discussions have been held to parse through the issues, as well as to attempt to reconcile the statute’s new language with intent. Adding to the difficulty were the differing viewpoints between and among all parties. Gov. Hickenlooper appointed a working group to examine the issues. CML, Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI), and the Special District Association (SDA) also agreed that we should talk to each other and include our respective issue experts. All parties came to the table to articulate our respective positions, listen and learn about those of others, and propose various concepts and language to change the statute.

While there exists a long list of issues to delve into, in the final weeks of 2015 and into 2016, both the CML/CCI/SDA (local government) group and the governor’s working group were focusing on a handful of critical subject areas:

  1. Resolving a TABOR conflict created by HB 15-1348
  2. Clarifying the mediation process
  3. Ensuring that existing contracts were not impaired and that investors were held harmless
  4. Clarifying the applicability of HB 1348 provisions to plans adopted prior to January 1, 2016

The last meeting of the local government group took place on February 9. At that meeting, there was final agreement on the TABOR language and mediation clarifications. The discussions on applicability centered predominantly on persistent attempts add language to the statutes that would create nearly automatic retroactivity of HB 1348 urban renewal plans that were adopted prior to the effective date of the bill – January 1, 2016. CML and others objected, and the discussion on applicability was set aside until a new concept was put forward. New draft language was circulated in the days after the meeting, but discussion on applicability changes ended with proposed edits by counties that would have inserted retroactivity language.

Separately, the governor’s working group had been meeting and had its last meeting on December 22. Its focus has mainly been on language for the bond and finance community that would ensure contracts are not impaired and hold them harmless from anything that would change and the terms and conditions of bond repayment. Recommendations were made by the working group in December.

Consensus legislation

Following the breakdown of attempts to reconcile the applicability language, Gov. Hickenlooper’s office and legislative leadership determined that it was time to move forward with legislation on the items for which there is agreement among the parties. This week, the governor’s working group will convene to update its members on the progress that has been made and to share with them draft language that will become a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, and Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder.

It is possible that some discussion on a proposal to enhance the “hold harmless” language may occur. Additional language that would arguably protect the financing of deals outstanding before January 1, 2016 (and the refundings of those deals) was proposed. However, the announcement from the governor’s staff was that only the prior approved “hold harmless” language would be in the bill draft.

CML will support this consensus legislation. There are elements within it that are critical to ensure the proper functioning of existing and future urban renewal plans. A draft is expected to be available very soon.

Future issues and discussion

CML’s support for this necessary legislation does not in any way mean that all of the issues are resolved. The inability to come to consensus on the extent and limitations of the applicability of HB 1348 is clear evidence that work on clarification must continue. It is not the only example of inconsistency and ambiguity in the statute.

The League is committed to continuing to pursue clear outcomes (as articulated best by Gov. Hickenlooper) that:

  1. Respect the will of the General Assembly via HB 1348;
  2. Ensures that plans in existence prior to January 1 are upheld, and;
  3. Ensures existing rights and financial expectations are not impaired.

For now, the focus is (and should) be on support of the consensus bill.

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