- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 10, on banking access for pot businesses:

The “test kitchen” that is Colorado’s commercial cannabis industry keeps delivering the same half-baked results.

Because of federal banking laws, pot businesses can’t deposit their money in banks. Without the ability to access banking services, accept credit cards or write checks, businesses are stuck operating with large amounts of cash.

That makes marijuana stores a prime target for robberies. A heist in Carbondale earlier this week illustrates how federal banking laws are creating a public safety issue for states that legalize marijuana.

The threat of robberies is just the tip of the iceberg. For obvious reasons, the marijuana industry has gone out of its way to be super-compliant with all regulations, but with so much cash flowing through these businesses, the opportunities are ripe for money-laundering operations. And then there’s the logistical headache of paying taxes with cash.

It’s not like elected officials are unaware of these problems. They’ve thrown every solution they can think of at the problem and keep getting a stiff-arm from the feds.

Colorado chartered the Fourth Corner Credit Union to serve the $700 million-a-year marijuana industry after the Treasury Department issued guidelines last year under which marijuana businesses could access banking services.

The credit union was to impose expensive fees to cover the costs of the additional regulation. But in a court filing in October, the Fed said it wouldn’t allow money from pot sales into the U.S. banking system. The credit union is asking a federal judge to intervene.

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner sponsored a bipartisan bill to open up banking access for state-legal cannabis businesses by protecting financial institutions against prosecution or asset forfeiture for providing services to those businesses. However, the bill has been stuck in the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee since July.

So, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, devised an alternative strategy: using the financial service appropriations bill as a vehicle to allow banks to serve marijuana businesses.

A provision in the financial services spending bill would prevent the federal government from spending money on penalizing financial institutions that accept legal marijuana businesses as clients. That would greatly reduce the ability of federal agencies’ to prosecute the banks.

One way or another, the fix is going to have to come from the federal government. Colorado is a guinea pig in a national laboratory, but the results of the experiment are skewed by conflicting state and federal laws.

“As marijuana is legalized in states across the country, the federal government has a duty to ensure that this experiment can proceed safely,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement after Bennet and Gardner introduced their bill.

He’s right. Providing marijuana businesses access to banking will protect the safety and well-being of employees, customers and the communities where they sell their products. These legal businesses in Colorado deserve to be served by banks.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1Jbrl6M

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The Denver Post, Dec. 11, on student test results:

The latest state PARCC results, released Friday, drill down to the district and school level and further confirm that the tests are tough and that way too many kids opted out of them this year.

Parents of typically high-performing schools will no doubt be shocked by some of the results, which are much lower than in previous tests. But these results on a more rigorous test are a closer reflection of whether students are college and career ready when they graduate. And they should serve as the base line from which future scores will build.

Nevertheless, there is a fear that such underwhelming results could further fuel that backlash against testing, which led so many students to opt out of tests - particularly at the high-school level.

Some schools, such as Fairview High in Boulder, had less than a 4 percent participation rate. At that school, the state posted results for only one test because for all other tests fewer than 16 students participated.

This must change. Similar protests next year would be lacking any basis. Colorado and federal lawmakers got the the word. The testing load was reduced both in the newly minted federal education law Every Child Succeeds Act and in Colorado’s statutes.

Parents should accept that PARCC is here to stay and is necessary to help guide education efforts and accountability.

Without information that these tests provide we wouldn’t learn, for example, that Denver Public Schools continues to steadily narrow the achievement gap between its students and the statewide averages. We also wouldn’t be able to see that other low-income districts, such as Aurora, are continuing to struggle. The disaggregated data help officials further dig into how to better serve students of different classes and races.

These are the benefits of statewide assessments and why students must participate - to help not only understand their status and growth but also be able to help their peers across Colorado.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/1lDtqn9

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The (Loveland) Reporter-Herald, Dec. 14, on ways for the state to seek funding:

Put the words “government” and “debt” together, and most people will shudder, and for good reason. For a generation, Congress and the administration from both political parties have been spending more money than the government has been collecting, leading to an enormous federal debt.

At the state level, however, the constitution requires the General Assembly to balance its budget. Any borrowing has to be repaid, and if the borrowing occurs over more than one budget year, voters have to give their approval.

In some cases, debt can be a good proposition when interest rates are low and the object being purchased can bring back more economic benefit than if no action had occurred. For instance, many people take out a mortgage on a home when they’re young instead of paying in cash when they’re older because the increased value of the home, plus the time spent living in it, make it a worthwhile investment.

Against this background comes the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance and a plan launched last week to put a question about borrowing onto the 2016 general election ballot.

According to the backers of Fix Colorado Roads, passage of a ballot issue will allow the state to sell approximately $3.5 billion of revenue bonds to pay for road construction and bridges throughout the state, but most notably on Interstate 25 in Northern Colorado and south of Castle Rock, and Interstate 70 west of Denver.

Heaven knows the work is needed now. Any drive between Fort Collins and Denver runs the risk of taking much longer than anticipated because of a minor crash or a line of slow trucks on the hill south of the Berthoud exit.

The key, however, for passage of new bonding authority for the state will be in the identification of a revenue stream to pay off the debt. In previous years, efforts have stalled because of proposals to take the money out of the maintenance budget for the Colorado Department of Transportation. This year’s effort asks for lawmakers to find the money in the general fund. If that means higher tuition for college students or lower funding for schools, it will be a tough sell, indeed.

Instead, lawmakers should consider whether this is the year to revamp the gasoline tax in the state. With gas prices projected to remain low for many months, it could be a source of revenue worth considering. If gas prices rebound, that means the state’s oil and gas industry will be on the rise, and other revenue sources could be triggered.

That also would take a vote of the people - but it would feel less like debt than selling bonds without a dedicated revenue source.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/1Qp4ixp

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The Coloradoan, Dec. 11, on Interstate 25 in northern Colorado:

You’ve done a lot of work on I-25 already, Northern Colorado.

Now, you don’t need us to tell you there are still only two lanes from Longmont all the way up to Wellington. That you get bottled up at Crossroads Boulevard and Berthoud Hill and many other points in between here and Denver.

And like you, we’d love to receive a gift of three lanes - shoot, let’s go big and say four - wrapped up with a red bow this holiday season. Opening, you know, tomorrow.

But even short of a Christmas miracle, we’ve still got more options for I-25 than we did a year ago. And certainly than we did two, three or four years ago. Credit progress to those who are working hard to create awareness and speak with one voice about our specific Northern Colorado challenges - the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance, a sub-committee of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, and the North I-25 Coalition made up primarily of 13 government agencies along the corridor.

Here are some of the options on the table for future I-25 improvements:

-A gas tax

In Colorado, motorists pay 40.4 cents in taxes per gallon of gasoline. Of that, 22 cents is credited to the state and 18.4 cents goes to the federal government.

We haven’t raised the gas tax in Colorado since 1991. To pay for the billions in work on wish lists across the state (including $1.2 billion for I-25 widening), we’d be looking at a roughly 10- to 12-cent per gallon gas tax increase.

The Editorial Board sees potential drawbacks to a gas tax. It will become less efficient as fuel standards continue to rise. Those who drive electric vehicles will disproportionately pay to maintain our roads. It potentially targets low-income earners who must drive greater distances to find viable employment.

-A managed lane

CDOT’s preference is to attract a partner for a third, managed lane in Northern Colorado.

For each trip you made on I-25, you would be charged a variable rate depending on traffic and drive time. Carpoolers (three persons or more in a vehicle) would be exempt from the fee, which is estimated to be anywhere from 5 to 30 cents a mile.

Public-private partnerships expect a return. The Editorial Board sees more value in investing not in a private company but in continued improvements to our roads.

-A sales tax

A transportation bill (TRANS II) will be introduced in the 2016 Legislature to fund highway improvements. While specific details are still being worked through, we are in favor of a motion to create a sales-tax ballot issue ahead of the November 2016 election. The most likely transportation bill that will be introduced is similar to the TRANs Bond bill that failed last session.

A quarter-cent sales tax increase - that’s 25 cents on every $100 spent - gets us the needed resources for the entirety of the I-25 project sooner than current projections of 2035. And far ahead of 2075, when CDOT tells us we’d get to four lanes along North I-25.

-Help from the feds

In any event, we can and should capitalize on the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law last week.

It’s the first law enacted in more than 10 years that will provide long-term funding certainty for surface transit. Colorado’s share could be in the billions of dollars.

Additionally, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is proposing that the state’s hospital provider fee move to an enterprise fund. The result would be that it moves out from under TABOR restrictions, freeing up money to pay for transportation projects, among other options.

We can and should leverage those dollars with our own. We’ve got options, as outlined above. Let’s work together.

By 2040, the number of cars that travel on I-25 will increase by 60 percent. CDOT’s plan is to build a third, managed lane by 2035. We’ve got an opportunity much sooner - in the coming year - to decide how to fund the project much sooner.

None of us wants to sit on I-25 for the next 20 years. And we don’t have to.

Editorial:

Editorial: http://noconow.co/1mnqYB7

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