Colorado scrambles to pay the bills |

Colorado scrambles to pay the bills

Bob Berwyn
Summit County Correspondent
Keystone, CO Colorado

KEYSTONE, Colorado ” The national economic downturn could severely crimp Colorado’s budget, potentially affecting legislation of interest to businesses along the Front Range and in the High Country during the coming year.

“As we look at the state budget, the coffers are nowhere near projections from six months ago,” said Travis Berry, lobbyist for the Colorado Competitive Council, a statewide business group meeting in Keystone Friday.

Even before the hits to the economy in the first two weeks of October, projections were for zero revenue growth.

“It’s pretty scary what might come in now, as far as revenue projections,” Berry said.

The state could be looking at a $200 million budget hole, resulting in a freeze on spending and capital projects and forcing lawmakers to look at new revenue sources, he said.

“The budget is the 1,000-pound gorilla nobody wants to talk about,” said Virginia Morrison Love, who also represents statewide business interests in Denver.

At best, the gloomy economic outlook might get legislators to think twice about new laws that could dampen investment even more, she said.

One place they might turn is to another highway-tolling proposal. A measure introduced in the state legislature last session that would have levied tolls on Interstate 70 was defeated, but if Western Slope and Front Range lawmakers can find common ground, a statewide version of the plan could gain some traction.

Frisco town manager Michael Penny said Western Slope communities want a statewide funding solution for transportation, not the piecemeal approach implied by the ill-fated I-70 proposal.

The Denver Metro Chamber supports tolling to fund highway work, so the issue could be a dividing point between Front Range and High Country interests.

The 3-year-old lobbying group met in Keystone to foster the dialogue between Front Range and mountain business interests, according to Rob Waterman, vice president of the Summit Chamber of Commerce board.

Known as the C3 group, it essentially is made up of chambers of commerce from around the state, along with the state bankers association, the oil and gas industry, the Colorado Petroleum Association and various other groups such as the Colorado Farm Bureau. C3 is an offshoot of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The recessionary pressure is also being felt in the local housing market, said Gary Severson, director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments.

In Summit County, the available inventory of homes for sale has doubled from a year ago, while the number of sales has dropped by half, he said, citing recent data from the Summit Association of Realtors.

Sales of properties under $1.5 million have been most affected, Severson said, adding that the top end of the market ” homes priced above $2.5 million ” is still strong.

“It’s not just Summit County,” he said, explaining that the same trend is evident in mountain resort communities around the West.

The local real-estate community is optimistic that sales will rebound fast when the faltering economy finds some footing.

The simple law of supply and demand suggests that, once people start buying homes again, the existing stock of properties in Summit County will be purchased, since there isn’t as much competition from new home construction, Severson said.

Morrison Love said she expects the state legislature once again to consider laws affecting municipal growth.

The business community, as represented by C3, supports local control and opposes attempts to put finite growth boundaries on towns, she said.

That puts the organization generally on the same page as the Colorado Municipal League, said Penny, who also serves on that group’s board.

But at the same time, the league recognizes a need for municipalities to work together to address regional growth issues, he said.

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