The price-driven downturn in Colorado's energy sector has leveled off, meaning lost jobs and stalled investment won't be more of a drag on an economy whose growth is being led by consumer spending, analysts told the Joint Budget Committee.
That spending, however, has been dampened by high housing costs in the Denver metropolitan area, said Natalie Mullis, chief legislative economist. Uncertainty surrounding future U.S. interest rates, export demand and the November elections could curb corporate investment in Colorado, Mullis said.
That, coupled with new obligations such as nearly $100 million in the severance tax rebates, could produce an estimated $63 million shortfall in funding for education, prisons and other obligations, she said.
Henry Sobanet, director of the governor's Office of State Planning and Budget, said Colorado's technology-driven economic growth will persist despite revenue losses from energy, but at a lesser pace than earlier in the economic expansion that's followed the Great Recession.
Lawmakers and the governor's office use the quarterly economic forecasts to plan their budget work for the fiscal years that start July 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper must present his next budget proposal by Nov. 1.
The general fund --; currently $10.7 billion, out of a total $27 billion budget --; must be maintained above a level set by law or trigger budget cuts. It's above that limit this year, but next year is projected to be $226.5 million short, according to the administration's forecast.
One culprit: The refunds that became necessary after Colorado's Supreme Court ruled the state improperly calculated deductions to severance taxes paid by energy companies. Municipalities impacted by drilling usually rely on the revenues, which have dropped from $262 million to $18.9 million.
Other key findings:
No taxpayer refunds are expected in fiscal year 2016-17 under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. TABOR refunds are projected for 2017-18 and 2018-19.
School spending from the general fund is projected to be $104 million, down from $302 million this year.
Sales tax revenue could jump nearly 7 percent next year to roughly $3 billion, thanks in part to retail marijuana sales and new sales taxes from online retailer Amazon.]]>
Republican Reps. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Mike Coffman of Aurora said the Justice Department should investigate Glenn Haggstrom's statements to Congress in 2013 and 2014.
The VA's internal watchdog released a report Sept. 21 saying Haggstrom knew the project was veering toward huge cost overruns but didn't tell lawmakers that.
Haggstrom didn't immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
He was the department's top official in charge of construction projects nationwide. He retired in 2015.
The VA has said Haggstrom left one day after he was interviewed under oath about the hospital as part of a separate internal investigation.
The hospital, now under construction in Aurora, is expected to cost around $1.7 billion, nearly triple the 2014 estimate.
Miller said he will ask the Justice Department to look into perjury charges against Haggstrom and others.
"To this day, the department's handling of the replacement Denver VA medical center continues to be a case study in government waste, incompetence and secrecy," he said.
Coffman had asked the inspector general to consider recommending a criminal investigation if warranted, but the report didn't address that.
Coffman said he will ask the inspector general again to consider recommending a criminal inquiry.
"I'm trying to get to the bottom of this. And I think quite frankly the (Department of) Veterans Affairs doesn't seem to care," he said.
Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrate from New York and another member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, also called on the inspector general to turn the matter over to the Justice Department.
Haggstrom twice testified that the hospital would not require more money, "and he knew that wasn't true," Rice said.
The inspector general's report said gross mismanagement, delays and lax oversight by the VA added hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the hospital and delayed it by years.
The report repeated some conclusions from earlier investigations but is the most scathing account of the project to date.
It accused senior VA leaders of making poor business decisions, allowing architects to include lavish and unnecessary design features and delaying decisions on construction changes by up to three years.
The inspector general accused the VA of "gross mismanagement" for assigning far too few engineers and project managers.
Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of veterans affairs, has said that everyone involved in the cost overruns has either retired or was transferred or demoted. No one has been fired or criminally charged.
Gibson said the department has taken responsibility for the problems and has made changes.
The 184-bed facility is about 70 percent complete and construction is expected to be done in January 2018. It will replace an aging, overcrowded facility still in use in Denver.
Two weeks ago, Miller's committee subpoenaed documents on a separate internal VA investigation into the cost overruns. The department has not said whether it will comply or fight the subpoena.
The VA has said making the documents public could have a chilling effect on future internal investigations.]]>
Williams, immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1988, became a citizen in 1995 and moved to Parker 17 years ago. She was born in China's Sichuan Province just before the Cultural Revolution occurred, and grew up being indoctrinated with pro-government propaganda at school and relying on government-issued coupons to purchase food.
After meeting an American exchange student and reading the Declaration of Independence, Williams decided to pursue her studies in the U.S. After seven attempts at securing a passport and finding an American Fullbright scholar to sponsor, Williams came to the U.S. and never looked back.
She first arrived on the political stage when she ran for the Colorado State House of Representatives as a Libertarian in 2014. Williams gained more notoriety with her sense of humor and unconventional ideas during a Sept. 10 debate with Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican candidate Darryl Glenn.
"It was fun," Williams said. "My best part... was my closing statement because I suggested politicians to wear body cameras so we can keep them honest. I actually draw the largest cheers from the crowd."
Williams acknowledged her English isn't perfect, but she said she relates to voters just the same.
"I also talk like regular people, not like career politician," she said. "That helps."
All of the details of her body camera plan, such as how to ensure politicians actually wear the devices, aren't completely ironed out. But she said paying for the plan could be done by charging a subscription fee for citizens who want to watch their elected officials conduct business in Washington, D.C.
"You could actually make a profit on the investment," she said.
Williams came to the United States in 1988 and became a citizen in 1995. She became involved in local politics in 2000, joining the homeowners' association in the Rowley Downs subdivision and the board of Parker's Challenge to Excellence Charter School, which her children attended.
She registered as a Republican after reading the platform's position on limited government, but soon became disillusioned.
"The Republican Party lost all credibility on limited government," Williams said. "Under Bush, and with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they grew the government. They also grew the mass surveillance program to keep track of law-abiding citizens with taxpayers' money. Then by the time they bailed out the banks... I was so mad."
Williams said she had a lot of "compassionate" friends in the Democratic Party, but she didn't agree with their approach to solving social problems.
"The way they want to help them is through government. I am always critical of government," she said. "I would like to see people help them at the grass-roots level and charities."
Williams had previously chided her husband, John, for being a Libertarian, thinking the group was too small to compete with the two major parties.
Eventually, she chose principle over pragmatism.
"I said I'm going to stick to my principles. I'm going to join the Libertarian Party," Williams said. "It doesn't matter how small it is, I'm going to help it grow."
Williams received 6.4 percent of the vote in her 2014 state House race, no small feat for an unknown third-party candidate.
This year she has a bigger campaign and more name recognition, but she remains realistic about her prospects. She said her goal is still to win, but if she doesn't, she hopes to build a bigger base for her party's future.
Williams said she has seen Democrats and Republicans join Libertarian ranks after becoming disillusioned with their parties'widely unpopularpresidential candidates.
She sees the shift as an opportunity for the Libertarian Party to grow and said the fact that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is polling at 16 percent in Colorado is proof of that.
"I'm hoping to ride that wave and to say `You have a third reliable option,' " she said. "You don't have to go to store and just buy Pepsi or Coke."]]>
The proposed rule for boys and girls basketball would start a running clock if a team leads by 40 points or more at the end of the third quarter. The clock would stop only for timeouts or injuries.
If the board adopts the mercy rule, it would be enforced for the 2016-17 season.
Administrators and coaches are lining up on both sides. Those in favor of implementing the rule argue it could spare the losing team the humiliation of a major blowout. Those against the rule contend it takes time away from players who might not see action in a close game.
"I'm in favor of it," said Mark Duitsman, Lutheran girls basketball coach and athletic director. "I have been on both sides of a lopsided score and I see teachable moments in both circumstances, but I don't see the rule impacting those lessons."
Many coaches don't like the proposed rule change.
"I'm not in favor of changes," ThunderRidge boys coach Joe Ortiz said. "When we get up a lot on an opponent, we sub out. I hate giving up the playing time for our subs that don't get very much playing time."
Cherry Creek girls coach Chris Curneen agrees.
"Every minute of court time is valuable," he said. "Once I get up by a comfortable margin, I usually use the extra minutes to get some of my younger players some valuable playing time."
Highlands Ranch girls coach Caryn Jarocki brings up another point against the mercy rule.
"Teams can work on things regardless of the score and regardless of if they are winning or losing," she said. "On a lesser note, the mercy rule affects teams in regard to the record books. All records have been derived from teams playing full games for a full season, not shortened ones. Those teams/players are essentially being penalized with shortened games."
Blue night scheduled
It is gratifying when differences and rivalries are put aside in a show of support for a person or issue.
Legacy received well wishes and support from schools in the state and outside of Colorado after the Sept. 11 crash that killed bus driver Kari Chopper.
And Chaparral plays Legend Sept. 22 at EchoPark Automotive Stadium in Parker with Wolverines fans wearing navy blue and Titans fans donning royal blue to honor American military personnel. Any service member in uniform will be admitted free and will help crown Chaparral homecoming royalty at halftime.
There will also be donation jars around the stadium to raise money to support Detective Dan Brite and his family. Brite was shot by a suspect Sept. 2 and has been hospitalized since then.
Local team wins hockey tourney
Members of the Castle View High School hockey team combined with the Arapahoe Midget Major AA travel team to form the Castle View/Arapahoe Midget Major club, which won the Regis Twisted Wrister tournament on Sept. 17.
The Castle View/Arapahoe team, made up of players 18 and under, was coached by Tim Walsh and notched a 2-1 title victory over Westminster Hyland Hills.
Valor softball to face tests
Thomas Jefferson and Valor Christian, two undefeated softball teams, played Sept. 17 in Highlands Ranch.
Valor improved to 11-0 with another mercy-rule win and downed the Spartans (12-1) in a 12-2 non-league victory.
In 11 games, the Eagles have outscored opponents 122-5 and coach Dave Atencio isn't concerned that Valor hasn't been tested yet.
With Jeffco 4A league play starting, the Eagles play Wheat Ridge Sept. 22 and the Farmers were the only team to beat state champion Valor last season.
"Our kids continue to play with poise and with determination," Atencio said. "We start league play against rival Wheat Ridge. They are a formidable program and will give us all we can handle. D'Evelyn and Mullen will also be tough for us."
Nance goes out on top
Coach Ralph Nance, who helped Faith Christian win the Class 3A baseball championship last spring, announced his retirement as baseball coach but will remain as the Eagles' football coach.
Jim Polson was hired to replace Nance as baseball coach. Polson has coached as an assistant at Pomona, Ralston Valley, Fairview and Mountain Range.
Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 303-566-4083.
« Dimitri Stanley, football, junior, Cherry Creek: He scored three touchdowns in the Bruins' 28-3 win over Arapahoe on Sept. 15. He rushed twice for 13 yards and a touchdown and caught 10 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
« Juliet Burke, volleyball, senior, Valor Christian: She had an 85.7 kill percentage with six kills and a block in the Eagles' 3-0 win over Highlands Ranch on Sept. 13.
« Kobe Eller, football, senior, Highlands Ranch: He rushed for 277 yards and four touchdowns in the Falcons' 31-28 double-overtime victory over Chaparral on Sept. 16.
« Tate Wildeman, football, junior, Legend: Wildeman sparked the Titans' defensive effort in a 27-7 win over Castle View on Sept. 15. He had three sacks and recovered a fumble.
Colorado Community Media selects five athletes from high schools in the south metro area each week as "Standout Performers." Preference is given to athletes making their debut on the list. To nominate an athlete, contact Jim Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is your favorite professional or collegiate athlete (past or present)?
Bianka Bell (LSU softball). She is a beast and reaches out to fans. She is also a leader.
Why do you participate in sports?
I'm a competitive person, and I'll always have my teammates' backs.
What is your favorite type of music and who is your favorite artist/group?
Pop, and my favorite group is Parachute because they help me relax right before game time.
Do you have any pre-game superstitions or rituals?
I drink a root beer before every game, and my right sock is always inside out.
What is your favorite subject in school?
Language arts. It helps me express and free my mind.
What is your favorite book?
"Peak." It's about a boy who trains hard to climb Mount Everest and overcame all his fears.
"Keeping Score With..." is a Q&A with high school athletes in the south metro area. Email Colorado Community Media sports writer Jim Benton at jbenton @coloradocommunitymedia.com if you or someone you know would like to participate.
Kyra Connolly, 17, a senior, died in a three-vehicle accident that involved a Douglas County School District delivery truck.
"She was a free spirit," said 17-year-old Aubrey Church. "She always made everybody smile and laugh -- just a genuine person."
Church hugged and talked with friends who had gathered at the scene of the accident in Castle Rock. According to Church, Connolly was the type of person who was always there when a friend needed her.
"She was kind of like the group counselor in a way," she said.
Church, a senior at Castle View High School, met Connolly a year and a half ago. The girls first connected on Instagram, she said. Connolly had reached out to Church, leaving "sweet" comments, which led to texting and ultimately evolved into a friendship.
"Everyone knew her," Church said. "She was so friendly to everyone. I can't name a person that hates her."
The crash that claimed Connolly's life occurred just after 10 a.m. Tuesday at the intersection of Butterfield Crossing Drive and North Sungold Lane, just blocks from the high school.
The driver of the school district truck was transferred to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and later released. A third driver was not injured.
"The preliminary investigation shows Connolly was driving on the wrong side of the road when her vehicle sideswiped another car, and then collided head-on" with the school district truck, the Douglas County Coroner's office said in a news release Tuesday night.
The Castle Rock Police Department is still investigating why Connolly crossed to the wrong side of the road.
In the stretch where the accident happened, Butterfield Crossing Drive is a single-lane road going in both directions. There are no passing zones. The speed limit is 35 mph.
Witnesses recount accident
Tear-stricken neighbors recalled what they had seen and heard that morning.
Nicole Taber said she heard loud screeching before she looked out her kitchen window and saw the crash as it unfolded.
"It's a sight I will never forget," Taber said, "and I just pray that she didn't suffer."
A few houses down, Megan Kauffman said she heard a loud bang, then yells to call 911. She looked out from her porch to see people running down the street.
After she arrived at the scene, Kauffman and a neighbor looked on as people huddled around Connolly's vehicle before emergency responders arrived. Others began to hug and cry, she said.
"It took me a second to register what I was seeing," she said.
Community and students react
Neighbors reported seeing school officials and grief counselors at the scene of the accident within half an hour. The school district also sent its crisis team to the school to provide support for students and staff.
On social media, students used #PrayForKyra and #sabercatstrong to commemorate Connolly.
"Please remember that life is fragile #prayforkyra," wrote a Twitter user.
The school district tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the family of the Castle View student who passed away following an accident near the school today."
Principal Rex Corr, in an email notifying parents about the accident and death, expressed the school's sorrow and sense of community.
"I often talk about how Castle View is a family," he wrote. "This is evident every day in our hallways and classrooms. This is especially true on a day like today. Please take care of one another and know that all of us at CVHS are here to support you."
And Jane Boyd, a junior, recalled how she first met Connolly in math class a couple of years ago.
"She was a pretty carefree spirit," Boyd said. "She had a one-of-a-kind style and dressed like she wanted to and had a one-of-a-kind personality. And you wanted to be around her."
Boyd and other students in the library later in the day shared their grief, shock and disbelief over Connolly's death.
"We kind of expected her to walk through that door and say everything was OK," Boyd said. "I feel like a lot of people our age, we see our peers and ourselves as invincible, like nothing can touch us when something as drastic as this happens. We think it couldn't happen to us or somebody that we knew."
"A few of us had an inkling something was fishy because they stopped taking new students in," the Westminster resident said.
He said school staff would get defensive when asked if there were problems.
Westbrook was one quarter shy of earning an associate's degree in network systems administration at ITT Tech's Westminster campus, one of two Denver-area campuses of the for-profit college that closed on Sept. 6 after being barred by the Department of Education from accepting federal student aid and loans in August.
About 430 students attended ITT Tech in the area, mostly at a campus in Aurora. Nationally, more than 40,000 students attended the school at its 130 campuses.
ITT Tech could not be reached for comment. The school's website does not list a phone number at which officials can be contacted, and a phone number that previously was promoted as a way to contact the school no longer was in service.
Since the shutdown, the Colorado Community College System has taken steps to inform displaced students of their option for continuing education. Westbrook was one of two former ITT students who attended an information session at the Westminster Campus of Front Range Community College on Sept. 17.
Because ITT wasn't regionally accredited, transferring credits to a community college is not simple. Howard Fukaye, Arapahoe Community College's director of student recruitment and outreach, said the college's departments will analyze students' coursework from ITT to see what can be accepted.
"We're a lot different type of entity than ITT Tech," he said.
Bitsy Cohn, director of credit for prior learning for the Colorado Community College System, said there are ways besides directly transferring credits that ITT Tech students' prior learning can be assessed, such as portfolio reviews, challenge tests and assessments of workforce or military experience.
"We want to make sure they get some credit for what they've learned," she said.
Former ITT students also have the option of discharging their student loans, but they cannot do so if they transfer credit to another school.
ITT Tech had faced criticism for its marketing strategies and for leaving students with high levels of debt upon graduation. Westbrook said he was told by recruiters that with an ITT degree, he would make more money than with a degree from a community college.
Fukaye said the school was known for targeting unemployed people and those who were uneducated about the higher education system, with infomercials on daytime or late-night TV and recruiters at government work centers. However, the tuition at ITT Tech was significantly higher than at community colleges, he said, reaching about $5,000 per quarter, compared to $1,745 per semester for a full-time student at ACC.
Only small numbers of former ITT Tech students have attended information sessions at area community colleges since the shutdown. While no more open houses are planned, Cohn said more inquiries may trickle in during coming months.
Westbrook said he will likely enroll at Front Range Community College in a computer-related field.
"I'm frustrated," he said, "but enough time has passed that I'm not as mad as I was."]]>