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As the legislative clock runs out, the devil is in the details

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Last week our State Legislature finished its 2018 legislative session. Whether they wanted to stop or not, midnight on May 9 was the bewitching hour!!

As usual, our coy legislators waited until the last few days and last few hours of the session to come to grips with the tough issues. As I write this column on May 8, the public does not know the fate of some key state-wide issues. While the 2018-19 state budget was approved earlier and included set-aside funding for K-12, PERA, and transportation, the legislature had not specified AND approved the details of how each pot of money was to be allocated.

It is always a case of the devil is in the detail.

Transportation funding deal announced

As of May 8, leadership in both legislative chambers had announced a bipartisan agreement on transportation funding. The plan would earmark $495 million for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year and another $150 million the following year. In subsequent years, the legislature would annually allocate $50 million for the following 20 years as long as voters approve a sales tax increase this year.

If the voters reject the tax increase, the plan assumes the legislature would approve a ballot issue for a bonding package of up to $2.34 billion next year on the 2019 ballot.

The legislation still had to be approved by both chambers by the deadline.

The transportation funding issue was known to every state legislator from day one. The Governor made it a high priority from the outset of the session. Yet, legislators wait until two days before the deadline to unveil what leadership hammered out.

Think that was on purpose? Of course, it was! It becomes an “all or nothing” gambit.

`Red flag’ legislation killed by Republicans

On May 7, in a Senate committee on a 3-2 vote, Republicans killed the “Red Flag” legislation which held much promise for Colorado to join other progressive states in providing a new tool in the prevention of gun violence.

The action of three loyal Republicans prevented this important legislation from reaching the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation had already passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Red Flag legislation does not take away anyone’s Second Amendment rights! There is due process in getting guns, rifles and automatic weapons temporarily out of the hands of individuals who appear to be mentally imbalanced. A judge would authorize such an order and law enforcement would temporarily retrieve such weapons until the subject individual is determined to be of sound mind.

Just think of the gun violence incidents that would have or could have been avoided if such legislation had been in place? Shame on the Republicans to prevent such a tool becoming law! I hope some group will take up this cause next year if the balance of control in the legislature does not change this November.

Want to buy a new home under $300,000?

A recent Denver Post article by Aldo Svaldi caught my eye regarding new home prices in the Denver metro area. He wrote, “The days of buying a home in the Denver metro area for under $300,000 are all but gone.”

His statement applies to only new constructed houses. However, it is a very discouraging conclusion from Metrostudy, which tracks home construction in the region and other big cities.

Homebuilding activities in the metro area is going gangbusters, but the prices are spiraling upward every month. New home starts are up 14 percent for the first quarter of this year compared to 2017. At an annualized rate, new home starts are trending above 12,000 for the first time since 2007 (before the Great Recession).

According to the study, new homes under $300,000 are next to nil while new starts below $400,000 were 22 percent of the total market. Two years ago, this same price category represented 40 percent of the metro market.

Putting a home purchase in perspective

For the Denver metro market, the math does not work. According to Mortgagecalculator.com to qualify for a $400,000 priced home, assuming a 30 year mortgage and a 20 percent down payment, a household would need to earn approximately $85,500 per year.

The median household income in metro Denver is $73,271. Thus, the dilemma!

In the first quarter, 2018, the most activity was in the $500,000-$599,999 priced category, at 22 percent . So, what is the solution for those families who earn less and cannot qualify for a mortgage with a hefty down payment?

First, their chances of purchasing a newly constructed single family detached home are next to nil unless it is a “tiny home.” I am not being facetious when I say that.

Townhomes are quickly edging upward in price as well. However, they are a little more affordable. Most families earning less than $85,000 annually are going to have their options limited to existing housing (which isn’t bad but many families would prefer a newly constructed home).

The two other construction options which need to be stepped up by builders are condominiums and smaller and single family detached dwellings with fewer bells and whistles.

The latter option will have us going full circle. In 1968, our first purchased home was an existing house — a 1,000 square foot ranch model without many features. It didn’t even have a garbage disposal, dish washer or air-conditioning, but it was a comfortable home for our family.

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.

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