Bunch: Proposed transportation tax hike pondered in a chamber of secrets

Colorado Politics: In November, Colorado voters could be asked to approve as much as a penny-per-dollar sales tax to support transportation. Taxpayers will have to trust that the debate that led to the request was thoughtful and the tax hike is, indeed, necessary, before the ad campaign begins.

They will need to believe this tax hike was not dictated by business interests in Denver. And they need to know the role played, either passively or aggressively, by the people they elected to represent them.

They’ll have to trust a press release.

Negotiations are going on behind closed doors. Even the names of elected officials who attend the private meetings are being kept secret.

A few days after Gov. John Hickenlooper declared Colorado Journalism Week at the state Press Association’s annual convention, where I spoke on media ethics, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce demonstrated why a determined press is necessary to press the case for transparency and accountability from those we elect.

The chamber has been organizing conference calls and sharing a phone number for “stakeholders” to call in. The press and, by proxy, everyday citizens who ultimately could pay a proposed sales tax don’t qualify as having a stake, at least not yet.

That call-in number was shared with me by others listening in who are concerned about Denver interests controlling the process with a heavy hand and arguably sidestepping the state’s Sunshine Law, which holds that the public’s business must be done in public.

I listened to the call and followed up with a request to talk about it. I was emailed a statement from Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver chamber, that vaguely reflected what I heard. When I told the chamber’s spokeswoman I heard the meeting for myself, she accused me of spying and called me unethical.

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