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Colorado News —
September 2021

Columnist — Joyce Trent

DENVER — Colorado convenience stores took a big hit from the legislature this year.

After 11 years of failing to persuade voters to approve taxes to fund an infrastructure in dire shape, legislators did an end run around the Tabor Amendment by calling a tax a fee.

Tabor requires voter approval for tax increases or retention of surplus in the budget.

Voters have rejected both issuing bonds and higher taxes on gasoline as a means to fix roads and bridges. As a result, the tax on gasoline has remained stagnant since 1991.

Senate Bill 260, signed into law in July by Governor Jared Polis passed both houses on a largely Democratic party-line vote.

The state expects to have $5.3 billion in its coffers for infrastructure as it adds "fees" over the next decade. The gasoline tax increases by two cents a gallon starting in July 2022 until 2028 when it goes to eight cents, then indexes to inflation. The current tax is 22 cents a gallon.

Colorado flag

Owners of electric vehicles will pay their share with an increase in the cost of their auto tags.

Recently convenience stores have started home delivery but the new law tacks on a 27-cent fee for each delivery.

Both political parties agreed on the need for upgrading the Colorado infrastructure and said voters do too, but that voters believe the state has enough money to do it and should use it. Republicans maintained that any increase should be up to the voters and pointed to El Paso County where voters twice approved new taxes for roads. The new law adds taxes by calling them fees and basically is a "bait and switch," said Representative Kim Ransom (R-Littleton).

The legislature also passed a ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers.

The bag law takes effect in July 2024. Starting Jan. 1, 2023 stores may still provide plastic but may charge ten cents a bag until the ban takes effect in July 2024. The ban on polystyrene containers takes effect Jan. 1 2024.

Denver residents already lost their plastic bags. A Denver ordinance took effect in July. Customers are forced to either bring their own bags or pay ten cents for single-use plastic or paper bags. Four cents goes to the retailer and six cents to the city. Once the state law takes effect it will take precedence.

Stores with three or fewer locations are exempt, which excludes large chains like 7-Eleven. Also exempt are restaurants, plastic bags brought from home, and those used in stores for produce, baked goods or pharmaceuticals.

However, the state law allows any municipality to enact stricter rules.

The convenience store industry was also pelted by a huge hike in the tobacco tax, approved by the voters in November, that took effect in January of this year. It caused a pack of cigarettes to cost at least $7 a pack, with progressive increases over the next decade. It also imposes a new tax on vaping products.

In addition, various cities have enacted their own tobacco ordinances.

Loveland is floating the idea of banning the sale of flavored tobacco and Aspen is requiring sellers of tobacco products to obtain a license. The city also imposed an age limit of 21 for employees selling those products.

In a current webinar, Grier Bailey, executive director of the Colorado/Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, urged convenience store operators to be proactive in protecting their profitable tobacco and nicotine sales rather than react to issues that arise.

"I can tell you definitively that government relations and operators engaging in political advocacy can have as much or a greater impact than almost anything else that you do for your bottom lines," he said.

Retailers must acknowledge existing problems, such as teenage vaping, and put forth their own ideas on how to fix them, he said. "This buys you credit with the people who see you as somebody who's willing to help solve problems." It also gives the industry the chance to direct the conversation and to propose legislation that won't harm them, he said.

Bailey warned that compliance is key in gaining support. When enforcement people see that the industry is compliant they will be the best advocates for it. "If they say, 'Hey, this is a very compliant industry,'" he said that is more effective than any number of retailers doing their own bragging.

Begin the conversation, he urged, by recognizing legitimate policy problems and how the industry is trying to solve them.

DENVER — The driver shortage is impacting gasoline retailers.

Numerous convenience stores and gasoline stations in the state found themselves without gasoline recently. There was a plentiful supply of fuel but not enough drivers to haul it to them.

Many drivers who lost their jobs last year as the pandemic took hold went to work for Amazon or other shippers experiencing a high demand for products.

Panicked motorists made it worse by gassing up before they needed to. That caused a greater shortage.

Along with the run on gasoline for everyday use there also was a jump in demand led by consumers eager to go on vacation. Even a spike in prices did not diminish the demand. Motorists were willing to pay almost any price — and, in Colorado, those were some of the highest prices in the nation.

Skylar McKinley, AAA Colorado spokesman, said the situation should improve this fall as retailers offer better wages to entice workers back and demand slacks off.

DENVER — Alta Convenience has purchased the five Get 'N' Go stores of Red Horse Oil of Rock Springs, Wyoming, which has been in business for sixty years.

Red Horse was acquired ten years ago by Jay Schneiders, who is serving as owner and CEO.

Alta President Rich Spresser said the stores will be integrated into the Denver-based Alta.

CF Altitude LLC, dba Alta Convenience, has 106 convenience stores in four states — Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and New Mexico.

Their fuel is marketed under the Phillips 66, Exxon and Conoco brands.

COLORADO SPRINGS — A couple of courageous convenience store clerks saved a woman being robbed at gunpoint.

The woman was walking home from the grocery store when a man approached. He forced her to walk across the street to a convenience store where he ordered her to take out cash from the ATM. She managed to get the attention of the employees and they tackled the man as the woman ran to safety in the back of the store. No one was injured.

Originally published in the September 2021 issue of the O&A Marketing News.
Copyright 2021 by KAL Publications Inc.

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