Colorado Senate approves $500 million road funding deal

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/3/2018

The prospects for working out a deal at the Colorado statehouse to pay for transportation work looks a little more promising.

Senate Republicans and Democrats reached agreement on a long-term funding deal to help the state address a 10-year, $9 billion backlog in transportation needs. The Colorado Department of Transportation attributes the budget gap to a decline in fuel taxes.

Colorado now charges a 22-cent excise tax on gas and a 20.5-cent tax on diesel. The tax rates have been the same since 1991. Excise taxes are paid by the producer of the gas or diesel and generally passed on to consumers through increased base prices of the fuel.

The $500 million road funding bill, SB1, passed the Republican-led chamber with unanimous consent. It now heads to the House, where multiple changes to the plan are anticipated.

The original version of the bill called for diverting $350 million each year in existing sales taxes to help pay off $3.5 billion in proposed road bonds.

The revised bill would authorize diversions totaling $250 million. Another $250 million would come next year.

“Coloradoans want us to use the money we have to fix our roads and Senate Bill 1 does that,” Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, said in prepared remarks.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has supported plans to tap $500 million in one-time money to help address a 10-year, $9 billion road maintenance backlog. The House recently approved a budget bill, HB1340, to allocate $495 million to transportation.

The Senate version would authorize a public vote on whether to tap bonds to pay for transportation work also would be delayed until next year.

As introduced, the bill called for adding a ballot measure to the 2018 fall ballot asking whether to apply 10 percent of each year’s general fund revenues to the bonds.

SB1 was changed to clear the way for multiple efforts being pursued by outside groups to get questions on the upcoming November ballot. One effort calls for raising the state’s sales tax to generate up to $1 billion annually. A separate attempt would sell bonds to raise $3.5 billion.

If the sales tax question fails this November, the amended bill would ask voters in 2019 whether to apply $250 million annually from the state’s general fund to back the bonds. According to a fiscal note attached to the bill, the bonds would have a maximum repayment cost of $5 billion over 20 years.

The bill awaits assignment to committee in the House.

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, said it is up to the Democrat-led House and Democratic governor to make the proposal a reality.

“If the House listens to Coloradoan’s needs, and the governor signs this bill, we will see more money flowing to Colorado’s roads than we have seen in decades, and it won’t raise taxes on as single individual family, or business,” Cooke said.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Colorado, click here.



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