Colorado transportation funding faces winding road ahead

On Wednesday, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee will hear Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs. The bill attempts to find a way to fund transportation without raising taxes or taking money from other sources in the budget, according to Lundeen.

The bill takes 10% of existing state sales and use tax and socks it away into several pots for transportation purposes: 60% of that would go to the Highway Users Trust Fund, which funds statewide transportation projects. Of the remaining amount, 22% would head to counties and 18% would go to cities and towns.

“I’m not taking away from anything,” Lundeen said. “It’s the duty of the General Assembly to direct and prioritize the ever-growing state budget,” at around a billion dollars per year.

The bill’s fiscal analysis estimates that $366.3 million could go to transportation in 2020-21 and as much as $380.7 million in 2021-22. And it’s a steady stream of money that would help the Colorado Department of Transportation with its $9 billion 10-year projects list.

Of course, Democrats have their own thoughts about how to fund transportation in 2020, which include setting up regional authorities for transportation, a solution that rural Republican lawmakers claim will leave out communities that can’t afford it. 

“It truly is a broad prioritization of existing tax dollars,” Lundeen said. “It puts money on target and does it in a way that honors the existing elements of government that is grappling with the crisis we have on roads and bridges in Colorado.”

Voters have steadfastly rejected ballot measures that would either raise taxes to fund transportation or even require the General Assembly to use existing tax dollars in the past two elections in 2018 and 2019. Voters have been clear, Lundeen said. Nothing moves forward without some significant contribution from existing tax dollars. “That’s the most important element. The voice of the voters puts a tailwind behind this bill.

“I think they’ll never be open to voting for new revenue until they see us wisely using the existing revenue.”

The biggest problem the bill faces is its assignment: the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, often referred to as the “kill” committee. It’s scheduled for Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.

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