Colorado's highways will see a major one-time funding boost due to Democrats working with Republicans in the statehouse, if the dollars can survive the budgeting process the rest of the legislative session.
Though the state's economy is showing signs of slowing, state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, received preliminary approval on Wednesday afternoon from the Senate to add $106 million to the state transportation fund.
"While we understand we have an uncertain economic future, this gives us some flexibility going forward to invest in the needs of the people of Colorado," Hill said.
The $106 million would be on top of $30 million added by the Joint Budget Committee, the bipartisan, bicameral panel that crafts the first draft of the state spending plan.
Additionally, last year the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which will drop $200 million into next year's transportation budget. (Only $50 million of that sticks around after one year.)
The deal was made by Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Parker, and Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder.
The $336 million total for next year reflects official remarks Holbert made on the opening day of the session in January.
He said Republicans would introduce a bill to add $360 million for transportation, including Senate Bill 1's largesse last year. Holbert proposed an equal amount for education, based on the $1.2 billion in budget growth over last year.
"Sen. Holbert is to be commended for his persistence," said Sandra Hagen Solin of Fix Colorado Roads, then statewide civic and business coalition that has urged more funding to address crowded interstates and dilapidated state routes.
She added: "Sen. Fenberg is to be commended for his bipartisanship, and Sen. Hill is to be credited for making this a reality."
She's hopeful Democrats and Republicans can work together to find more money for transportation in the coming years. Colorado has a $9 billion need to catch up to growth over the next decade.
Such bipartisanship on the issue has been rare, even though Senate Bill 1 passed the upper chamber 35-0 last year.
The Senate still has to have an official vote on the total budget before sending it to the House. If there are amendments in the House — there will be — the two chambers will have to work out compromises to create a single budget.
The state constitution requires the Legislature to send a balanced spending plan to Gov. Jared Polis before the end of the session on May 3. The fiscal year begins on July 1.
Last November's revenue forecast led lawmakers to believe they would have $250 million more than the March forecast predicted.
"The picture was a lot more optimistic when we thought we were going to have all this funding to work with," said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, the chair of the Joint Budget Committee.
Nonetheless, the proposed budget has $282 million in new education spending, including $180 million for full-day kindergarten.
Moreno called the budget "an unprecedented investment in education."
"That's something we should call celebrate," he added.