Uber headquarters entrance in San Francisco with sign

The entrance to Uber headquarters in San Francisco, California.

A state Senate Democrat is looking at how ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft could play a small part in solving Colorado's transportation funding woes.

Democratic Sen. Faith Winter of Westminster, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee, said there are 30,000 people driving for transit network companies in Colorado, but those services don’t collect a sales tax. And Uber announced over the summer it would pay more to drivers of electric vehicles, which means they're paying very little or not at all on gas taxes — another hit to the state’s transportation funding.

Winter’s idea — one that she says is aimed more toward the future — is to look at usage fees and/or vehicle miles traveled as a way to raise transportation money, an idea currently being discussed by stakeholders, she said. 

At this very preliminary stage, it's unknown how much such a plan would raise, according to Winter.

One transportation funding measure that’s ready to go is last year’s Senate Bill 1, which included a caveat: If the transportation measures on the 2018 ballot didn’t pass (and they didn’t), the 2019 ballot would include a referred measure from the General Assembly to allow the state to bond for $2.337 billion in what’s known as Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes, using about $50 million per year in existing state revenues, over a 20-year period.

The only way that will change is if the General Assembly runs a bill to stop it or do something different. And that appears to be a sure thing, according to Democratic lawmakers.

“I think we have to have a conversation about what the voters want," said Winters, who was part of the coalition that put together Senate Bill 1 last session. "My commitment is to maintain the $50 million per year” in Senate Bill 1.

That $50 million is what will be available beginning in 2020-21; in 2018-19, Senate Bill 1 pledged $495 million for transportation; in the following year, it’s $150 million, then drops to $50 million after that.

Winter told Colorado Politics that it’s “unlikely” that lawmakers will refer a ballot measure to voters strictly on bonding against the $50 million.

“There’s pretty clear agreement that we will not go for bonding” in the fall, she said.

There's still a chance voters will see a request from the General Assembly on November's ballot, but with transportation only a part of it, if Speaker of the House KC Becker of Boulder can win approval for a measure she’s working on this session.

Becker is looking at what voters signed off on in 2005, when they voted to “de-Bruce” state revenues for a five-year period. At the time, the state had an abundance of revenue it wanted to keep for health care, education, transportation, higher education, and fire and police pensions, rather than refunding it to taxpayers.

Backed by a bipartisan coalition that included then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, Referendum C allowed the state to keep the revenue it was collecting in unlimited amounts for five years  in effect, a time-out from TABOR spending limits.

Becker told Colorado Politics that a referred measure to voters, asking to once again de-Bruce, is in the works for the 2019 session.

“I publicly floated the concept to see what kind of feedback it would get, and it’s been very positive,” Becker recently said.

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