Colorado Lawmakers: Will Voters Increase Taxes for Transportation?

Mar 9, 2017

A top Republican joined with Democratic leaders at the Colorado legislature Wednesday evening in an effort to find solutions to ongoing transportation woes.

To do that, lawmakers are proposing a bipartisan bill, HB1142, that would send the question to voters, asking for a 0.62-cent sales tax increase. That money would go towards priority infrastructure projects, as well as to provide funding to local governments for transit, roads, trails, and potholes.

"Do I want to pay a little bit more so the government is doing what it should actually be doing?" said Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, a Republican, who is one of the main sponsors of the proposal.

"This is something the state needs and I don't think it should be a partisan issue." - Gov. John Hickenlooper.

In other words, Grantham said the ongoing transportation needs are so critical to communities that it is worth asking voters if they would support higher taxes.

However, Grantham added, "We are talking about a tax increase, and we are talking about myself and several of my colleagues that have no use for tax increases."

He said it would be incredibly tough to convince enough Republican lawmakers to place the measure on the ballot in what is called a referred measure. For instance, the proposal wouldn't be revenue neutral in the first year, as many in the GOP had originally wanted.

"We strove to get there," Grantham said. "But if we're going to actually get into the project list and do something as far as fixing some of these projects, revenue neutral was a difficult place to be. We tried to get some offsets in there to put some money back into the pockets of taxpayers."

Those offsets would include reducing vehicle registration fees and fines that motorists pay.

Transportation, or more accurately, cracked roads, ailing bridges, and super-congested metro-area highways, has become the central theme of this legislative session.

Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver said the compromise bill bridges the political divide and puts people first.

"From the beginning I've said that we need to start thinking about transportation in a way to organize our roads, not just to move cars, but to move people. And there will be dollars in this package to be able to do just that," said Duran.

The Colorado Department of Transportation estimates a $9 billion funding shortfall over the next decade. So far, most of the discussions about how to address the problems have been behind the scenes.

"We are talking about a tax increase, and we are talking about myself and several of my colleagues that have no use for tax increases." - Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City)

"This is something the state needs and I don't think it should be a partisan issue," said Gov. John Hickenlooper. He added that it's good to get a bill out sooner rather than later, especially since the legislative session is at the mid-point. "I'm going to guess that it will probably evolve as more people enter the discussion."

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, and leaders in both political parties have said easing congestion and updating roads are crucial to keeping pace with an increasing population while boosting the growing economy.

"All over the state, everyone will get a benefit," said Rep. Diane Mitsch-Bush, a Democrat from Steamboat Springs.  She chairs the House Transportation and Energy Committee and will be another main sponsor of the measure. "There will be flexibility for our local communities which means multi-model choices, and that is the essence of a good transportation system, is choices and connectivity."

Grantham and Duran are expected unveil more details about the bill later this week.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.