Change coming to roads measure
Tax to finance highway projects still under debate
DENVER — Expected changes were made to a bill Wednesday to raise sales taxes to pay for road projects, and more are likely.
The sponsors of the measure, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, weren’t the only people to offer amendments to HB1242, and they won’t be the last.
The two lawmakers said changes to the measure are inevitable because that’s what they expect.
“Ultimately 1242 is a negotiation,” Duran said before more than 80 people who came to testify on the bill before the House Transportation Committee. “There was give and take on both sides of this in terms of trying to come up with something that balanced the state’s needs, but also invested in local governments to be able to come up with their own solutions.”
While the amendments tweaked some details about how the bill would work, for now its fundamental components are the basically the same: a 0.62 percent increase in the state’s 2.9 percent sales taxes for the next 20 years, all of which would go to projects prioritized by the Colorado Transportation Commission.
That commission — established by the Legislature decades ago to take politics out of the process of picking what transportation projects should be done each year — is to dedicate money from the tax and up to $3.5 billion in bonds to those projects that local transportation planning districts have identified as top priorities in their areas.
The new tax, if approved by voters in the fall, is expected to generate nearly $630 million a year.
The first $300 million of that would go to the commission to pay for those projects, while 70 percent of the rest would be distributed directly to local governments to use as they wish. The remaining 30 percent would go to multimodal projects across the state that would be doled out in the form of grants for various local projects, from buses to bike lanes.
Another $50 million from non-transportation money that the Colorado Department of Transportation already receives from other sources each year also would go toward statewide projects.
The measure is part of a compromise between Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, who is to sponsor the bill in the Senate with Republican Randy Baumgardner, whose district includes Garfield County.
Those Republicans insisted that the bill also call for a decrease in a fee they’ve long opposed that all motorists pay when registering their vehicles. That fee decrease, worth about $80 million overall, is expected to lower motorists’ annual registrations by up to $20 for each vehicle they own.
An amendment from Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, stripped out additional registration fees dealing with late charges, adding about $20 million more in cuts, for a total of $100 million.
While numerous GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate aren’t fans of the bill regardless of that provision — many say their side didn’t get much from the deal — several organizations outside of the statehouse supported it, including Club 20, an advocacy group that represents 22 Western Slope governments, businesses, individuals and civic groups.
“The question was asked, ‘Is this bill good for western Colorado?’ Yes,” Christian Reece, Club 20 executive director, told the committee. “Can resort communities adjust their local sales taxes that they’ve raised to address their own transportation struggles? Yes.”
Reece said because of the money that would go directly to local governments, those same governments can lower their own sales taxes if they choose. She said that once local governments in her group realized that, they became fans of the proposal.
“This is our top issue for Club 20,” she said. “If nothing else happens (in the Legislature) and this goes through, it was a good session. We want you to send this to the voters.”
Reece also said that while some members of her group weren’t thrilled about the multimodal money, she added that some of it could go toward things others than bicycle trails. It could be spent on such things as van rides for seniors and the disabled.
“It’s not necessarily just light rail, buses, trains,” she said.
The bill heads to the House Finance Committee for more debate.