Legislators blast transportation bill

Where there is a spending siphon, a tax is sure to follow.

That’s the theory of state Senate and House minority leaders Josh Penry of Grand Junction and Mike May of Parker. Each man said Tuesday at a press conference outside the Old Mesa County Courthouse he believes an ailing transportation fund that will face new challenges with the signing of Senate Bill 228 this morning could be backfilled with a new tax.

Penry said revenue from increased car registration fees, new this year, won’t be enough to patch up roads and 128 Colorado bridges in need of repair.

“Probably their plan is for a new tax or tolling,” Penry said.

The pair decried a bill that will excuse the state from obeying a previous requirement to give general fund excess to transportation. Starting in 2012, transportation will get at least 2 percent of the general fund total as long as Colorado personal income increases by 5 percent year-over-year.

The bill opens a door for a new tax, among other possible funding mechanisms. A section of the bill requires a committee to offer legislators a preferred method by February 2016 for funding priority transportation projects.

The bill allows the state to save 4 percent of the state general fund in reserves starting next year. Currently, the state saves 6 percent of the general fund for reserves. Senate Bill 228, which Gov. Bill Ritter is expected to sign into law this morning, gradually will increase the reserve cap by a half percent each year Colorado personal income increases by at least 5 percent. The reserve cap will increase until it reaches 6.5 percent of the general fund, where the cap will remain.

The bill also allows the state to not refund excess state revenue as ordered by the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights if the excess equals more than 3 percent of the state general fund.

May said at the press conference he will continue to serve as a house member through May 2010. May announced his retirement from the House shortly after being re-elected last year, but reversed his decision soon afterward. He will not run for re-election next November because he is term limited.

Penry is still considering whether to make his November 2010 campaign for re-election to the Senate or a first-time run for the governorship, but said he likely will make a decision this summer.


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