Opposition comes early to tax hike for transportation

DENVER — It didn’t take long for opposition to mount in the Colorado Legislature against a proposed ballot measure to increase sales taxes to fund transportation projects.

A day after Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, introduced the idea, others in the House and Senate began lining up against it.

The proposal as it stands now, which Grantham and Duran said is noting more than “a starting point,” calls for a temporary 20-year increase in the state’s sales tax from the current 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent.

At the same time, the proposal calls for a decrease in some of the fees motorists pay in vehicle registrations. The tax hike is expected to generate about $702 million a year, while the fee reduction would cost about $75 million.

The proposal also calls for putting in another $50 million from existing sources.

GOP opponents say that’s not revenue-neutral as they have demanded, meaning Coloradans will pay much more in taxes and fees than they are paying now.

“A $677 million tax increase is not the solution to Colorado’s problems, and I will aggressively oppose the passage of this bill,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock. “I am very disappointed that House Republican leadership and the House 
Republican caucus was excluded from the discussions of this bill, and expect significant opposition from House Republicans as a result.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, had a shorter response.

“I’ll be a ‘no’ vote,” he said on Twitter.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, aren’t happy that the plan doesn’t call for more funding for transit projects, which they say is a far more crucial need than roads and bridges.

Grantham and Duran, and the two other sponsors of HB1242 — Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, and Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs — said they’re not surprised at some lawmakers’ reactions.

All four said they expect the measure to be modified over the next few weeks, but agreed that the Legislature has waited far too many years to place something before voters to address a growing need.

“Leadership takes courage to do something other than the status quo,” Duran said.

“This is going to be difficult for our side, there’s no secret about that,” Grantham added. “Do we expect perfect harmony on either side over some of the things in the bill? No. I think that’s a ridiculous assumption.”

Currently, a large portion of the money that goes toward transportation projects comes from the state’s 22-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1991. At that time, motorists paid about $125 a year from that tax, an amount that has dwindled to about $69 because of more fuel-efficient vehicles, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

In 1991, the state received about $360 million from that tax. Last year, it was about $290 million despite a population increase of more than 2 million people.

CDOT has estimated that there are about $9 billion in maintenance and project needs right now.


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