UPDATED April 11, 8:30 a.m.
SB17-1242 was assigned on short notice to the Senate Transportation Committee for Tuesday, April 11 at 1:30 in room 352 of the Capitol building. It is the last item on the six-item agenda, so testimony will likely be heard late into the evening. It is expected to clear committee with just one Republican vote needed to pass, and Randy Baumgardner, a Republican representing several mountain counties, a co-sponsor of the bill.
DENVER — The first of what may be several competing initiatives over transportation funding was filed with the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday after an early morning Review and Comment Hearing.
The Independence Institute (II), a Denver-based free market think tank that proposed the initiative got some last-minute suggestions from lawyers and staff members of the Colorado Office of Legislative Services, who ensure wording in citizen-oriented initiatives is clear and concise.
Jon Caldara, President of II, and Mike Krause, Director of Public Affairs for II*, have filed two proposals, Initiative 21 and 22 both affectionately named “Fix Our Damn Roads.” They would task state lawmakers with reallocating priorities within the existing budget to pay back either $2.5 billion or $3.5 billion, respectively, in revenue anticipation notes over a 20-year term, depending on which initiative the men move forward with.
Caldara estimates it would take dedicating just 2 percent of the state’s $27 million budget to roads to pay off the bonds.
“If we are successful, voters can decide in the election this fall if they want to re-allocate existing dollars to roads,” Caldara recently said, assuming a bill currently making its way through state lawmakers is successful. “Or (if the anti-taxpayer crowd is successful) raise taxes 21 percent with some of that going to roads and the rest going to transit and political slush funds.”
Caldara’s measures is in response to HB17-1242, which would ask voters to approve a 21 percent sales tax increase to repay similar transportation bonds. That bill, which is sponsored by House Speaker Chrisanta Duran, (D-Denver) and Senate President, Republican Kevin Grantham, who represents portions of Clear Creek, El Paso, Freemont, Park and Teller counties
It caught many of Grantham’s fellow Republicans in both the Senate and the House off guard.
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, (R-Douglas) and Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Douglas) said they were blindsided and have both publicly spoken out against the bill.
House Bill 1242 has passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Transportation Committee, but no date has been set.
Caldara’s measure would also limit where the funds could be spent – Roads and auto-related items only. The measure explicitly prohibits the use of money on “multi modal transportation,” which Caldara defined as anything not outlined in the project list, including any type of transit or transit-biased building.
“It’s been my experience that the legislature and (the Colorado Department of Transportation) have stretched what transportation means away from auto-based to all sort of things,” Caldara said during the hearing. “Bike paths, pedestrian paths, Bustang, rail, and this is to prevent this money being used for anything that is not road-biased.”
Caldara said that can include such things as sidewalks or pedestrian underpasses if they are part of the overall project.
“But I want to make clear, money goes to roads,” Caldara added. “And those ancillary things that are required and customary for roads.”
The initiative outlines numerous statewide projects the money would be dedicated to, highlights include:
- US 34 and US 85 Interchange configuration in Greeley — improvements to the safety and capacity of the interchange and corridor improvements.
- Interstate 25 north from Colo. 7 in Brighton to Colo. 14 in Fort Collins — add a lane in each direction, interchange reconstruction, mainline reconstruction, safety and intelligent transportation safety improvements.
- I-25 south, Monument to Castle Rock— expand capacity.
- US 85 widening from C-470 to I-25 in Castle Rock
- Colo. 119 — expand capacity.
- I-25 north, US 36 to 120th Avenue and US 36 to Colo. 7 — various improvements including additional lanes
- I-25 south, widening S. Academy to Circle/Lake (through Colorado Springs) — widening of roadway to six lanes.
- US 50 B — widening to four lanes.
- US 50, west of Pueblo — widen the divided highway to three lanes.
- I-76 Fort Morgan to Brush — reconstruction of roadway and interchanges.
- Colo. 52 — reconstruction of interchange.
Fix Our Damn Roads now goes to the Secretary of State and the Title Board on April 19 where the formal name game begins. After that, both sides will have the opportunity to ask the state Supreme Court to weigh in if they don’t believe the name fits the bill. And then the signature gathering will begin.
At least 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for all candidates for the office of secretary of state at the previous general election is required to get on the ballot. For Fix Our Damn Roads that number is 98,492 according to the Secretary of State’s website.
Another citizen’s initiative, similar to House Bill 1242, is rumored to be in the filing que also, so voters could have several bills to consider. Whichever get the most votes will be the winner, but will also likely end up in court for a final answer.
This isn’t Caldara’s first trip down the initiative process. Most recently the Independence Institute successfully passed Proposition 104, which forced collective bargaining negotiations with teacher unions to happen in public.
Caldara said his group had to do something, as every budget reallocation state Republicans try to make get shot down by Democrats, most recently on the House floor Friday, where SB17-254 — the Long Appropriations bill — passed on second reading with all 16 proposed amendments losing mostly along party lines.
“The amendments that the Republicans tried clearly show there is enough money in the state budget to Fix Our Damn Roads without a tax increase,” Caldara said. “Good for them for proving the point.”
*Complete Colorado is a project of the Independence Institute.