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Senators Cooke and Neville take a stab at transportation fix

DENVER — With just 10 days left in the 2017 Colorado legislative session, there is at least one more transportation bill on the horizon.

Senators John Cooke, (R-Greeley) and Tim Neville (R-Littleton) will bring a bill worth $3.5 billion in road repair, but without raising taxes.

Representatives Patrick Neville, (R-Douglas), Tim Leonard, (R-Evergreen) and Cole Wist, (R-Arapahoe) will sponsor the bill in the House.

CookeCooke said Wednesday that the tax increase required for House Bill 17-1242 wasn’t palatable for he and most of his fellow Republicans. This bill, however, will look to use existing revenue streams to fund the Colorado Department of Transportation needs to complete the most critical infrastructure issues in the state.

“(Tim) Neville and I were talking and we said there has got to be another way,” Cooke said. “Let’s do something that doesn’t increase taxes, no sales tax, mostly existing revenues, to fund transportation.”

Leonard said in a news release late Tuesday that he was thankful for a better proposal.

“The 20 year payments (would be) funded by the steady stream of 10 percent of the current sales and use tax revenues.”

HB 1242 would have asked voters for a .05 percent sales tax increase to fund $3.5 billion in various roads and transit items. Although billed as a bipartisan effort, most of the Republican caucus spoke out against it.

The bill was killed in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on a party line vote. In a separate news release Grantham said he was disappointed but pledged to move forward.

“When we started down this road, my goal was to put a bipartisan transportation package before voters that would help Colorado catch up on a road modernization backlog that cries out for prompt but thoughtful action.

Baumgardner said he knew it wasn’t going to be an easy sell to the voters, but he believed the good outweighed the bad.

“So I’m disappointed that voters won’t have their say, yay or nay, after having an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of this proposal in its totality,” Baumgardner said.

Leonard said a 10 percent allocation of sales tax revenue is the best way to fund both urgent and ongoing needs.

“Voters are looking to their elected officials to make the tough choice of allocating funds in the ever-growing budget, and not pass the buck to them,” Leonard said. “We can pick up the funding where we left off 25 years ago when we used to divert 10 percent sales tax revenue to highways. Our citizens and companies want their roads to grow with them, and we can do it now without a tax increase.”

This bill will still go to voters to approve the purchase of bonds to fund the projects. But Cooke said he believes it’s a much easier sell because there are no new taxes, and it outlines what projects will be completed.

“It has the projects spelled out,” Cooke said. “Projects that were spelled out by the different transportation regions. I think people want to see where the money goes. Part of the problem with 1242 is it didn’t have a list of where the money was going to be spent. I think people are saying, ‘I’m not going to give the government a blank check.”

Some of the 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
  • 119, 66 and 42 — expand capacity.
  • I-25 north, US 36 to 120thAvenue 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.
  • 52 — reconstruction of interchange.
  • I-70 West, various projects.

The bill is similar to a citizen’s initiative that has now cleared the Title Board and has set up its issue committee: “Fix Our Damn Roads.” That initiative, organized by Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute* would ask voters for much of the same as this new bill, only instead of earmarking 10 percent of existing sales tax to pay for it, it would require legislators to prioritize all its spending.

Cooke said he’s hopeful there will be bipartisan support for the bill because it does what the public expects of its legislators.

“It depends on how serious they really are on transportation,” Cooke said when asked if it can get support it the House. “If we can show them where the money will come from. Hopefully, we can come to some kind of resolution with them.”

Cooke added the money won’t come from places like education or prisons, but that it’s time for legislators to take a hard look at where they are spending money.

“It’s our job; it’s what we’re supposed to do,” Cooke said. “There’s money there to be found. The state of Colorado has to have some skin in the game. We have to have some money come from the general fund.”

*Complete Colorado is a project of the Independence Institute

 

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