2021 Leg Session, Ben Murrey, Exclusives, Taxes, Transportation, Uncategorized

Murrey: Transportation funding bill a massive bait-and-switch

The Colorado State Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill 21-260, a $5.3 billion transportation infrastructure bill, on a near-party-line vote. Rather than funding the bill with the federal stimulus dollars they requested for that purpose, majority Democrats are instead raising revenues primarily through new fees on state residents, including an increase in the gas tax and new fees on food delivery and ridesharing services.

During the debate in Congress over coronavirus-related federal stimulus legislation, the Colorado Senate Democrats organized a petition to then-Senate Leader Mitch McConnell urging Congress to send money to states, specifically citing the need to fix crumbling infrastructure. A year later, Democrats have gained power at the federal level and sent hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments.

The federal legislation allocated $3.9 billion to Colorado state government, yet the transportation bill imposes $3.8 billion in new government fees to fund transportation infrastructure priorities—mostly electric vehicles, electric vehicle infrastructure, and multimodal transportation, with relatively little going towards roads and bridges.

In their petition on change.org, Colorado Senate Democrats plead that “[s]tates are experiencing extreme hardship due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” an absurd claim in hindsight. While they point to the “immediate and obvious impacts” of loss of life and loss of jobs, the only particular state spending need they highlight in the letter is the need to repair infrastructure.

“The longer, more insidious effects are those that will ripple out for years to come, as state infrastructure crumbles from inadequate funding,” the petitioners urge.

As with anything politicians do, the petition served as a campaign pitch to voters just as much as it sought to effect policy change. In it, Democrats made two implicit promises to fellow petition signers and their voters writ large.

First, put Democrats in charge at the federal level and they will send more money to states and local governments. To their credit, congressional Democrats followed through on their promise by passing the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), sending $350 billion in additional bailout money to state and local governments around the country, though the bailout was more of a handout than necessary relief from pandemic shortfalls.

Secondly, Colorado Senate Democrats implicitly suggested to voters, “Allow us to retain power here in Colorado, and we will use federal bailout money to fix our roads and bridges.”

Notably, Senator Faith Winter (D-Adams), a prime sponsor of the transportation bill, eagerly promoted the petition and its narrative with her supporters on Twitter. She tweeted that she signed the petition, and she urged others to do the same, signaling to voters what she intended to do if reelected to the Senate.

Yet the bill now being pushed through the legislature by Winter and her Democrat colleagues proves their sales pitch to voters derisorily disingenuous.

The bill provides transportation funding to the tune of $5.3 billion dollars over the next ten years. It includes money for various Democrat priorities including the Electric Vehicle Grant Fund, Front Range Rail, the Highway Users Tax Fund, and a newly created Air Pollution Enterprise. About $3.8 billion of that comes from new taxes—erroneously called “fees” in the bill—on Colorado residents.

Only $1.5 billion of the total funding will come from existing revenue sources through the state’s general fund. Neither the bill nor the fiscal note on the bill describes any of that money coming from federal stimulus.

Moreover, according to a recent op-ed by Senator Paul Lundeen (R-Monument), Republicans offered an amendment to “divert 2 billion of federal stimulus dollars toward roads and bridges, removing or at least reducing the fee-and-tax burden on Coloradans.” Senate Democrats opposed it.

As it stands, Colorado Democrats have pulled a successful bait-and-switch on their voters.

They sounded the alarm last year, exclaiming that our infrastructure would crumble if Congress did not send Colorado billions of dollars to fix it. Then, when they got their billions from the feds as requested, they opted not to use that money to fix roads. Instead, they plan to do it with billions of dollars in regressive new fees on Coloradans.

Yet another middle finger to the people who elected them.

Ben Murrey is fiscal policy director of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver

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