DENVER (AP) – Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday killed a Republican-backed roads bonds measure, all but ensuring that nothing will be done this year to tackle the $8 billion-and-growing problem that is Colorado’s grossly underfunded roads.
Lawmakers cited a host of reasons – too late to discuss, the construction projects are wrong, self-driving cars can relieve congestion, where will we find the money to maintain new roads – before rejecting the $3.5 billion bonds measure presented by House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso.
It’s a blow that presaged the defeat of any move to improve Colorado’s 1950s-designed roads network, which was declared a top priority when the session began four months ago by Gov. John Hickenlooper and leaders of both parties. The 2016 session ends Wednesday.
A GOP-led Senate committee was considering a complicated Democrat-backed plan that could free up to $700 million for highways over the next five years by excluding that money from the budgeting restrictions imposed by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Its prospects were considered doubtful.
Colorado’s Department of Transportation devotes most of its $1.4 billion budget to maintenance and says it needs $1 billion more each year to build roads for more than 7.3 million residents by 2040. Voters haven’t increased the 22-cent-per-gallon state gasoline tax in more than 20 years. It and the federal gas tax provide more than half CDOT’s revenue.
Republican Sen. Randy Baumgartner’s bonding bill would have asked Colorado voters to approve the bond issue to tackle a host of projects that includes widening of Interstates 70 and 25 in metro Denver and beyond, as well as U.S. Highway 50 near Pueblo.
DelGrosso revealed Tuesday that, as an incentive, Republicans had restored mass-transit projects that had been stripped from the bill over the objections of Democrats. He offered an amendment to have the bonds, which could require $5.5 billion to repay over 20 years, paid for by increases in motor vehicle registration fees.
Voters would have to approve all of it, he explained, in line with TABOR, which requires their approval of any tax increases.
“The voters can give us an up or a down, and if they give us a down we can continue to fund transportation at $100 million a year,” DelGrosso said of restricted funding under current law.
Trucking and business associations supported the bill, urging legislators to take advantage of locking in low interest rates that would keep bond repayments low.
“The reality is, before you there is a bill that can make a significant contribution to Colorado’s infrastructure,” DelGrosso said. “The people of Colorado deserve to have this legislature address the problem.”
– By JAMES ANDERSON, AP Writer
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