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Rescue workers attend a traffic crash on Interstate 25 near Monument in 2015. (Colorado Springs Gazette)
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Conservative group nudges — who else? — fellow Republicans to oppose transportation tax

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What’s the old adage — lean hard on your enemies and on your friends, lean harder? OK, that’s not at all how it goes, but it sure fits politics well sometimes. The latest example: a campaign announced today by the conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity in opposition to the recently announced — and already much criticized — ballot proposal hatched in the legislature to hike the state sales tax for transportation.

The pending proposal that could appear on the statewide ballot in November would ask voters to approve a 0.62 percent sales tax as well as $3.5 billion in bonds to fund wide-ranging highway projects and mass transit. The tax would raise $667 million a year, $250 million of which would service the bond debt and another $100 million of which would help expand transit.

The proposal, which first must pass the legislature as House Bill 1242, doesn’t sit well with AFP or assorted others on the right because in their eyes, it raises taxes without first digging deeper into the existing state budget to find any fat. The proposal emerged from the split-control legislature as a touted compromise between Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City.

No sooner had the effort been announced than Republicans in the legislature began to revolt. The House GOP minority leadership and even Grantham’s own No. 2, Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, announced they were all “no” votes. AFP now wants to make sure the rebellion spreads, so it’s turning up the heat on its own conservative kinsmen in the upper chamber — where Republican rule presents the greatest chance of derailing the measure. From an AFP new release Wednesday afternoon:

…State (AFP) Director Michael Fields asserts, “Key state senators have yet not come out in opposition to the massive statewide sales tax increase, and their constituents deserve to know where they stand on House Bill 1242.” Fields continues, “One of our primary purposes as an organization is to inform citizens regarding policies that impact their economic freedom and to hold elected officials accountable – we will do that regarding this proposed $700 million tax increase.”

Senate districts that can expect to hear from AFP activists include SD1, Jerry Sonnenberg’s district, SD12, Bob Gardner’s district, SD25, Kevin Priola’s district and SD27, Jack Tate’s district. Additional districts may be added.

Lawmakers are of course used to rough play from the opposing party, but sometimes they have to watch their backs, too.

No one disputes the sales-tax hike could be a tough sell; both sides acknowledge an early poll showing Coloradans lean against the proposal.

AFP’s press release points to what it says are viable alternatives for upgrading the state’s woefully bottlenecked and backlogged highway network:

…1) extending the 1999 TRANS bonds 2) The Independence Institute’s proposal that would require the General Assembly to issue $2.5 billion in bonds to fund select statewide highway projects statewide and repaying the debt by “reallocating priorities in the state budget,” and 3) Senator Jerry Sonnenberg’s proposal which includes a smaller bonding plan using existing revenue.

Casting further doubt on support for the compromise, at least in its current form, the group Fix Colorado Roads — which helped convene stakeholders and pushed for the accord, has withheld its own endorsement pending some tweaks. As ColoradoPolitics.com’s Joey Bunch reported Tuesday:

Fix Colorado Roads is concerned a proposal that relies too heavily on a tax hike won’t pass, and leave state roads no better off in November than they are now. History has shown statewide Colorado voters are tax-averse.

In other words, lawmakers supporting the deal have their work cut out for them.

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