Colorado Senate Republicans have been the adults in the room.
When it comes to transportation funding, the House has gone a bit sideways. It started when House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, told reporters transportation and education are a package deal.
It was a seemingly harmless statement from the speaker, which reflected a priority for both Republicans and Democrats – to ensure new spending priorities don’t unintentionally take money away from schools. The thought is that if you spend more money in one place, then you have to cut from another place, and schools are an easy target.
But it was a curveball. Up until that point, transportation funding conversations for the year had revolved around a collaborative effort to ask voters for a new revenue stream, while also using existing general fund dollars, reprioritizing spending and looking to ease tax burdens.
The idea is that Republicans are willing to entertain a tax question if they can find efficiencies while using existing resources. You know, the old fiscal conservative platform.
Transportation funding had seemed to be spinning in its own orbit, so dropping a bomb like tying the issue to education clearly “elevated the conversation,” as many observers say.
In reality, transportation funding was always going to be tied to overall budget issues such as education, as all budget matters are connected.
It’s no different than your household finances. If you’re spending more money on liquor this month because Valentine’s Day didn’t go so well, or you didn’t get a raise, then you’re going to have to trim from somewhere else when the house payment comes due.
But, man, did the speaker’s comments cause a political firestorm.
House Republicans quickly came back with a press release stating that Duran had departed from “constructive conversations with Republicans” and showed that she had “given up on a fiscally responsible solution to transportation funding.”
“Given up?” Jeez, guys. We’re barely a month into this legislative session. And I started the session by expressing optimism. So, don’t make me look bad here.
Enter Senate Republicans.
After a week of political bickering over transportation funding, the door was wide open for Senate President Kevin Grantham and Republican Leader Chris Holbert to pile on with typical comments about those “irresponsible tax-and-spend liberals.” Neither of the two leaders did so. In fact, there’s was a sense of empathy.
“There was nothing surprising about any of that,” Grantham said of the speaker’s comments. “This is stuff that’s been said all along. Both sides have priorities and that’s what we’re trying to work on.
“There’s always going to be those wedges brought in from other aspects of the budget, how are we going to balance everything else out with all the other departments if we’re going to allocate those monies over to transportation.
“Certainly there are concerns, and there is no surprise there that those concerns would be raised,” Grantham continued. “We have the same concerns, but the reality is, if it’s going to be a priority, let’s act like it’s a priority.”
According to Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, lawmakers better have a proposal to him by the end of March. Now, the legislature just has to figure out where the rubber meets the road.