Alternative Colorado transportation bill dies in the state Senate as the session winds down

Alternative Colorado transportation bill dies in the state Senate

Author: Joey Bunch - May 9, 2017 - Updated: June 22, 2017

A bill to put billions of dollars into Colorado transportation died in the state Senate Tuesday. Deja Vu? When Republicans on the state Senate Finance Committee killed House Bill 1242 two weeks ago, some offered this tax-free alternative bill the next day.

The alternative bill, Senate Bill 303, never made it out of the Republican-led chamber in time to pass before Wednesday’s adjournment. It was “laid over” until Thursday, the day after the session, which is a nice way to handle a bill that doesn’t have the votes to pass.

The Democratic majority in the House would have only voted it down for Republicans, had they been given the chance.

Some transportation dollars are included in Senate Bill 267, which is expected to be approved in the House Wednesday, the last day of the legislative session.

While the bill theoretically puts $100 million a year into transportation, that’s a fraction of what previous proposals offered to address the state’s $9 billion in needs. Additionally, the bill must support rural roads, which advocates for more transportation funding say won’t help speed up traffic on the interstates.

House Bill 1242 would have asked voters to approve a sales tax in November to help pay for such projects as widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and north of Denver, as well as address traffic jams on the I-70 mountain corridor.

Senate Republicans didn’t like a sales tax hike, but instead sought to use 5 percent of the existing annual state sales tax revenue while also stripping away a standard $3 tag fee on vehicles 10 years or older to tax them on the same formula as newer cars and trucks.

Jon Caldara, president and CEO of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver, is considering a November ballot issue to ask voters to finance road projects out of the existing state budget.

He said the alternative bill lost his support when it added on the higher fee on car tags, called the specific ownership tax.

Senate Bill “303 didn’t have a chance because a tax increase was amended on to it, making it hard for conservatives to support it, and it all went to road projects so the road-hating train romantics on left wouldn’t support it,” Caldara said Tuesday.

At the top of Tuesday’s debate on the Senate floor, Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, one of the committee votes to kill the first transportation bill and a co-sponsor of its replacement, accepted the outcome as lost.

“We know this bill is not going on to the House,” Neville told the Senate about his alternative.

The bill’s co-sponsor, John Cooke of Greeley, added, “What this bill does is make highway funding a priority …. We thought this was a good alternative for everybody.”

Even with Republicans conceding defeat, it didn’t stop Senate Democrats from trying to add amendments: one to steer $200 million into a light rail line to Boulder and another to preserve the $3 tag for vehicles 10 years or older.

The Colorado Motor Carriers Association had supported the addition of the car-tag money. Greg Fulton, president of the association, said “the innovative funding solution” enjoyed wide support in polling.

Those receiving the annual $3 plate now would have been grandfathered in, and then a new owner would pay a higher fee based on the vehicle’s value when it’s sold.

The trucking association expected it to raise about $50 million the first year and then rise to $176 million by its fifth year.

“While SB 303 failed, this measure further highlighted the public’s desire for a solution to our short- and long-term transportation needs,” Fulton said. “We appreciate the willingness of the bill’s sponsors to bring forward this important legislation which hopefully will further advance efforts toward a long term sustainable funding solution for transportation in our state.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

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