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Legislative leaders, bill’s sponsors lament demise of transportation funding referendum

Author: Ernest Luning - April 25, 2017 - Updated: April 25, 2017

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House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, talk with reporters about a bipartisan transportation funding package the two are sponsoring on Thursday March 9, 2017, in Duran's office at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, talk with reporters about a bipartisan transportation funding package the two are sponsoring on Thursday March 9, 2017, in Duran’s office at the state Capitol in Denver. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

The legislative leaders who opened this year’s session with calls to come together to craft a transportation funding solution expressed disappointment Tuesday evening after three Republican senators slammed the brakes in committee on legislation that would have asked voters to raise the sales tax to pay for roads and transit.

But both Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, two of the bill’s key sponsors , also sounded notes of confidence that their collaboration and the conversation it sparked will ultimately lead to solutions.

House Bill 1242 — also sponsored by the chairs of both chambers’ transportation committees, state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs — ran out of gas in the Senate Finance Committee late Tuesday, with the panel’s three Republicans — state Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Tim Neville of Littleton and Jack Tate of Centennial — outvoting the two Democrats, state Sens. Lois Court of Denver and Daniel Kagan of Cherry Hills Village.

The outcome wasn’t a surprise. Grantham warned last week that the three GOP committee members were likely to oppose asking voters to increase taxes, and they confirmed it.

The measure, which would have referred a half-cent sales tax hike to the fall ballot, passed out of the Democratic-controlled House with four Republican votes earlier this month. Along with $100 million a year from the state’s general fund, it would have paid for $3.5 billion in highway construction bonds and billions of dollars for local roads and transit projects.

“When we started down this road, my goal was to put a bipartisan transportation package before voters that would help Colorado catch up on a road modernization backlog that cries out for prompt but thoughtful action,” Grantham said after the bill’s was killed. “And while that goal thus-far has proved elusive, just as I repeatedly warned it might, the debate this bill generated will move us closer to finding the ultimate answer by clarifying what the major sticking points are.”

Noting that several ballot measures sponsored by a spectrum of organizations are waiting in the wings, Grantham said he was optimistic a legislative referendum or citizen-initiated solution will emerge.

“The 71st General Assembly won’t complete its work until May 2018, so we’ll keep working on the issue, through this session and next, unless something is put on the ballot in the meantime that can win voter support,” he said. “While I’m disappointed by this particular vote, I remain confident that the work we did on this issue won’t go to waste and will move us closer than we were before to the fix we all seek.”

Duran thanked her fellow sponsors for taking the lead on “this especially hard problem,” along with lawmakers and groups that supported the effort.

“While I am disappointed by today’s outcome, I am hopeful that House Bill 1242 has started a conversation that must continue if we are going to have a transportation system that keeps us out of traffic jams and helps Colorado businesses generate jobs for our people,” she said.

“Collaboration and problem solving should always be more important than politics,” Duran continued. “I pledge to continue to seek transportation solutions that help us remain economically competitive and support our superb quality of life.”

Baumgardner, who told the committee that he was devoted to resolving the state’s transportation funding pickle in his second term, said after the vote that he was displeased the referendum he’d helped formulate wouldn’t be in front of voters.

“No one said this was a perfect solution, or that it would have been an easy, slam-dunk sell to voters, but I believe the good in this proposal outweighed the bad and that acting now is far better than continually kicking this can down the road, while the backlog of neglected road work grows worse,” he said. “So I’m disappointed that voters won’t have their say, yay or nay, after having an opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of this proposal in its totality.”

ernest@coloradostatesman.com

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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