Reading transportation tea leaves in Grantham’s note to constituents

Author: John Tomasic - February 18, 2017 - Updated: February 18, 2017

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, addresses Americans for Prosperity activists, February 9, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman).
Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, addresses Americans for Prosperity activists, February 9, 2017. (John Tomasic/The Colorado Statesman).

Senate President Kevin Grantham seems confident a quarter of the way into the legislative session that lawmakers are moving toward tackling the session’s big priority item: They’re going to agree to raise funds for desperately needed transportation upgrades around the state.

That’s what he told constituents in his periodic “Dome to Home” newsletter this weekend.

As he explained, lawmakers have decided to send a referendum to voters asking to raise taxes for a limited number of years to pay for the upgrades. Lawmakers are also deciding how much money to ask for and what kind of agreement about larger spending priorities should be attached to the deal.

As Grantham put it:

“[T]ransportation infrastructure funding has taken center stage and appears to be everyone’s priority. While the need is obvious and the projects to be done are numerous and well-defined – the means to pay for them remains unclear. Discussions continue between both chambers and both parties on a measure that will ultimately be decided by you, the voter.”

Grantham and his Republican majority in the Senate want to see at least some significant amount of money set aside consistently in years to come from the state’s general fund for transportation. They see it as a way to demonstrate good faith to taxpayers and reorder budget priorities that they believe have strayed too far into social program spending — and particularly spending on health care.

Or, in his words:

“We will continue to champion the cause of rural Colorado in this effort while still demanding a prioritized use of the money that you have already entrusted to us here at the statehouse…prioritized for core governmental functions such as road and highway infrastructure.”

Democrats are looking to make sure any deal over transportation doesn’t mean dipping into already short discretionary spending on vital programs, including the state’s perennially underfunded school system.

Perhaps a major step will be taken toward a deal this week.

Grantham and his counterpart, Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, will speak Tuesday in Denver at a public forum on the issue. The forum has been organized by interest groups pushing hard for an agreement. Business and government leaders and members of the media will be in attendance and listening intently, hoping to come away with signs of real progress.

No pressure. Billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, fortunes in future revenue, years of cumulative lost time in traffic and Colorado’s status as a functioning leader among western states all hinge on the negotiations.

The forum is being hosted by the Colorado Business Roundtable and Fix Colorado’s Roads. In addition to Grantham and Duran, the roster of panel participants includes Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Bhatt, Vail Mayor Dave Chapin and regional chambers of commerce leaders.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.