Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 4, 20174min820

The Colorado Springs Gazette recently reported that Colorado is unlikely to receive any new significant transportation funding from Washington. (“Insights: Trump’s deal on transportation is a ‘no deal’ for Colorado.”) The story concluded that federal policy is pushing Colorado toward more toll road — but I am here to say that another alternative exists.

Namely, to define spending priorities within state government and conclude roads and bridges are a priority.

Each year for the past ten years Colorado state spending has grown, on average, by more than a billion dollars per year. We’ve gone from just over $17 billion in state spending in 2007 to $28.3 billion in the budget just signed by the Governor. Yet our roads and bridges crumble and traffic routinely grinds to a congested stop on our key roadways.

Conservative legislators offered amendments to this year’s budget to shake loose some cash for roads. I myself offered two amendments, which combined would have redirected more than $315 million for roads and bridges. While it’s disappointing that both failed in the Democrat-controlled House, the point is that such a redirection of funds is not mathematically impossible.

It’s a question of priorities and the politics around choosing those priorities.

So what has been the policy choice and where does the money go? Between the 2007 budget and this year’s, the Health Care Policy and Financing Department, whose most expensive job is managing Medicaid, has grown 178% from $3.5 billion to just a tick under $10 billion. A big share of that money is federal pass-through dollars. But the state general fund money — the money generated primarily from sales and income tax, the money your state legislators have direct spending control over–grew by more than 90% ($1.3 billion) in the same time period to reach $2.8 billion in this year’s budget. Here’s the kicker: In those same 10 years, generalfund spending on transportation was limited to $331 million for all ten years.

Each year, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) uses State and Federal gas tax dollars and other fees and taxes like those you pay when you register your car mostly for road maintenance. And CDOT says they need another billion dollars a year to keep up with Colorado’s growing population.

A crisis the size and scope of the roads and bridges breakdown in Colorado deserves the attention of general fund dollars. We need to have the tough conversations inside the state, and stack up every dollar for other policy items against our transportation needs.

Colorado should welcome funding help if it comes from Washington, but not expect it. The current budget proposal in Washington would cut transportation programs and promote solutions that will translate into toll roads here in Colorado. The administration in Washington has been open to reducing regulatory burdens associated with road improvements, which would ease the cost of construction and speed its completion. This is helpful, but it’s not a solution.

The big question is this: Are roads and bridges paid for with the taxes already collected from the people of Colorado a priority or not? I say yes. Let’s have the tough conversations about the state budget. Let’s allocate the tax money that is already being redirected from the every day budgets of hard working Coloradans into taxes and pay for the roads and bridges those same Coloradans deserve.

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 10, 20175min821

The Colorado legislative session was supposed to be all about funding transportation, but lawmakers spoke more about inroads and progress Wednesday as they adjourned the 120-day General Assembly.

Roads got a fraction of what lawmakers said they hoped to raise in January. Two bills would have allowed voters to decide on raising billions of dollars for projects such as unclogging traffic on interstates 25 and 70. Both died in the Republican-led Senate. Both had strong Republican support, but not enough.

The bills would have raised about $700 million annually, but the deal-breaker proved to be whether taxpayers should be asked to put more than they already do in the state’s $26.8 billion budget. Instead lawmakers reclassified a fee on hospital beds that will raise about $100 million a year. That money, however, would be allocated annually, and Colorado lawmakers have a history of neglecting transportation promises.

“I think we could have done better,” said Rep. Kimmi Lewis, R-Kim, lamenting money spent elsewhere in the budget that could have supported transportation and rural hospitals.

The freshman legislator said that next year she would be more aggressive against spending increases. Lewis supported the omnibus Senate Bill 267 because her district has five rural hospitals, and the bill includes $528 million to stave off cuts to hospitals across the state.

“I’m going to vote for it today, and that kills me,” Lewis said.

Lawmakers tinkered with hundreds of other bills, including a long-sought informed-consent law that applies before homeowners associations can sue builders for construction defects. None were as bright or bold as the failed transportation bills, however.

Charter school funding turned out to be a winner on the last day of the session when the legislature agreed on sharing future property tax increases equally with charter schools. After years of gridlock in the Capitol, charter school advocates called House Bill 1375 a breakthrough.

“Slowly but surely, based on what we’ve done with a couple of key education votes, we’ re changing our paradigm about how education and learning opportunities for children should be defined and delivered,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. “That’s a huge win, because that can transform students’ lives, than can transform how we deliver education, so we can bring education kicking and shouting into the 21st century.”

Lundeen hopes to maintain momentum on the subject with the bipartisan bill he sponsored. House Bill 1340 created a 10-member legislative committee to study school finance.

“We’re going to look at and define what it means to fund every student in Colorado with the respect that individual student deserves,” Lundeen said.

Senate Education Committee chairman Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, co-sponsored both bills along with other efforts to benefit charter schools this session.

“My priority is to always seek out new ways in which we can shift the focus on education in Colorado from a discussion about systems and institutions to one that emphasizes each students’ individual needs, goals and dreams,” Hill said.

Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs, said he was disappointed lawmakers can’t do more to address traffic north of Monument, but he was happy with his big legislative win to provide firefighters with a voluntary cancer fund they could pay into.

A career firefighter, Exum said he knew colleagues who died from complications of cancer waiting on insurers, who demand elaborate proof that the illness is work-related.

“We are out there putting our lives on the line trying to protect communities,” he said of the carcinogens fire crews face in burning buildings. “This is a byproduct of that. It’s a voluntary program to try to get some funds, because firefighters have died waiting on worker;s comp.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchMarch 13, 20173min30
House Republicans aren’t taking a tax hike lightly. Since before the session began two months ago, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville said lawmakers should be reshuffling the existing budget to put money into transportation instead of figuring out a way to sell a tax hike to voters. Instead, the House GOP got House Bill 1242 […]

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