With six weeks to go before next legislative session, seven House Republicans are calling out their chamber’s Democratic majority and Gov. John Hickenlooper to spend existing money on transportation in next year’s budget instead of waiting on voters to decide.
The group is releasing the statement Thursday morning but it was obtained early by Colorado Politics.
The request isn’t a new one. House Republicans made the same pitch last session for existing money versus asking voters for new taxes. Democrats countered that Republicans were seeking to take the money out of education and social programs already struggling to keep up with the state’s growth.
Last year, the issue hit an impasse when Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have asked voters to approve a sales tax to address the needs of roads, bridges and traffic jams. Republicans say the money already exists in a state budget that could grow by $2 billion next year.
When Hickenlooper released his budget request to the legislature this month, he asked for no additional additional money for transportation that hadn’t already been approved by lawmakers.
“We set the governor up to succeed, to knock it out of the ball park,” said Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, one of the signers of a statement. “And he dropped the ball.”
Besides Becker, the statement was endorsed by Reps. Perry Buck of Windsor, Terri Carver of Colorado Springs, Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, Paul Lundeen of Monument, Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs and Yeulin Willett of Grand Junction.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said the group was being ridiculous and cited last year’s bipartisan Senate Bill 267, which will provide budget money that can be leveraged for transportation projects. She called the premise of extra money in the budget “malarkey.”
Her full statement is posted below the full text of the Republicans’ statement:
We have enough to fix our roads and bridges
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Colorado has one of the fastest growing economies and fasting growing populations in the nation. Yet, for a state surging in economic development, the state government has spent a fraction of what’s needed on the roads and bridges that service this influx of commerce and people.
For nearly a decade, transportation funding has been hyper-politicized, and the subject of a perennial blame-game between Republicans and Democrats. This begs the question: If both sides know more spending on roads and bridges is needed, why the impasse? The issue is a fundamental disagreement about how Colorado spends your tax dollars. Colorado has a constitutional mandate to balance its budget; every dollar collected must be accounted for in the annual budget. Democrats continue to look for more revenue, regardless of how much more money we get per year. Conversely, Republicans have long argued the problem is not the amount of revenue, but how it’s prioritized.
Take for example Gov. Hickenlooper’s recent budget request. Nowhere In his $30.5 billion 2018-2019 budget proposal is any general fund money allocated for roads and bridges. This is also not surprising, as none of his previous budget requests have called for general fund spending on these critical projects. It should be noted that during his administration, general fund revenue outpaced population by four to one.
It’s estimated that $300 million a year (less than 1 percent of Colorado’s current annual budget) will service a twenty-year $3.5 billion dollar bond to tackle the growing list of transportation projects and maintenance throughout the state. If Republicans were in control, the budget would start with that bond payment, followed by the next priority and so forth. Democrats however, insist Colorado’s tax payers need to pony up that additional $300 million through increased taxes, even though the budget is $1.09 billion larger than last year, and $10 billion larger than when Gov. Hickenlooper first took office.
When Republicans propose using existing resources for roads and bridges, the questions about “cuts” and “what programs will receive less funding” always seem to follow. But keep in mind, the Governor’s budget request calls for more than a dozen agencies to get an increase to their current budgets. Any reductions to those proposed increases only exist according to the Governor’s budget request. Moreover, a decrease in the amount of an increase is not a “cut.” it is responsible fiscal policy.
Fortunately, the governor’s request is just that, a request. The legislature retains the authority to set its own figures and appropriate your tax dollars. The next legislative session begins in January, and we have 120 days to iron out Colorado’s next budget. We are certain Democrats’ calls for more revenue will be loud and frequent, but consider those calls have not softened even with $12.5 billion more revenue over the last decade. Which begs a second and even more important question: how much more money do the Democrats need before they’ll start prioritizing Colorado’s most impactful infrastructure?
If it’s up to Republicans, we have enough. We can fund the infrastructure projects Colorado needs while ensuring the essential state services provided to citizens and communities are not compromised. The governor has made his case for how we should spend $30.5 billion, but we are not convinced that his request fits the needs of Colorado. All 100 state legislators need to keep their eyes on the top priority and recognize we have what we need to fix our roads and bridges.
Duran provided this response:
The idea that Democrats refuse to take action to address our roads and bridges in Colorado is absolutely ridiculous. Less than seven months ago we began to invest an additional $100 million per year that is being leveraged into nearly $2 billion for new transportation projects around the state. The bill that made this happen had strong bipartisan support. The authors of today’s letter must have very short memories.
We all want a transportation system that’s adequate to serve the needs of our growing state. And it’s true that nearly $2 billion isn’t going to solve all our transportation problems. But it’s easy to say, “Let’s spend more on roads.” Much harder to say, “Let’s spend more on roads by spending less on K-12 students, on hospitals and public safety.”
The letter-writers note that “[w]hen Republicans propose using existing resources for roads and bridges, the questions about ‘cuts’ and ‘what programs will receive less funding’ always seem to follow.”
We are still waiting for answers to those questions.
Those answers are the crux of the issue, because the notion that there are big chunks of money buried in the couch cushions of our state government is misleading malarkey. In a state where the population is both growing and aging, the demands on our state budget increase every year – simply pointing to numerical increases in the budget is disingenuous.
Our innovative transportation funding referred measure last year would have been an actual solution to this problem, and it’s disappointing that three Republicans in the Senate prevented Coloradans from deciding whether to make that investment in our transportation system.
Here’s the bottom line: we were able to make a historic investment in transportation last year, but Republican proposals to divert existing dollars will unavoidably cut funding to our schools, place even more of a debt burden on Colorado’s college students and cut services for seniors and disabled Coloradans. That’s an unacceptable solution, and it’s unfortunate that the Republicans continue to argue for it.