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Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 23, 20187min348
And they’re back. Colorado Politics told you a couple of weeks ago that this was coming: a basket of proposals to pay for jammed highways, transit and other long-neglected transportation needs in Colorado. Here are the offers: a sales tax by 0.5 percent, 0.62 percent or 1 percent, and then a fourth possibility would ask for […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJanuary 23, 201811min985

The Colorado Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday afternoon served up the official opening volley of another contentious fight over how to pay for transportation to keep up with Colorado’s growth.

The first bill Senate Republicans filed this session would ask voters next November to borrow $3.5 billion and repay it with about $300 million a year from the state budget for the next 20 years. The bonds would jumpstart major projects such as widening Interstate 25 north of Monument and Denver, as well as find solutions to the constant snarls on I-70 through the mountains.

Democrats contend that while Colorado can afford to invest in roads while the economy is booming, when money gets tight obligating that much every year from the budget would mean cuts to schools, social programs and a host of state agencies that also are struggling to keep up with growth.

Senate Bill 1 passed, 3-2, on a party-line vote after a three-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon. The bill goes next to the Senate Finance Committee then, assuming it passes, to the floor, where Republicans have a one-state majority. In the House, Democrats have a nine-seat edge.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, chairman of  Transportation Committee and a sponsor of the bill, said he wasn’t offering the perfect solution, but the it’s better than the state has done in the past.

“You all know we’ve been down here the past four year and we’ve done nothing — nothing,” he told the committee. “And we fall farther behind all the time.”

Conservation Colorado is one of the groups who want to see more emphasis on getting vehicles off the roads via mass transit.

Baumgardner pointed out that 10 percent of the money in his bill is for transit.

Sen. Nancy Todd voted against the bill and she’s holding out for a bipartisan “Colorado solution.”

She said bonding is being inaccurately being pitched as a cost-free solution, when it’s really debt that strikes a barely one-third of the needs. She characterized Senate Bill 1 as a patchwork solution and thought legislators should find a permanent new funding source to allow the state to plan for its growth.

“I’m tired of Band-Aids,” said the Democrat from Aurora. “I’m ready for full surgery.”

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said he would like a Colorado solution, too. And he pointed to $1.7 billion in bonds in 1999 for 25 T-REX projects, mostly in the Denver area.

“If it’s good enough for Denver, why isn’t it good enough for the rest of the state,” he said.

The bill refers a measure to the November ballot to ask voters to borrow $3.5 billion to be paid back — up to $5 billion — over 20 years. The repayment would come from 10 percent of the state sales tax revenue.

State agencies are fretting they’ll face cuts down the road, if a tight budget first has to cover bond payments. The departments of education, human services and higher education all spoke against the bill.

Christina Rosendahl, the chief lobbyist for the Department of Corrections, said the agency is opposed to the bill because it’s worried about future budget cuts.

“We appreciate the discussion and truly believe funding transportation is both needed and laudable, and is something that’s important to all of us in Colorado,” she said. “That being said, this bill does take significant dollars out of the budget and really puts pressure on other agencies that rely on General Fund dollars.”

Business interests told the committee that traffic woes are choking the economic lifeblood from the state. At the same time, tax increases and partisan solutions that aren’t politically

“Overreach on these solutions don’t really help us,” said David May, president and CEO of the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance.

Mizraim Cordero, vice president of government affairs for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports Senate Bill 1 as a starting point to a bipartisan solution for transportation that could get to the governor’s desk.

He said Coloradans are “fed up with the increasing congestion and deteriorating condition of their roads.”

Rachel Beck, vice president of government affairs of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC told the committee the legislation needs four components:

  • A significant and ongoing contribution from the budget
  • New revenue tied to transportation services (meaning not a sales tax).
  • A focus on statewide corridors of regional significance.
  • It has to politically viable, “because we might get only one shot at this.”

“This is a good start, but there are still a number of components that need to come together to get to a solution that really does address these needs on a long-term basis,” Beck said.

Sandra Hagen Solin spoke for business interests along the state’s major corridors when she testified on behalf of Fix Colorado Roads, the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, the Northern Colorado Economic Alliance and the Vail Valley Partnership.

“She said that after a prior Senate Bill 1 passed in 1997, it put $2.2 billion from the budget until it was repealed 12 years later, In the ensuing decade the General Fund budget has provided only $357 million.

“The restoration of General Fund dollars that’s afforded in Senate Bill 1 is an incredibly important step to addressing our challenges,” she said. “We can certainly have a host of competing conversations around who’s hurting worse in this state with respect to our budgets. The reality is there’s growth in this budget to allow us to address many of the concerns that are facing us.

“Transportation has been waiting for a long time.”

May said the state can’t continue to wait on a political solution to funding. Every year the costs rise with the population, and every year the traffic gets worse.

“Every year we don’t out a solution on the table we are hurting the citizens of the this state,” he said.

Tony Milo, the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, whose members work on most of the public works infrastructure projects in the state, said money from the state budget, alone, won’t solve the problem long-term, and when times get tough there’s no assurances transportation would face indirect cuts. The state has to find a sustainable source of funding for transportation, not the boom and bust of borrowing and spending.

“CDOT has documented a need of $1 billion a year,” he told the committee. “Our cities and counties across the state also have shortfalls of hundreds of millions of dollars to relieve gridlock on city streets, improve safety on our rural roads and provide mobility on a local and regional basis.

“SB 1 as written is a good start to helping CDOT address a limited number of high-priority projects, but does not address continuing maintenance of the existing system nor does it provide any additional funding to our cities and counties who collectively are in just as much of a funding crisis as CDOT.”

Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, shared that concern that the deal only helped state projects, not local ones, as well. Last year’s failed House Bill 1242 would have steered some of the $3.5 billion to local governments.

Cooke pointed out that local governments already get transportation money from the state, which won’t change if Senate Bill 1 passes and voters approve the bonds.

She said the chamber is in a “monitoring” position on the bill.

“But make no mistake we do consider transportation our highest priority as an organization this year,” she told the committee. “We applaud the fact we see a bill early in the session, and we are also very excited about the potential for being able to bond on some existing revenue rather than asking for a tax increase.”

Mike Salisbury, a transportation expert for the Colorado-based Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, agreed local governments should get money and expanding broader forms of transportation is critical.

Local roads, state highways, bike paths and transit services Coloradans are relying on have become increasing inadequate,” he said.

R.J, Hicks, representing the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, spoke of the long struggle to find a transportation fix that lasts.

“This bill is just a continuing saga we’ve been in in the General Assembly for a number of years. stretching well over a decade,” the veteran lobbyist said.

Like others grateful for any major investment in transportation, he said a permanent solution is better than a good-times handout.

“When the economy tanks are we going to see the casualty being the funding of our roads again?” he asked the committee.


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Tony MiloTony MiloJanuary 12, 20183min2639

For several years, the Colorado Contractors Association, along with other community leaders, elected officials and concerned citizens, has been sounding the alarm about the state of our transportation infrastructure. The facts are clear: our roads are crumbling; safety is at risk, and our highways cannot handle the volume of growth. Our challenge in 2018 remains the same. We simply must find a long-term funding source for our transportation infrastructure.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 6, 20176min383
Fix It Colorado
(Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

 

Tony Milo told Colorado Counties Inc. Tuesday that Fix It Colorado won’t ask voters in November to pony up more money for transportation. The group will look to 2018, instead, as voters get a fuller grasp of the funding jam the state is stuck in.

“We think we’re at a turning point where Coloradans are realizing they get what they pay for,” the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association said at CCI’s summer conference in Keystone.

In the meantime, he said, the Fix It Colorado coalition will “keep the drumbeat going” on finding money to unclog interstates and meet the needs of rural communities.

In the session that ended last month legislators couldn’t agree on two bills that could have put billions into theproblem — one that would have asked voters to approve a 0.50 cent sales tax and another that would have asked voters to borrow $3.5 billion and pay it back from the existing state budget. Both measures got tangled up in the state Senate.

That leaves private groups to collect the signatures and fight the fight for more road money, instead of counting on their elected leaders to address what the leaders themselves have identified as the state’s highest priority. The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Denver, already has said it would collect petitions to ask voters to fund only interstates and state projects — with no tax money for towns and counties or mass transit. President Jon Caldara told CCI about his proposal Tuesday, as well.

Colorado Politics has an indepth story on the road ahead for transportation coming in Thursday’s print edition of The Colorado Statesman, which will be available online to subscribers. Milo had previously told Colorado Politics for Thursday’s story that Fix It Colorado would likely sit out this year’s election. He said in 2018 more voters will participate, because major statewide races and the legislative candidates are on the ballot.

Milo didn’t say it, but the possibility of a question on the ballot about their biggest failure could put heat on incumbents to find solutions in next spring’s legislative session or risk repercussions from voters.

He noted that this session lawmakers passed House Bill 267, an omnibus bill that (kind of) allocates $1.8 billion for transportation. Some of that money comes from revenue the Department of Transportation already would get, then 25 percent of it goes to rural counties and 10 percent goes to traffic.

In the end, bottle-necked, overcrowded interstates would get some share of about $1 billion , but Colorado needs $20 billion over the next two decades, just to keep up with growth, transportation planners have said.

“Our goal continues to be a sustainable, dedicated funding source that will address the needs at the state and local level,” Milo told county leaders Tuesday, according to audio tape of his speech texted to Colorado Politics.

He said local governments have a lot riding on what happens next.

Fix It Colorado is a coalition of contractors that supported House Bill 1242, the bipartisan sales tax bill killed in a Senate committee with the votes of Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Jack Tate of Centennial and Tim Neville of Castle Rock.

They, along with most House Republicans, favored a bill that took all the money — other than taking away a tax break on tags for vehicles 10 years and older — out of the state budget, which Democrats said would gut social programs, including public health and education.

“Every time we go up against health care or education, we lose,” said Milo, citing his 20 years of working to find money for infrastructure.

Milo and Christian Reece, executive director of Club 20, which represents Western Slope counties, said rural communities would be left behind without a statewide transportation solution. Urban cities and counties will do what Colorado Springs voters did two years ago: pass a local sales to tax to fund its transportation needs.

Rural communities won’t be able to do that, he said.

“It’s going to leave a patchwork of haves and have-nots across the state of Colorado,” Milo warned the county leaders.