Colorado lawmakers say they've reached deal on massive transportation bill

Posted at 2:17 PM, May 07, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 17:19:02-04

DENVER – With less than three days left in Colorado’s legislative session, leadership from both chambers said Monday they had reached a compromise on Senate Bill 1 – the big transportation bill whose passage was in question late last week when House Democrats unveiled a rewrite.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, announced the deal at a press conference Monday afternoon, and said the amended version of the bill would be introduced on the House floor later in the day.

The lawmakers said they believe the amended bill gives the legislature a “path forward” to being able to pass one of their landmark bills and before the session ends Wednesday and see it signed by the governor.

And while Grantham and Duran had sparred as late as last week over the measure, they said the deal reached is a compromise between both parties for the sake of Coloradans.

“This is not what each one of us would have written, when it comes down to it,” Grantham said. “This is not something that would be ideal for either one of us, but the reality is we are in a split legislature, and sometimes, that is when we do our best work.”

According to the chamber leaders, the amended bill would put $495 million in General Fund money into transportation projects this year, and an additional $150 million next year.

The state would then send $50 million in General Fund money each of the following years.

The amended version also would ask state voters to approve a $2.3 billion transportation bonding measure in 2019, which the lawmakers say would be paid off by the General Fund appropriations. The funds would be split: 70 percent would go to state highway projects, 15 percent to local road projects, and another 15 percent would go to transit “multi-modal” projects.

The maximum estimated repayment could amount to $3.25 billion when combined with transportation money passed during last year’s session.

But the 2019 measure would be contingent on whether two proposals that Colorado residents could vote on this November make it to the ballot and pass.

One proposal would raise the state sales tax to pay off the Colorado Department of Transportation’s $9 billion backlog, and another would try to force the legislature to figure out how to fund transportation projects without increasing taxes. Petition drives for both are underway.

Both Duran and Grantham agreed that the deal still wouldn’t wholly fix Colorado’s road problems.

“It’s not enough. That’s why we need to see a new ballot initiative pass for new revenue,” Duran said.

“It shows this state is making this a priority with the taxes we take from our citizens…because it’s a benefit to all the state,” Grantham said. “Whatever that revenue is coming into the state, we are obligated…to require some prioritization. Both sides of the aisle can agree this is a priority. If this is a priority, then here we are.”

Colorado Concern, a business coalition that had supported the version of Senate Bill 1 that already passed the Senate unanimously – which the new version takes from heavily, said it was pleased with the deal unveiled Monday.

"This bipartisan deal represents the largest new investment in the state's infrastructure since Governor Bill Owens' TRANS package was approved by voters nearly 20 years ago, and possibly the largest single roads bill in Colorado history,” said its president and CEO, Mike Kopp. “Tomorrow morning every driver in Colorado should honk their horn a time or two in thanks to legislators for coming together and making progress on our multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure needs."

Fix Colorado Roads, which has pushed for a legislative fix this session, said it was pleased with the compromise.

“Funding and financing Colorado’s transportation system has been our driving focus during the past several legislative sessions. In the face of much skepticism that a bonding deal could be struck this legislative session, the SB 1 compromise marks a victory for bonding and provides an incremental step in addressing our state’s transportation crisis,” said the group’s Sandra Hagen Solin. “The work is not over. Voters will have the chance to voice their own opinion on the best funding option moving forward.”

The measure is expected to be introduced Monday afternoon. The legislative session ends Wednesday.