Colorado Senate Republicans' big transportation bill gets first committee hearing

Posted at 4:06 PM, Jan 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-23 19:51:35-05

DENVER -- After last year’s failure by the General Assembly to fund a clean tax hike for Colorado roads and travel infrastructure, state lawmakers are considering a new proposal this session to help finance much-needed transportation projects.

The Senate Transportation Committee held the first committee hearing on Senate Bill 1 Monday, the Republican measure that looks to use part of the state’s general fund by diverting about 10 percent of state sales and use taxes for transportation projects. The extra funds would come from a state surplus that both parties have argued should be used for different things.

Under the Senate proposal, voters will have to decide if billions in money should be used to purchase bonds to pay for big-ticket projects, many along I-25 and I-70.

“If we can put that $3.5 billion towards tier-one projects throughout the state, that’s a great start,” said state Sen. John Cooke, a Weld County Republican.

The Republican-sponsored bill is prompting questions from Democrats, who wonder if rerouting more money for transportation won’t hurt other priorities for the state.

“That’s a pretty big commitment — money that’s already going to pay for things like education, health care, higher education,” said state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, a Democrat from Arvada.

Supporters of Senate Bill 1 insist other agencies will get more money too, and that the surplus won’t be directed all toward the transportation effort, should it pass.

Regardless, if this attempt to solve the roads crisis moves forward, it still won’t be enough to fix everything at once. 

When asked if the proposal would be a cure-all to a $9 billion issue, Cooke responded, “No.  But we have to start somewhere.”

Zenzinger, like most Democrats, agree with Republicans that transportation issues are among the biggest facing Colorado this year and in coming years. But Democrats have slightly different priorities.

“If we’re going to make that kind of a big commitment, I want to make sure we’re not doing damage to some of our big priorities that we’re already paying for right now in the state,” Zenzinger said.

This plan does not preclude suggestions by the governor to have voters decide on a more stable and new funding source—something he proposed during his State of the State speech earlier this month.

The bill passed the committee Tuesday on a party-line vote.