Three highway funding bills fail within one week in the Colorado Legislature

Updated May 11, 2015

ColoradoCapitol-BetterRoads

Potential funding for Colorado roads went three up and three down in the Legislature this week.

The failure of all three bills leaves the state’s roads without any extra help from legislators next year, the Colorado Business Journal reported.

The funding failures began Monday as the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted Senate Bill 272 down 6-5. The bill would have sold bonds to fund $3.5 billion for infrastructure projects.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland) sponsored the bill in the House and said bonds were the only option to fund major projects because voters would not back a tax hike.

However, opponents of the bill, including the Colorado Department of Transportation and Gov. John Hickenlooper, had concerns that it would have taken $270 million per year away from road maintenance. There would have been 60 new road projects but no money to maintain new or existing roads.

Backers of the bill said there was no other plan for some of the project that Senate Bill 272 would have funded, including a lane addition on Interstate 25 that isn’t expected to be complete until 2075 under the current conditions.

But the maintenance funding was too much of a concern for the opposition, and the bill failed just a day before two more transportation bills crashed and burned the chance for state funding.

Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 1389 were the last opportunities for the Colorado Legislature before it was forced to adjourn Wednesday. The Democrat-sponsored House bill and the Republican-sponsored Senate bill both had a similar goal: to ensure $1 billion in general fund transfers to the Highway Users Trust Fund are paid in whole instead of being reduced if state revenue passes the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap.

The state hasn’t spent any money from the general fund on infrastructure projects since 2007, and the deteriorating road quality has many in the state worried about business and tourism taking a hit.

Neither side was willing to give way, and both of the bills died.

Republicans took issue that HB 1389 would have taken TABOR funds away from taxpayers. The House bill freed up $700 million in cap space, allowing for transportation to get at least $200 million, by removing a hospital provider fee from the TABOR revenue cap and make the fee an enterprise fund.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House Finance Committee found issue with Senate Bill 1, which would have issued TABOR refunds early based on last year’s revenue. The bill hit a snag with Democrats because they didn’t want the state to take a risk based on estimates. Democrats also believed the Senate bill could reduce Earned Income Tax Credits.

The state’s Highway Users Trust Fund won’t be completely empty next year. $102 million will be transferred to the fund, but that’s more than half less than what the state roads could have had.

Gov. Hickenloopoer’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting director Henry Sobanet express a bleak outlook on state of Colorado’s roads.

“The prospects of transportation are not optimistic,” Sobanet said.