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GOP bucks Colorado transportation bill, but new proposal not a mutiny

March 13, 2017 Updated: March 13, 2017 at 12:40 pm
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FILE - In this Friday, May 27, 2016 file photo, motorists guide their vehicles southbound on Interstate 25 to downtown Denver. Colorado's legislative leaders said they reached a bipartisan compromise late Wednesday, March 8, 2017, that would ask voters for a sales tax hike and a bond issue to pay for billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, file)

It's a political stretch to call state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg's proposal for a tax-hike free bill to steer money into transportation a mutiny of the bipartisan plan released last week by Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham.

Other legislative Republicans and high-profile organizations are already aligning against House Bill 1242, released last week by Grantham, R-Canon City, and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver.

Sonnenberg's proposal gives Senate Republicans political cover by rolling out a transportation bill free of a tax-hike, as conservatives revolt against the 0.62 percent sales tax increase to raise $667 million.

Among the highest priority projects vying for that money is the expansion of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock, along with I-25 from Denver to Fort Collins, and the I-70 mountain corridor.

That bill also includes $100 million annually for transit, which Republicans are not happy about.

The $100 million that Sonnenberg wants to build into the budget would be a supplement, one that would do more for the Eastern Plains, he said.

"The Eastern Plains gets left short," Sonnenberg told reporters Monday morning. "And that's something we need to address."

Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling and the Senate's president pro tem, said his bill would be a supplement to the transportation bill presented last week using existing tax money.

"It may help reduce the tax increase, may provide some help if this transportation bill doesn't pass," he said.

Sonnenberg said he is working with the Democratic majority in the House to help pass the bill.

Sonnenberg said he supports the work done by Grantham, but as Grantham said last week, the bill is likely to see many changes before the session ends on May 10.

Sonnenberg said his bill would rely on the Senate Bill 228 funds. That bill was passed in 2009 as a supplement to the $200 million annual infusion from the Funding Advancements for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery Act, or FASTER.

Senate Bill 228 is triggered when personal income rises by 5 percent, but it's limited by refunds caused by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights or the discretion of legislators.

But with the $100 million a year carved out by Sonnenberg, the state could borrow about $1.3 billion of the $3.5 billion in immediate needs, he said.

House Republicans, unlike Sonnenberg, are in revolt of the plan. Their weekly video message Friday focused on opposition to the current plan.

"I'm not saying it's an easy conversation," said Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument. "And I don't know if we can solve the transportation problem within the existing budget, but we need to have the conversation about prioritizing the money we're already collecting from you, the taxpayers, before we take the easy way out and ask for a sales tax increase."

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