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Colorado sales tax hike wouldn't help toll lanes, leaders say

March 30, 2017 Updated: March 30, 2017 at 9:33 am
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photo - An amendment to House Bill 1242 will make it clear none of the money from the tax increase will go to toll projects.  U.S. Department of Transportation photo.
An amendment to House Bill 1242 will make it clear none of the money from the tax increase will go to toll projects. U.S. Department of Transportation photo. 

Legislation to ask voters for billions of dollars for transportation is still a slippery beast at the Colorado Capitol, as Democratic leaders said Wednesday they would make sure taxpayers aren't footing the bill for toll lanes.

Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal was the first to link the Colorado Department of Transportation's plan to use toll lanes to highway expansions that could be funded by the proposed sales tax hike.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver told reporters that for the sake of transparency, Democrats will amend House Bill 1242 to make it clear none of the money from the tax increase would go to toll projects.

"I think it's very important that if we ask people to vote in favor of a referred measure that they know exactly what they're getting, and we want to clarify how the dollars will be spent," Duran said.

Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said lawmakers have to make sure voters feel informed about the request for a tax hike.

"This issue is one the people in many areas of the state, and particularly on the Front Range, are concerned with," she said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said it was important to be clear, but toll lanes are good for taxpayers.

"Most taxpayers, when they hear about managed lanes, toll lanes, whatever, they get very agitated," the governor said. "But they don't have to take managed lanes ... and the people who do are lowering the taxes on everyone else."

He said Coloradans want those choices.

"I think what we should commit to is to make sure there is transparency and accountability in every part of how this bill is put together, what the ballot initiative looks like and then how the money gets spent," Hickenlooper said.

The 0.62 percent sales tax proposed in House Bill 1242 could be too high, could be too low, could be just right -- Hickenlooper said it's too soon to tell (with 29 working days left in the session).

He said reclassifying the state's Hospital Provider Fee out from under a revenue cap that triggers taxpayer refunds could put money into transportation and public-private partnerships could make a difference.

"This is about the most complicated array of legislation since I've been governor, certainly now when I was (Denver) mayor, where so many of these bills and budget proposals intersect with each other and influence each other," he said.

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