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Colorado Senate sends transportation funding bill to the governor

May 8, 2018 Updated: May 9, 2018 at 3:01 pm
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FILE - In this Jan. 7, 2018, file photo, traffic backs up on Interstate 70 near Silvethorne, Colo., a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains. Senate Republicans collected a unanimous vote Thursday night to send a bill to the governor that will eventually put almost $3 billion into the state's transportation system. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert, File)

None of the Republicans in the state House supported it earlier in the day, but Senate Republicans collected a unanimous vote Tuesday night to send a bill to the governor that will eventually put almost $3 billion into the state's beleaguered transportation system.

Senate Bill 1 puts $495 million into roads, bridges and alternative transportation this year, $150 million next year then allows the state to borrow $2.3 billion to be repaid over the next 20 years, tapping the state general fund for $122.6 million a year. Granted, only about $50 million a year is new money, with the rest coming from previous legislation and existing tax dollars that go to the state highway department.

But it sounds good to advocates to finally see a legislative commitment to quick cash and ongoing money to a state transportation system the Colorado Department of Transportation says is in need of $9 billion in the next decade and $20 billion over the next 20 years.

"While the funding provided to transportation is short of where we could have been, politics is the art of the possible," said Sandra Hagen Solin, who represents Fix Colorado Roads, the coalition driving the funding discussion for years. "Since the beginning, we've advocated from that point of view. Today, Senate Bill 1 passed a split legislature and is what was possible this year.

"And for that, we are grateful."

Negotiations haven't been this fruitful in recent memory, however you add up the money.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, has been at the forefront of negotiations for the past two sessions, Last year, Republicans on a Senate committee killed House Bill 1242, which Grantham co-sponsored, that would have asked Colorado votes to pass a half-cent sales tax. The compromise was announced to reporters in his office on Monday, with House Speaker Crisanta Duran at his side.

"This is significant," he said Tuesday night. "When we get to look back on this endeavor and what took place in the 2018 legislative session. this is what I'm going to remember.

"I'm going to remember the senators who have put their heart and soul into this and the collaboration across the aisle on this one."

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, who co-sponsored the bill, urged the members of the upper chamber to accept the House version.

"This has been a very long, ongoing piece of legislation, a lot of discussion," he said. ". This is the most money that has gone into highway infrastructure in years. It may not be everything that we wanted. It may not be everything that they wanted. But it is the right step in a direction for the state of Colorado and the way transportation should be funded."

Another Senate co-sponsor, John Cooke, R-Greeley, said the SB 1 shows an ongoing commitment to investing in roads and bridges.

"This is a very good use of our money," he said. "People expect us to do something, and after many, many years of working on our transportation needs, we finally came up with something."

He added, "I believe we're getting what we wanted out of this. We wanted bonding. We wanted not to raise any taxes or fees. And we got that."

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, who pushed Republicans to negotiate on the original in the Senate, supported the compromise out of the House.

"I think this bill reflects a lot of really hard work and collaboration between the two chambers," she said, "as well as collaboration between the two parties."

Senate Republicans wanted to dedicated $250 million a year ongoing from the state budget for transportation and 10 percent for transit and other multimodal transportation. The final bill takes less than half that from the budget and increases the alternative transportation allocation from 10 to 15 percent.

Environmentalists were happy with the final deal.

"We're pleased with this compromise, as it recognizes the need to significantly grow our investments in multimodal options like senior and disability buses, sidewalks for pedestrians, highway shoulders for tractors and resources to keep everyone safe," said Maria Handley, interim executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state's largest environmental group. "It is a step towards funding our state's massive transportation needs in a fiscally responsible manner and supports a system that will benefit all Coloradans."

Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:49 a.m. to reflect that the Senate voted Tuesday.

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