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Compromise bill to boost Colorado transportation funding appears headed for finish line

May 8, 2017 Updated: May 8, 2017 at 4:36 pm
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State lawmakers say they have a deal that can mitigate some of the failures from not advancing a full transportation funding measure this year in the legislature.

The proposal would create a 20-year bond program to direct $1.8 billion towards critical infrastructure, including roads and highways.

Senate Bill 267 comes after a centerpiece transportation funding bill - a multi-billion dollar effort that would have raised the state sales tax for roads and highways - failed last month.

A separate effort, Senate Bill 303, would use existing taxes and a $3.5 billion bond program to pay for roads and highways. But the bill faces an uphill battle in a divided legislature and legislative leaders aren't holding out much hope.

That leaves Senate Bill 267, a dramatic example of compromise that appears poised to cross the finish line.

"It's fair to both sides. It helps rural Colorado. There's some things that cause the Democrats to cringe to vote 'yes' and there's things in there that are going to cause Republicans to cringe to vote 'yes.' But I think it's the right thing to do," said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who has been leading talks for Republicans.

The bill received a final 25-10 vote in the Senate on Monday. It now heads to the House for consideration. With three days left in the session, time is critical.

The sticking point in the conversation had been over Medicaid reform. Republicans said the deal that was reached with Democrats included a requirement that co-pays for Medicaid patients be set at the maximum level set by the federal government. Democrats, however, said that was never part of the deal.

A compromise was reached to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients but not up to the federal maximum for outpatient services.

The bill would reverse a budget move this year that reduced the Hospital Provider Fee by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. The fee is assessed on hospitals to force a match of larger federal health care dollars. With the federal match, hospitals in Colorado stand to lose about $528 million.

It would reclassify the fee on hospital-bed occupancy as an enterprise fund to get out from under the state spending cap, while also lowering the spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates.

Senate Bill 267 would require that at least 25 percent of the money from bonding go toward projects in rural Colorado, with county populations of 50,000 or less.

The measure also would address schools, with $30 million allocated to rural districts over three years. Lawmakers have proposed paying for the school funding by raising marijuana taxes.

It also would aim at avoiding a cut to the Senior Homestead Exemption, while also including a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment. Marijuana money would also help with that.

Legislative leaders had made transportation funding a priority this session. It appears they won't come up with the $9 billion needed to cover the shortfall in transportation funding that the state faces, but legislative leaders believe they will take a large step by the end of Wednesday.

"It does enough for now," said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. "We'll still probably see measures on the ballot, even if 267 gets to the finish line."d

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