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Fix It Colorado won't seek tax hike for roads this year

June 6, 2017 Updated: June 6, 2017 at 6:53 pm
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Looking north towards Castle Rock Thursday, Deceber 22, 2016 as heavy traffic moves along I-25 which is two lanes in each direction. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Tony Milo told Colorado Counties Inc. Tuesday that Fix It Colorado won't ask voters in November to pony up more money for transportation. The group will look to 2018, instead, as voters get a fuller grasp of the funding jam the state is stuck in.

"We think we're at a turning point where Coloradans are realizing they get what they pay for," the executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association said at CCI's summer conference in Keystone.

In the meantime, he said, the Fix It Colorado coalition will "keep the drumbeat going" on finding money to unclog interstates and meet the needs of rural communities.

In the session that ended last month legislators couldn't agree on two bills that could have put billions into theproblem -- one that would have asked voters to approve a 0.50 cent sales tax and another that would have asked voters to borrow $3.5 billion and pay it back from the existing state budget. Both measures got tangled up in the state Senate.

That leaves private groups to collect the signatures and fight the fight for more road money, instead of counting on their elected leaders to address what the leaders themselves have identified as the state's highest priority. The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Denver, already has said it would collect petitions to ask voters to fund only interstates and state projects -- with no tax money for towns and counties or mass transit. President Jon Caldara told CCI about his proposal Tuesday, as well.

Colorado Politics has an indepth story on the road ahead for transportation coming in Thursday's print edition of The Colorado Statesman, which will be available online to subscribers. Milo had previously told Colorado Politics for Thursday's story that Fix It Colorado would likely sit out this year's election. He said in 2018 more voters will participate, because major statewide races and the legislative candidates are on the ballot.

Milo didn't say it, but the possibility of a question on the ballot about their biggest failure could put heat on incumbents to find solutions in next spring's legislative session or risk repercussions from voters.

He noted that this session lawmakers passed House Bill 267, an omnibus bill that (kind of) allocates $1.8 billion for transportation. Some of that money comes from revenue the Department of Transportation already would get, then 25 percent of it goes to rural counties and 10 percent goes to traffic.

In the end, bottle-necked, overcrowded interstates would get some share of about $1 billion , but Colorado needs $20 billion over the next two decades, just to keep up with growth, transportation planners have said.

"Our goal continues to be a sustainable, dedicated funding source that will address the needs at the state and local level," Milo told county leaders Tuesday, according to audio tape of his speech texted to Colorado Politics.

He said local governments have a lot riding on what happens next.

Fix It Colorado is a coalition of contractors that supported House Bill 1242, the bipartisan sales tax bill killed in a Senate committee with the votes of Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Jack Tate of Centennial and Tim Neville of Castle Rock.

They, along with most House Republicans, favored a bill that took all the money -- other than taking away a tax break on tags for vehicles 10 years and older -- out of the state budget, which Democrats said would gut social programs, including public health and education.

"Every time we go up against health care or education, we lose," said Milo, citing his 20 years of working to find money for infrastructure.

Milo and Christian Reece, executive director of Club 20, which represents Western Slope counties, said rural communities would be left behind without a statewide transportation solution. Urban cities and counties will do what Colorado Springs voters did two years ago: pass a local sales to tax to fund its transportation needs.

Rural communities won't be able to do that, he said.

"It's going to leave a patchwork of haves and have-nots across the state of Colorado," Milo warned the county leaders.

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