In 2018, during my first legislative session under the Golden Dome, the most significant piece of legislation that we passed was Senate Bill 18-001. The bill, introduced on day one by Republicans in the Senate, sought to ask the voters to issue $3.5 billion in bonds to repair roads and bridges and begin tackling a decade-long backlog of projects with the Department of Transportation. No tax increases, no fees, just a commitment from the General Assembly to finally prioritize transportation infrastructure.
The bill ended up passing — 35 to 0 in the Senate — and was signed by then-Gov. Hickenlooper.
But you may be asking the question: Did I ever get the opportunity to vote on that?
No, you didn’t, and with Democrats in the legislature discussing a plethora of fees on gasoline, delivery services, and ride sharing to pay for road and bridge improvements (alongside a host of other transit and multi-modal pet projects), perhaps it’s time you know why.
In 2018, Republicans were still in control of the state Senate while Democrats had control of the state House. This required a great deal of bipartisan compromise for any piece of legislation, especially one of Senate Bill 18-001’s size.
That’s where Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D-Arvada) entered the picture. Known for her independent streak and a willingness to work across the aisle, Sen. Zenzinger was essential in bringing Democrats to the table to ensure that Colorado made an investment in roads and bridges. Credit where credit is due.
In any normal year, perhaps that would be the crux of the story, but 2018 was an election year, and Democrats had their sights firmly set on taking out Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R-Thornton) in the November election. The Democratic candidate was Faith Winter, then a state representative. Late in the game, Democrats began to push credit toward Winter in an attempt to elevate her profile. She was subsequently added as a House sponsor to SB18-001.
One campaign video featured now-Sen. Winter stating, “This year, I was able to break through years of partisan gridlock to pass the largest transportation bill we’ve had in decades.”
A campaign mailer stated: “How do we fix Colorado’s roads and bridges without cutting funding for schools? Years and years of partisan gridlock just made the problem worse. The answer: State Rep. Faith Winter.” So what happened once Winter was elected to the state Senate and Democrats took control of the chamber? The bill had apparently outlived its usefulness, and in 2019, Democrats asked Republicans to delay the measure until 2020, arguing that it would have little chance when pitted against other measures already slated to be on the ballot. The same request was made in 2020, to delay until 2021.
All of a sudden, the “largest transportation bill we’ve had in decades” became the most hard-fought bipartisan victory that never was.
Republicans have been skeptical since 2019 that the measure would ever be allowed to get to the ballot, but with Sen. Winter now making the media rounds on a new transportation funding bill, it’s clear that they’re wanting to head in a different direction.
That different direction involves a gas-tax fee, a diesel fuel fee, an electric-vehicle fee, a car-rental fee, a fee on ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and a fee on delivery services such as Doordash, Fedex, and Amazon.
The wealthy man driving his F-350 in Vail couldn’t give a hoot whether he has to pay a bit extra to fill his gas tank, nor will he care if it costs a little extra to deliver sashimi to his winter cabin. These fees will have the largest negative impact on lower-income Coloradans, and it’s not even necessary.
Summarized, Democrats are scrapping a bipartisan solution — that they campaigned on — that would’ve put $3.5 billion into our roads and bridges without raising a dime of taxes or fees. In exchange, they will push for what will undoubtedly be one of the most hyper-partisan pieces of legislation that arguably violates both TABOR and Proposition 117 — either directly or in spirit — and raises fees on Coloradans struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s the classic bait-and-switch, and hopefully Coloradans are paying attention. Deceitful? Perhaps. Tone deaf? Most certainly.
The last thing on our legislators’ minds should be pushing for more taxes and fees. When billions of dollars are coming from the federal government in stimulus funds, and possibly billions more with the federal infrastructure bill, this is not the time to increase the burden on struggling Coloradans.
Sage Naumann is the communications director for the Colorado Senate Republicans.