The $5.3 billion transportation funding plan driven by a raft of new fees over the next decade is on to Gov. Jared Polis' desk after the Senate on Wednesday concurred with amendments to the legislation that were given final approval in the House earlier in the day.
“The best solution for transportation funding that the state of Colorado has ever had in the last 10 years is before you today,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver.
Garnett, along with Broomfield Democratic Rep. Matt Gray, is Senate Bill 260’s prime sponsor in the House. In a floor speech ahead of the final vote, Garnett touted the stakeholder work done to bring together a diverse coalition ranging from “one side that says only asphalt, concrete and bridges” to another “who say no more roads, no more lanes.”
“So much work has been put into Senate Bill 260... that no one — let me just say broadly, I'm sure there's a few — but no one is opposed to Senate Bill 260,” Garnett said.
No one other than Republican state lawmakers, it would appear. As it had in the Senate, the bill cleared the House on a 41-24 party-line vote with one Democratic member excused. The vote came after hours of objections from Republicans, who last week had threatened to have the bill, now at 214 pages plus a 22-page fiscal note, read at length, with estimates that the computer would take six hours or more to read it.
Instead, they debated the bill's points, mostly focused on the fees.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, said the funding mechanisms for the bill are an end-run around the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The investment in infrastructure is important, he said, but the investments around the environment are a concern. Holtorf noted that the difference between the roads in his part of Colorado compared to the three states that his district borders, and which fund transportation better than Colorado, are significant.
When he was first elected, Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs, said the number one concern of his district was infrastructure and roads, and that was because of the “Gap,” the section of I-25 being widened between Castle Rock and Monument.
“No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, we need to focus on transportation.” It’s been starved, he said, and constituents are demanding action.
He said he recognized the need for a bold transportation plan but his constituents are struggling with how to pay for it. Voters have rejected both bonds and higher taxes, he said. “They want it to be a priority, and they want us to use the money we already have.”
If the budget is regaining steam, and the state is getting money from Washington through the American Rescue Plan and dollars could be shifted around to fund transportation, why ask taxpayers to pay more? Sandridge asked.
“I think they want an even bolder plan,” Sandridge said. “Whether it’s a fee or a tax...when you’re taking money out of their pockets, it doesn’t matter. “
In El Paso County, “as tax adverse a community as you’ll find” in Colorado, 10 years ago voters approved a sales tax increase for transportation, along with a five-year sunset and a project list, said Rep. Andy Pico, R-Colorado Springs. That project list was executed, under budget and on schedule on almost every project, and voters approved a second round, he said.
That’s what’s missing from SB 260, he explained: voter approval. "You check in with voters, give them the project list and keep faith and report back. None of that is in this bill. It's 'give us the money and trust us.'"
Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Littleton, said the word "tax" was misspelled as "fee." She called SB 260 a "bait and switch" tactic.
The bill would increase a per-gallon charge on fuel by 2 cents a year until 2028 then index to inflation, on top of the existing 22-cent gas tax. Electric vehicle drivers will have to pay more for their tags until they're paying on par with what those who drive combustion vehicles pay to support transportation.
Fees on ride-sharing services, such as Uber and Lyft, take on another 15 to 30 cents a trip, along with new fees on home deliveries.
The money would support the Colorado Department of Transportation's 10-year plan of priority projects, but it also would invest heavily in electric vehicles and help fund solutions for areas with air pollution problems.
To pay for the projects, the bill creates four separate state enterprises, each with less than $100 million in annual revenue. That’s to get around Proposition 117, which required any new fees for enterprises with more than $100 million in annual revenue to be approved by voters.
The Senate, which had already approved the legislation, later in the day unanimously approved the House amendments before voting 20-15 to repass the bill. That vote matched the chamber's original vote, with Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, voting in opposition and Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, supporting the bill.