Colo. Legislature gets failing grade on transportation

May 24, 2016 | Uncategorized

The 2016 session of the Colorado General Assembly concluded on May 11. In its wake, numerous local and statewide news stories were published dissecting the session and legislators celebrating their victories or bemoaning their losses.

One area where the Legislature deserves a poor grade is funding for highways. Before, during and after the session leaders in both the House and Senate and from both political parties declared their intentions to fix the state’s transportation funding problem.

This was the “Year of Transportation,” they said. But in the end, the proverbial can was again kicked down the increasingly congested road.

Unfortunately, Colorado’s inertia on transportation funding is not new. While state revenues have grown by more than $3 billion since 2009, until this session, none of that additional money had gone to the highway system.

Ponder that for a moment. While state leaders have spent copious amounts of new money, they have effectively ignored their obligation to take care of the state’s transportation infrastructure.

A breakthrough of sorts did take place during the session when the Joint Budget Committee, at the encouragement of the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance and Fix Colorado Roads, included a guarantee of $199 million for this year and $158 million for next year in the budget.

In my world, that is a lot of money. In the high-cost world of public infrastructure, however, it doesn’t go too far. Even so, it is a nice step up from zero.

But that was it. A piece of legislation called The Fix Colorado Roads Act was proposed and passed the Republican Senate, but died in the Democrat-controlled House.

The Fix Colorado Roads Act, sponsored by Loveland Republican Rep. Brian DelGrosso, would have asked voters to allow state officials to issue up to $3.5 billion worth bonds to fund more than 40 transportation projects around the state, including the critically important expansion of north Interstate 25, the Interstate 70 mountain corridor and I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Essentially, this would have been the next iteration of the popular TRANS bonds program approved by voters in 1999. Statewide polling by the Fix North I-25 Business Alliance showed strong voter support. So, if the Legislature had referred the measure to the ballot, it likely would have passed.

Repaying the bonds would not require a tax increase. Instead, the act proposed to allocate approximately $160 million annually from the general fund combined with other CDOT funds to meet the annual bond payments.

But, hey, don’t let something so straightforward get in the way of election-year coup counting. Democrats insist on new tax revenue or a TABOR fix, and Republicans say there’s already enough revenue and it’s a matter of priorities.

This partisan purity leaves us, my fellow travelers, sitting in traffic.

The governor says he may call a special session of the Legislature, so perhaps this issue will still be taken up this year. More likely we’ll have to wait for 2017, at which time we plan to once again advocate for legislation to fix Colorado’s roads.

At least we’ll have something to think about while we’re sitting on north I-25.

Originally published on May 19, 2016 in the Fort Collins Coloradoan