Transportation Bill, Top Priority In Colorado Statehouse, Fails

Transportation funding, the highest legislative priority for the governor and leaders in both parties, failed in the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, April 25.

Despite the backing of the Senate President, Democratic House Speaker, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and a broad coalition of leading business groups, mayors, county commissioners and other organizations testifying in support, committee members voted along party lines in a 3 to 2 split.

"The biggest thing is we have money within the budget that we should focus on freeing up to utilize," said Republican Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton. "That bill has too much spending that is not going to where we need it, roads and bridges. There's a lot of transit in that bill."

"We just so happen to think it's a core function of government." - Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, bill sponsor

Neville said he was always a strong no vote on the bill and Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said he had major concerns about a regressive sales tax.  Republican Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial was considered the swing vote, and faced pressure to support the measure during the hearing from witnesses such as Kathy Noon, the mayor of Centennial.  She said improving transportation infrastructure was a top priority for voters there.

"We have a fair number of signatures collected from Senator Tate's area, and those were collected this weekend," said Noon.

Tate said he wanted to exhaust other avenues of funding before considering a tax increase. "There's no cost to taking time to look at other options," he said.

"We have money within the budget that we should focus on freeing up to utilize." - Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton

The Republican sponsors of House Bill 1242 said they were disappointed. Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs hoped the testimony would compel committee members to at least help move the bill forward. If it eventually reached the Senate floor, it was predicted to easily pass.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, the other main sponsor, said now that the bill is defeated he doesn't know where the state will go from here.  

"We just so happen to think it's a core function of government to fund transportation infrastructure and giving the voters that chance is the least we can do," he said.

The measure would have put a half-cent sales tax increase before voters. If approved, it would have funded a $3.5 billion bond for statewide projects. A separate pot of money would have gone to local communities.

Supporters thought a unified transportation ballot measure coming from the legislature would have had the best chance of passing. It's unlikely a new transportation proposal would gain traction in the final weeks of the legislative session, which ends on May 10.

Outside groups are now expected to put measures on the November ballot.

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