Lawmakers Agree To Boost Transportation Funding By $70 Million In State Budget

<p>CPR News</p>
Photo: State Capitol Rotunda Flags HV 20190102

State lawmakers in both parties have reached an agreement to put an extra $70 million for transportation in this year’s budget, bringing the total to $300 million.

The push for more road funding originated in the Senate, where Republicans successfully spearheaded a budget amendment to add $106 million for transportation. But all sides agreed to the lower amount.

“Any additional funding towards repairing our roads is a win for Coloradans,” Senate Republican spokesman Sage Naumann said. “While the number falls short of our goal, we are hopeful that the agreement holds and we see the additional investment in our transportation infrastructure.”

In announcing the deal, House Democratic leaders repeatedly called it a “responsible” approach to balancing the state’s priorities. The budget deal is a significant compromise in a legislative session marked by sharp partisan and intra-party divisions, and a lawsuit on legislative procedure.

Earlier this week it didn’t look like the last-minute Senate deal would withstand House scrutiny. The Colorado Education Association worried it would take money from K-12 schools, and Democrats were concerned that it didn’t specify what programs would face cuts to make room for transportation spending.

“When the amendment was drafted, I kind of got a little chuckle and said sure, we’ll be able to just dig in and find that,” Rep. Daneya Esgar said earlier this week. The Democrat from Pueblo serves on the powerful joint budget committee, which crafts the budget.

The Speaker of the House KC Becker also expressed reservations.

“We all want to fund transportation but just saying fund transportation, figure out where it is, we need probably a little more specificity than that," Becker said.

But on Thursday the House signed off on $70 million. The transportation funding is not earmarked for particular infrastructure projects or transit. And it’s not clear where the money will come from, but lawmakers pledged not to cut any money from K-12 or higher education.

Democrats have emphasized the ways in which this budget prioritizes education. It back fills some money that was cut in K-12 schools during the Great Recession and raises per-pupil spending by almost $330. It also holds college tuition steady and begins funding for Gov. Jared Polis’ top priority, full-day kindergarten.

A final vote in the House is expected on Friday.

Passing a balanced budget is the only thing lawmakers are constitutionally required to do.