A bill introduced in the state Legislature by the Democratic speaker of the House and the Republican Senate president would seek voter approval to raise the state sales tax to help pay for Colorado's transportation needs.
Colorado's growing population and overburdened roadways have put transportation at the forefront of this legislative session, which began in January and ends in May. House Bill 1242, if approved at the Capitol, would request a 0.62 percent increase in the state sales tax on the November ballot, raising the tax to 3.52 percent.
A joint news release issued by House and Senate leadership said about $680 million would be generated, and much of that would be distributed to city and county governments for local transportation priorities.
Members of a coalition of business and community leaders called FixItCO applauded the introduction of HB 1242.
“The announcement today is good news for Coloradans,” said Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, who is the chairman of the Metro Mayors Caucus Transportation Task Force. “Without a significant investment in our infrastructure, our economy is at risk, our safety is at risk, and the cost to Colorado families in both time and money is increasing.”
The measure's sponsors include House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City. But while it has bipartisan support, that doesn't mean all Republicans in the Legislature are backing it.
House Republican Leader Patrick Neville, of Castle Rock, and Assistant House Republican Leader Cole Wist, of Centennial, came out strongly against HB 1242 on March 9, a day after the bill was introduced in the House.
“A $677 million tax increase is not the solution to Colorado's problems and I will aggressively oppose the passage of this bill,” Neville said. “I am very disappointed that House Republican leadership and the House Republican caucus was excluded from the discussions of this bill and expect significant opposition from House Republicans as a result."
Wist said the Legislature “needs to be spending time evaluating how it spends existing revenue” before it asks voters for a tax increase.
While Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, they are the minority in the House, which will make it tough to block the bill's passage there.
The Colorado Department of Transportation issued a statement from Executive Director Shailen Bhatt on the bill, saying it shows promise.
“We look forward to evaluating the proposal and participating in the crafting of the final legislation,” he said. “Colorado's state transportation system is faced with a $1 billion per year funding shortfall, which limits CDOT's ability to address congestion, mobility, and safety challenges.
“This initiative has the potential to save lives and improve the state's economic vibrancy. It will fund projects that address mobility issues on our major interstate highways as well as rural roads, add transit and transportation choice around the state, and provide local communities the flexibility and resources for their needs.”
A summary of the bill says the revenue generated from the tax increase would be used “solely for transportation infrastructure funding purposes.” CDOT would be allocated $300 million annually for the state highway fund. Of the remaining money, 70 percent would go to counties and municipalities for local projects.
"Every county and city in Colorado will share in the benefits from this transportation package," Duran said. "And we will insist on transparency and accountability, so that voters will know where their dollars are going and how they will be used. This package ... would be a major step forward for this state and firmly position us for growth and prosperity for the next 20 years."