DENVER – The state’s big transportation deal went before a committee Wednesday night in the Colorado General Assembly, and turnout from people who are concerned showed something must be done to fix deteriorating roads.
House Bill 1242, which would use a sales tax increase and existing revenue to raise roughly $677 million annually for the next 20 years and allow the state to bond for up to $3.5 billion to repair and expand Colorado’s transportation infrastructure, was heard by the House Transportation and Energy Committee.
Late Wednesday night, the committee was still hearing testimony from the 79 individuals who signed up to testify.
The bill, sponsored by leadership from both chambers and would require approval by voters, has been described as a starting point for talks and compromises.
Despite these claims, the only lawmakers who have spoken against HB 1242 are Republicans who quickly announced they intend to vote against the bill because it fails to provide a revenue-neutral solution for its first year.
Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, said lawmakers must act because funding is inadequate and largely dependent on a 22-cent gasoline tax that has not gone up since the early 1990s.
“Our goal in Colorado is to have a state where no one is taken for granted and no one is left behind. Piecemeal transportation measures will create a disjointed system where some communities thrive while others continue to struggle,” she said.
The problems committee members and witnesses struggled with: How should new revenue be raised and how should the dollars be divvied up?
Lance Waddill, whose family owns Performance Cycle of Colorado in Centennial, said his company opposed the sales tax increase because it would harm small businesses that are already struggling with online retailers who can avoid sales taxes.
“Online purchasing is growing exponentially every year, most tax-free, of course. Are we going to be here again next year to propose higher sales tax?” he asked.
Proponents said a sales tax increase was the best option. But they offered various proposals on allocating the funds and how much should go to the CDOT. Currently, the bill allocates a flat $300 million per year for CDOT.
Many who testified sought to give CDOT a certain percentage annually so if the overall sales tax collections went up the agency would see increased funding.
Local perspectiveRep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, said Durango City Councilor Sweetie Marbury has expressed concern over use of a sales tax increase.
“She said, rightfully so, our sales tax will be as high as Houston’s. … So, we have to work with them (bill sponsors) to say: ‘How could you cut down some of your sales tax,’” McLachlan said.
Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said the county has not taken a stance on the measure nor on a proposed sales tax increase. However, county officials are monitoring HB 1242 closely
“There’s recognition that there’s a need for funding all sorts of infrastructure,” Graham said.
Mike McVaugh, transportation director for CDOT’s Region 5, which includes Durango, was optimistic about how Southwest Colorado fared in the bill.
“It would be enormous,” McVaugh said. “You kinda look at our asset program right now (with) $755 million; this would allow us to target high-priority projects that do not have funding … and we could really target some larger projects ... ”
For La Plata County, McVaugh said, this could lead to completion of the Grandview Interchange, widely known locally as the Bridge to Nowhere.
But the first step is to review the list of priority projects in Region 5 so it can be put in the state’s voter information guide if the tax increase goes to a vote in November.
“Literally, I walked out of a meeting a few minutes ago saying ‘this is your marching order: To go get that analysis done so we can prepare that package and be ready to share it publicly,’” he said.