DENVER – The last-minute attempt to fix Colorado’s crumbling roads suffered a blowout Tuesday at the Capitol.
Senate Bill 303, which would have dedicated 5 percent of sales tax revenue to transportation infrastructure and ask voters to approve a $3.5 billion bonding measure, was debated at length by the Senate.
This was done in spite of there not being enough time in the session for SB 303 to make it through the legislative process before adjournment on Wednesday.
Even if there was time, its passage was dubious at best, as similar attempts have been uniformly swatted down by Democrats in the House.
Despite the inevitable failure of SB 303, Sens. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and John Cooke, R-Greeley, pushed for it to receive floor debate, eating up time that could have been used on legislation that could be passed into law.
“I thought it was important that we at least lay out some of the things we designed into this bill to try and address what we feel is really the need as opposed to some of the bills we’ve seen,” Neville said.
With SB 303 no longer in play, it leaves SB 267, the hotly debated Hospital Provider Fee reclassification bill sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, that bonds $2 billion for transportation and other construction, as the only avenue for transportation relief this session.
These bonds would not be dependent on voter approval but rather be financed through the selling of Certificates of Participation, which are the governmental equivalent of taking out a second mortgage on state buildings.
The issuing of COPs of this magnitude has drawn criticism from some members of the GOP, including Neville, who sees it as a workaround of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval for traditional methods of increasing state debt.
GOP leadership in the Senate is split on the use of certificates for bonding, with Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, being against it and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, in support.
Either way, the bond amount in SB 267 falls short of the $2.5 billion in “shovel ready” projects identified as priorities by the Colorado Department of Transportation, but it would take Colorado closer to fixing its roads.
“It does enough for now,” Grantham said.
SB 267 has already been passed through the Senate and was approved upon second reading by the House after a marathon session on the floor that started Monday evening and wrapped up after 2 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Because of legislative rules, a bill cannot receive second and third reading by a chamber in the same day, and the final vote for SB 267 will come on Wednesday, the final day of the legislative session.
Unless something unforeseen happens, the bill is expected to clear the House and head to the governor for signing into law.
Even if SB 267 receives approval by the Legislature, there is sure to be additional legislation next session as well as initiatives on the November ballot.
Each of these will ask voters to approve some level of debt, while either tasking lawmakers with finding funding in existing revenue or raising sales tax to pay for bonds.