Dome to Home: HB17-1242: Transportation Funding
Here is the latest installment in the ongoing effort to keep you informed about critical issues here at Dome to Home. One of the most pressing issues is transportation funding as addressed in HB 17-1242. I wanted to give you the facts and rationale behind it and then you can decide for yourself whether you like this proposal or not.
As of right now the bill has passed the final vote in the House with bipartisan support and is on its way to the Senate Transportation committee. Several amendments were passed which goes to show that this bill is a work in progress and amendments mean opinions about solutions are being explored and accepted. I’m especially pleased with Representative Jon Becker’s amendment in Transportation committee to eliminate the FASTER vehicle registration late fees which is burdensome, especially to rural citizens. There was a lot of testimony on this bill and I’m very grateful for that and am looking forward to this discussion as the bill progresses.
About the bill itself, it is all about consent of the people, transparency, accountability, and deliberate, purposeful spending. This bill is not the end of the conversation but the beginning of a more difficult conversation with new ideas and many hard discussions. This bill is not perfect and has many things that both sides find disagreeable if not unacceptable. It is a work in progress and gives us a framework for discussion and the possibility of actually getting something through two diverse chambers, signed by the Governor, and approved ultimately by the voters of Colorado. We could have proposed a bill or series of bills that could swiftly pass the Senate and then promptly die in a House committee. That is easy. But if we actually want to see real change for your transportation needs, if we want to see something of substance done, then we have to do the difficult things, the tough things, to make a difference. That is why I have proposed this legislation which I believe is our best chance of success to solve the infrastructure and traffic issues seen and felt by each and every one of us.
So what is this bill? First and foremost this is a ballot question to be voted on by Coloradans. It’s important to me that the citizens of this state get a say not only on whether they will increase their taxes but also on where their money is being spent. It is important also that we remain constitutionally compliant in that we ask for your permission to do this. This proposal keeps faith with taxpayers by complying with both the letter and spirit of TABOR.
This bill temporarily increases the sales tax for 20 years which will generate an estimated $715 million in its first full year. This money will go towards transportation infrastructure. Because it goes into the Highway Users Tax Fund (HUTF), this money will not be diverted anywhere else. The bill requires the 2017 ballot booklet that explains the language of the proposal you are voting on to outline specific projects to be funded. Aside from that, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) must report to the Joint Budget Committee, the Audit Committee, the House Transportation Committee, the Senate Transportation Committee, and all reports from CDOT will be made public and available on their website. Accountability is key to me and I want to make sure this money will not be squandered, hidden, nor wasted. In committee Representative Polly Lawrence proposed an amendment that I thought was a good idea. It would ensure competitively bid contracts are made public on the department’s website. This amendment is a great example of the input and ideas my Republican colleagues are working on to put into this bill.
In regards to funding, the first $375 million will be used to finance $3.5 billion in transportation construction bonds, for use on an already established and vetted list of statewide infrastructure priorities. The remaining is apportioned with 70% going directly to counties and municipalities and the remainder to transportation options. In the bill right now is 30% funding going to multi-modal needs which some believe is too much, and maybe that is something I can explore and discuss further.
This bill, in whatever shape it looks after going through both the House and Senate, will be a compromise. I would not ask you to bear this burden alone. That is why I made sure the bill does address existing revenue. As a former Joint Budget Committee member, I know all too well how locked in the state budget actually is and how existing funds are hard to touch in order to pay for our transportation needs. Our current budget is hampered by a multitude of spending increases that are on autopilot. Many of these are within our state healthcare system and the Medicaid program. That being said there is a provision in the bill that requires $50 million a year in existing CDOT revenue dedicated toward transportation bond programs. I will continue to work on this to increase the dedicated source of funds that you have already paid to the state. In addition, this bill reduces the FASTER vehicle registration fees.
I’ve heard a lot of suggestions that we should instead raise the gas tax. A good idea in theory but ultimately counterproductive. Increased efficiency and fuel economy means more people and more cars on the road with less gas being bought. And with increased use of transit and other options many people are not paying for a system that clearly benefits them if it happens only through a gas tax. A sales tax at the very least enables us to collect from those who use heavily-subsidized transit and those who drive hybrids to help pay for transportation. A gas tax would not.
We must look far ahead into the future, a future where the sales tax from this bill is gone, the infrastructure is now sound and the highways and roads are robust and uncongested with traffic. In the mean time we must keep our focus on budget priorities, on cutting entitlement spending, repealing wasteful government programs, and implementing substantial tax breaks. Our population is growing and our roads continue to need better maintenance and expansion, but this proverbial can is continually kicked down the road.
It’s time to stop leaving the problem to others. It’s time to do what is needed for Colorado and put in place the long term solution for infrastructure funding that we all know is needed. The solution in front of us is not the final version. We are working toward that. The conversation is open. Your input is appreciated. Let’s roll up our sleeves and do this!
President Kevin J. Grantham