DENVER—Two top Republicans in the state legislature say nearly all the members from their party were cut out of the negotiating over the big transportation funding bill announced this week.
Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham rolled out the deal with much fanfare. It would ask voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund more road and transportation projects in Colorado, with a cut to vehicle registration fees as an offering meant to appease conservatives.
Appeased they are not.
Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Majority leader) says he only found out about the bill “the day prior” to its rollout, while Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Minority leader) says neither he nor any member of his caucus was consulted at all.
“I don’t think this is a Republican plan,” Neville said.
Holbert and Neville both argue that spending should be trimmed from the state general fund budget to help pay for roads.
CDOT has identified $9 billion in highway construction needs for the next ten years. The annual share of that, $900 million, equates to nearly one-tenth of the state general fund budget, and 94 percent of that budget goes to education, health and human services, and corrections.
Neville suggested they might be able to come up with $250 million by doing so, which would only amount to about a third of what the sales tax increase would raise. He and Holbert argue that a tax increase is at best premature without making a sizeable cut.
Holbert also said he “questions” the $9 billion figure from CDOT, while Neville hinted that the Trump administration might be able to help reduce the cost through infrastructure spending or by easing the environmental regulations on road construction.
A competing bill is likely to surface soon with a more conservative plan for funding transportation, Holbert said.
Meantime, Neville offered a sinister-sounding theory about why this deal to ask voters to raise taxes came to be.
“The other side of the aisle has been holding our commute hostage so that they could try to get a tax increase,” Neville said.
Pressed as to whether he meant that Democrats literally desire a tax increase more than they view it as the best way to raise funds for highway projects, Neville replied, “correct.”