Bill to increase funding for highways hits major road block

The transportation bill that would ask all of us to increase our state sales tax to fund road improvements is facing a major detour.

KUSA - Get ready for road clichés.

The transportation bill that could potentially ask us to approve a tax increase has hit a major road block.

House Bill 1242 was unveiled last month with support of House Democratic leaders and Senate Republican leaders.

At the time, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said there was a lot of work to be done beyond the drafting of the bill.

In short, the original bill called for the state sales tax to be increased from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent, with a decrease in our vehicle registration fees.

The bill was amended in the House to shrink the sales tax increase to 3.4 percent.

It has its first committee hearing in the Senate next week, and on Thursday morning, Grantham waved the caution flag when the bill ended up in a speed bump.

"Right now, we can't count to the three votes in order to make it happen," said Grantham.

Democratic Senators Lois Court and Daniel Kagan support the legislation, while Republican Senators Tim Neville, Owen Hill and Jack Tate are currently "no" votes.

"Any time you talk about a tax increase, this is difficult for us on our side, and I knew I was climbing a steep hill. Even to talk about it sometimes is anathema," said Grantham.

Don't worry, we had to look up "anathema" also, which means someone or something intensely disliked or loathed, according to Merriam-Webster.

"The steep hills that we had to climb to go through the Senate with a tax increase proposal were always there in front of us, we just always held out hope," said Grantham.

Capitol reporters happened to be in the hallway, when Tate appeared. AP reporter Kristen Wyatt posted some of the interview on Twitter.

"I'm not going to be supporting a tax increase unless we've done the other things we can do first, and that means other people being willing to go along with things that they don't want to do," said Tate, with "other people" alluding to Democrats.

We asked Grantham if he should have known that his own caucus would be supportive of the tax increase before he agreed to sponsor the bill.

"There is a sense that maybe that should have happened. I've been very vocal and very upfront from the very beginning on this. I'm not going to game the system. I'm not going to manipulate things in order to make it happen. It's going to be a legitimate end to the process," said Grantham. "The committees are not going to be finagled and flipped around and juggled in order to accommodate the (Senate) President. It has to be legitimate from beginning to end and if it hits a snag because of that, I'm OK with that because it's legitimate in how it goes through the process."

Most Republicans are against any tax increase, instead preferring to reallocate funds the state already uses, if not reducing funds in certain areas. Grantham surprised us with what he said next.

"We talk about core governmental functions, and transportation infrastructure is a core governmental function, and if we're going to raise taxes for anything, we should be able to do it for that, but then comes in the argument of prioritizing existing money," said Grantham. "Still hopeful, not real, what's the word? Optimistic."

He said even if lawmakers can't come to a compromise, he expects citizen groups to put something on the ballot in November.

Even if lawmakers do pass legislation with a sales tax increase, we would have to vote on that in November in order to approve the tax hike, which could be another bump in the road.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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