Local lawmakers weigh in on state Democrats' transportation fee plan

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 5/11/21

A proposal to boost Colorado’s roads and other transportation infrastructure has garnered support from what one south metro Democrat calls a “historic coalition” — but Republican holdouts are …

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Local lawmakers weigh in on state Democrats' transportation fee plan

Posted

A proposal to boost Colorado’s roads and other transportation infrastructure has garnered support from what one south metro Democrat calls a “historic coalition” — but Republican holdouts are sure to voice opposition.

“We have billions coming from the federal government — and possibly billions more from an infrastructure package — and Colorado Democrats decide to impose fees on every Coloradan?” state Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican of Parker, said through a spokesperson. “I support funding for roads and bridges, but I oppose this effort. Democrats have avoided investing in our roads and bridges for years, and it’s not right to punish Coloradans for their failures.”

The Democrats’ proposal, Senate Bill 21-260, announced on May 4, would raise about $3.8 billion in new revenue via fees such as the “road usage fee” — essentially a tax on gasoline — that would start at 2 cents per gallon and go up 1 cent annually to 8 cents. It would then be indexed to, or adjusted automatically for, inflation.

Democrats argue the proposal would provide long overdue funds after years of failed legislative attempts and failed ballot measures that asked voters to raise transportation funding.

“This is a reasonable and balanced approach to ensure that neither drivers, nor one particular industry, have to shoulder the entire burden of addressing our inadequate and outdated transportation funding levels,” state Rep. Meg Froelich, an Englewood Democrat, said in a statement.

The funding could support several critical projects in the south Denver metro region, including the Interstate 25 and Belleview Avenue interchange (a $22 million project) and a project along I-25 at the Denver Tech Center (costing $10 million), according to Froelich. 

Supporters of the proposal have “brought together the business community, transit advocates, labor unions, and local government leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, to build a historic coalition,” Froelich said in the statement.

“Coloradans are sick and tired of sitting in traffic, replacing flat tires and spending thousands on vehicle repairs because our road conditions are some of the worst in the country,” state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat of Centennial, said in a statement. “We’re falling behind and losing our competitive edge to our neighboring states that have fixed their transportation funding challenges. This bill will create tens of thousands of good jobs, improve our air quality and modernize our broken transportation funding system.”

Republican state Reps. Kevin Van Winkle, of Highlands Ranch, and Kim Ransom, of Douglas County, did not respond for comment.

Taxes can be spent by the Colorado General Assembly however lawmakers determine, while a fee must be spent on a specific purpose set in state law. In the case of state Senate Bill 21-260, fees would go to funding sources that must spend the money on transportation services directly related to fees, according to a state House Democrats spokesman. For example, the road usage fee will go into the Highway User Tax Fund, and electric vehicle fees will go into an enterprise that supports electric vehicle infrastructure, such as charging stations. 

Reporter Elliott Wenzler contributed to this story.

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