Home / World News / “Battle lines are clearly drawn” as familiar debate roils at state Capitol

“Battle lines are clearly drawn” as familiar debate roils at state Capitol

The fight over transportation dollars in the 2018 legislative session is starting on a familiar, intractable dynamic: Republicans pushing to squeeze more transportation dollars out of Colorado’s $11.5 billion general fund. And Democrats pushing back with the argument that more revenue is needed.

After a $3.5 billion transportation measure couldn’t clear the state Senate during this nonelection year for lawmakers, the odds are stacked against anything of that magnitude passing the legislature in 2018, when looming state elections are likely to make compromise that much more difficult.

The good news for traffic-weary Coloradans: Implementation is underway for the consolation prize of last session, Senate Bill 267, which authorized $1.9 billion in financing for transportation projects.

The bad news? Construction is still a year or more away, because that money is coming from 20-year mortgage-like certificates on state buildings and officials are still identifying the structures to use as collateral. Further, the funding falls well short of the need, which CDOT estimates at $9 billion over a decade.

The implementation of Senate Bill 267 — the wide-ranging measure that boosted money to highways and rural schools while exempting a hospital fee from the state’s spending caps — has drawn mixed reviews in recent weeks from lawmakers, who largely praised a preliminary project list approved by the state Transportation Commission.

True to the letter of the law, the projects are scattered across the state, addressing major Front Range headaches such as I-25 and I-70, while sending money to rural highways located everywhere from the Wyoming state line all the way down to the Four Corners area in southwest Colorado.

But many conservatives have questioned whether the governor’s budget proposal followed the spirit of the law, which also required that state agencies look for 2 percent budget cuts across the board. The governor’s budget office was required to “strongly consider” the budget cuts suggested by each department in crafting Gov. John Hickenlooper’s state budget proposal for 2018-19.

During a recent budget hearing, Henry Sobanet, the governor’s budget director, told lawmakers he found the exercise “useful” and believed his office followed the law. While state agency budgets didn’t shrink by 2 percent across the board, the governor’s proposal does set aside more than that amount to replenish the state’s reserves and pay back school districts for prior budget cuts.

Traffic builds up on I-25 at ...

John Leyba, The Denver Post

Traffic builds up on I-25 at Alameda on Nov. 30, 2017 in Denver.

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