Blog: For the General Assembly, it’s day 121

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Gov. John Hickenlooper

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday that he’s considering calling a special session of the legislature on Monday that would focus on transportation.

Despite legislative approval of a catchall omnibus bill which removed the Hospital Provider Fee from the General Fund and authorized the state to issue $2 billion in secured debt to fund transportation projects, Hickenlooper believes that more funding is crucial.

That’s because the omnibus bill, SB17-267, titled Sustainability of Rural Colorado, allocates 25 percent of the funding to unspecified rural projects and 10 percent to transit over a four-year period, leaving approximately $300 million annually for other projects. That, the governor explained, won’t be enough to fix problems on Interstate 25 and I-70, let alone deal with $9 billion in identified needs across the state.

“We have more work to do to solve transportation challenges,” tweeted Denver Metro Chamber CEO Kelly Brough on Thursday, “either in a special session or next session.”

Earlier in the session, leaders of both parties agreed to support a bill that would seek voter support for a state sales tax hike. The proposed amount, originally set at 0.62 percent, had been reduced to 0.50 percent and coupled with a reduction in vehicle registration fees, but it still didn’t pass muster with Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) who joined two other Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee to kill the bill on a 3-2 vote. Co-sponsored by Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City), the bill had attracted bipartisan support in the House. Backers thought that they had the votes to pass it on the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate, but the Finance Committee blocked it from further consideration.

Hill has no regrets.

“I am the vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee,” Hill said in an email to his constituents this morning, “and we Republicans on the committee defeated a sales tax increase that would have further burdened every family in Colorado.”

Grantham doesn’t think that Hickenlooper’s special session will amount to much.

“I appreciate the governor’s desire to get things done,” said Grantham on Thursday. “But we had an opportunity for him to have engaged on these issues during a 120-day session, and now it’s Day 121. Unless the governor can point to successes on any of these issues he’s guaranteed to have, he’ll just be wasting taxpayer dollars. If he wants a tax hike, is there a legislature that’s going to put that on the ballot for him now? Not this legislature, as we’ve already seen.”

Given Grantham’s reaction, it seems unlikely that a special session will result in a referred sales tax measure. That might clear the way for initiated measures. Six slightly different proposals have been filed by the Colorado Contractors’ Association and two by the Independence Institute. The contractors’ measures call for dedicated sales taxes while the Independence Institute’s two proposals re-allocate existing state resources.

The Institute’s initiatives, picturesquely called “Fix Our Damned Roads,” would require the legislature to identify existing revenue streams to fund either $2.5 or $3.5 billion in 20-year revenue anticipation notes. It’s not clear where the revenue might be found, other than through major cuts to existing programs.