Colorado could get over $500M from federal stimulus
DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado could get more than $500 million from the stimulus package now being considered in Congress.
Heather Copp, the chief financial officer for the state Department of Transportation, told state lawmakers Tuesday that Colorado would be in line to get about $422 million to pay for highway construction and another $100 million for transit projects under the current version of the bill.
She said there could also be additional money for aviation projects but warned the figures could change before a final bill is passed.
Under the proposal, any money Colorado gets would have to be spent quickly and must create visible jobs. Copp said that means only projects that have all their advance work, such as environmental impact studies, completed would qualify. She said state officials have been talking with city and county officials across the state to come up with a list of qualifying projects to make sure Colorado could spend all the money it is allocated.
State lawmakers are also considering increasing registration fees based on vehicle weight to raise about $250 million a year to pay for repairs to the state’s bridges and roads. The owners of passenger cars and smaller sport utility vehicles ” about 80 percent of Colorado drivers ” would pay an extra $41 a year. Trucks and buses would pay an extra $60 to $71 depending on their weight.
Gas tax revenue has traditionally paid for the bulk of transportation funding, but that money hasn’t been going as far since vehicles are able to travel more miles on a tank of gas than in the past. At the same time construction costs have gone up an average of 6 percent a year, according to transportation department director Russ George.
A decline in federal funding and a drop in state tax revenue because of the recession has compounded the problem. This year’s transportation budget is expected to be about $868 million, about half the amount the state spent two years ago.
“We’ve let it get too far. We’ve not kept up with inflation. We’ve not kept up with population,” said George, a former speaker of the House.
Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, said the state needs to find more money in its current budget to pay for roads before raising fees.
“In these difficult budget times there are going to be things that will fall off the table, and that is unfortunate,” McNulty said.
Gov. Bill Ritter has already recommended cutting $632 million from higher education, public education and health care to balance this year’s budget because of the expected drop in tax revenue.