Colorado Dems want permanent funding for transportation |

Colorado Dems want permanent funding for transportation

By JAMES ANDERSON, Associated Press

DENVER (AP) — Colorado’s Democratic House leadership said Wednesday any effort to create a permanent funding source to improve the state’s congested road network must not sacrifice education spending.

A month into Colorado’s four-month legislative session, House Speaker Crisanta Duran told reporters she’s “optimistically cautious” that talks with leaders in the Republican-led Senate will produce a possible ballot measure on paying for roads to be referred to voters.

Transportation funding was declared a top priority in 2017 by lawmakers of both parties. But a detailed proposal has yet to be introduced by anyone, and Senate Republican President Kevin Grantham suggested this week that talks have been difficult.

Colorado roads projects face a $9 billion backlog — plus a $1 billion maintenance bill each year.

Other government priorities, including making up for chronically underfunded K-12 spending, must not be further harmed by any roads deal, Duran said.

Republicans have insisted that roads funding — especially issuing bonds — be paid for from the general fund. Democrats say there’s no money to back bonds.

Complicating the task: General fund revenues will drop by at least $135 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1 because of a constitutional amendment that requires a reduction in residential property tax collections.

Already, per-pupil spending is set to decline by $122 under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposed 2017-18 fiscal year budget. Public education has been shortchanged for years under a budgeting gimmick that’s allowed the state to rack up an $876 million debt in that sector.

“We want to invest in transportation, but not at the expense of our kids,” Duran said. “It is imperative that we don’t continue to put a Band-Aid on our fiscal situation.”

Duran revived an idea rejected this year and last by Republican leaders: Using income from a state hospital fund to create breathing room for more spending. That proposal, which could have added $750 million to the state budget last year, went nowhere in the 2016 legislative session.

The GOP considers the fund, paid by hospitals to get matching funds from the federal government, a tax that counts toward annual state revenue limits under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

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