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Transportation Advocates Concerned About Lack Of State Funding Proposals

Mar 15, 2019
Originally published on March 18, 2019 10:58 am

Colorado lawmakers are now more than halfway through the legislative session, and they’ve debated at length over oil and gas regulations and how the state votes for presidents.

But one issue has been notably absent so far from the agenda: Transportation funding.

It’s been four months since voters rejected two tax measures that would have provided billions of dollars worth of funding for the state’s roads and bridges.

The one transportation funding bill that has been introduced in the legislature hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing yet.

And senators who confirmed Shoshana Lew, the state’s new transportation director, in February didn’t ask her any questions at her 10-minute confirmation.

Instead, the lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee took turns reminiscing about road trips they had taken to Rhode Island, where Lew is from.

Their meeting adjourned without any substantive discussion about the future of the state’s transportation funding.

Transportation Commissioner Kathy Connell, who helps oversee how the state spends its money on roads, is concerned because she doesn’t think the issue has emerged as a priority this session.

“One of the things we’re talking about on the commission is how do we get our new governor to see transportation as a top priority?” she said last month after a commission meeting in Denver. “As you know, he’s so interested in childhood education. So, it’s a matter of education and time.”

Connell said she’d like to get Gov. Jared Polis to ride along with her on I-70 on a Friday or busy ski weekend.

Polis has said getting funding for full-day kindergarten is his top priority in the early months of his tenure. During his state of the state address to lawmakers, he said the word ‘transportation’ just two times.

By comparison, he mentioned ‘health care’ 22 times.

Connell thinks early childhood education is easier to market than transportation funding, which she said is complex and sometimes hard to understand.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers who control both chambers of the legislature have been saying for months there are transportation proposals in the works.

But specifics have been hard to come by. Some are trying to downplay expectations that lawmakers can solve a multi-billion dollar funding issue.

“There are sure to be bills coming through that will address some of the transportation needs in the state,” state Sen. Lois Court, D-Denver, said Monday. “All of them? No. We need more revenue to accomplish everything that needs to be done. $9 billion dollars is not going to be found in sofa cushion change.”

Court said she wasn’t aware of the specifics of bills that are being worked on.

The one transportation funding bill that has been introduced is sponsored by Republican senators John Cooke and Ray Scott.

They want to raise the state’s general fund investment in transportation by $190 million. Cooke is accusing Democrats of shelving his bill.

“House Democrats, Senate Democrats, the governor don’t have a plan,” he said Monday. “I think they’re holding on to (my bill) because they don’t have a plan.”

The state’s transportation commissioners say they face a shortfall that totals more than $1 billion each year.

Rocky Scott, a commissioner from El Paso County, said the two ballot measures that voters rejected would have allowed the state to cover about $7 billion worth of projects over the next decade.

The projects awaiting funding range from a renovation of Interstate 70 at Floyd Hill in the mountains to an expansion of the state’s regional Bustang service.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Eleven public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.