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Politics and Government

Colorado legislature sends sweeping transportation fee and spending bill to governor

The legislation will impose new fees on fuel purchases, deliveries and rideshare trips, to generate billions of dollars to tackle Colorado's long list of transportation projects

Traffic moves along Colorado Highway 62 west of Ridgway on Jan. 9, 2020. (William Woody, Special to the Colorado Sun)
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Colorado lawmakers on Wednesday sent Senate Bill 260, a sprawling transportation fee and spending measure, to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk, taking one of the most extensive steps in years toward paying for the state’s lagging infrastructure.

Polis supported the measure and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will sign it into law. The bill deals with more than $5 billion over the next decade and emphasizes an electric-vehicle future, as well as mass transit, including a potential Front Range passenger rail system.

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The legislation will use new fees on the purchase of gasoline and diesel fuel, and on deliveries and rideshare trips, to generate billions of dollars to tackle Colorado’s long list of transportation projects. It also directs hundreds of millions of state budget funds to transportation projects, but also requires the Colorado Department of Transportation to consider greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals when planning new construction.

Senate Bill 260 was mostly backed by Democrats at the Capitol, who claimed the legislation represented a fair, balanced approach to moving the state’s transportation system forward.

House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, called his bill “the best solution for transportation funding that the state has ever had in the past 10 years.”

House Speaker Alec Garnett speaks at a news conference about how Democrats plan to spend $3.8 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“This anticipates the future,” he said. “That’s what legislation should do in this state.”

Republicans, however, see the measure as an attempt to skirt the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval for tax increases.

Americans for Prosperity Colorado and Colorado Rising Action, two conservative groups, have vowed to pursue a gas-tax decrease on the November 2022 ballot to counteract the new fees.

Republicans were especially upset that the bill undoes a bipartisan deal reached in 2018 at the legislature to ask voters to approve $1.3 billion in bonds for transportation projects. Senate Bill 260 cancels the ballot question.

There are also GOP concerns about how the measure increases the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights cap, the limit on how much tax revenue the state can keep and spend, by $225 million after it was lowered by that amount (minus inflation) in a bipartisan deal in 2017. 

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The measure was sent to Polis’ desk after winning final approval in the Colorado House on Wednesday by a 40-24 vote with one lawmaker excused. The Senate then approved changes to the bill, advancing it to the governor’s desk.

The new fees imposed by the bill include:

  • A 2 cents per gallon fee on gasoline and diesel fuel starting in July 2022 that increases 1 cent every year up to 8 cents
  • A 27-cent fee on deliveries, including those from Amazon, FedEx and Grubhub
  • A 30-cent-per-trip fee on Uber and Lyft rides starting in 2022 that would increase based on the federal Consumer Price Index. The fee would be cut in half for people carpooling in a rideshare, or riding in an electric vehicle.

While the passage of Senate Bill 260 was expected since the measure’s introduction in early May, it represents a major win for Democrats who promised to use their majorities in the House and Senate to tackle a long-elusive issue.

“I think this is something that should have been done years ago, if not decades ago,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat and prime sponsor of the transportation bill. “And we have a lot of catching up to do as a state and I think this is a huge down payment on getting us on a more sustainable path.” 

It’s not going to solve the problem, Fenberg said. But it will prevent the problem from continuing to worsen.

A large portion of the bill’s spending —$380 million — will come from the $3.8 billion Colorado was given through the American Rescue Plan, the federal coronavirus aid measure passed earlier this year.

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