DENVER — The Colorado legislature on Tuesday night passed a bill that dedicates hundreds of millions of dollars to transportation projects and could prompt voters to decide whether the state borrows $2.34 billion to go toward an estimated $9 billion in infrastructure needs over the next decade.
The Senate voted unanimously Monday night — 35-0 — to approve a bipartisan compromise struck earlier this week by top lawmakers.
The bill has been sent to the governor.
“This is significant,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City. “When we get to look back on this endeavor, and what happened in the 2018 session, this is what I’m going to remember.”
The bill sets aside $645 million for transportation projects over the next two years.
It would also send voters a referendum in 2019 to issue $2.34 billion in transportation bonds. The state would owe up to $3.25 billion in borrowing costs over 20 years.
The bulk of the funding would be spent on state highway projects, with 15 percent set aside for
Outside groups might send voters other transportation funding options on the 2018 ballot. If any of them pass, the 2019 referendum would be canceled.
The passage of the legislation — Senate Bill 1 — is one of the largest policy accomplishments of this year’s legislative session, which ended Wednesday. The measure had been the subject of months of negotiations and debate.
“This is a win, and not for us folks,” Grantham added. “This is a win for our constituents and for Colorado.”
The deal first struck Monday represents far less than the $5 billion Republicans had sought to spend on borrowing. House Democrats argued that committing that much to transportation bonds would require cuts to education during the next economic downturn.
Both sides also emphasized that more money is needed. The state faces $9 billion in transportation needs over the next decade.
“It’s not enough, and that’s why we need to also see a ballot initiative pass,” said Duran, of Denver.
Business groups have been considering sending voters a ballot measure in November to raise taxes for roads, which Democrats support.
The Independence Institute, a conservative group, is pushing a competing measure of its own to boost transportation funding within the existing budget.
Not everyone was sold on the compromise. When the floor debate began Monday evening, House Republicans offered an amendment to restore the larger bonding proposal that the Senate had initially sought. It was rejected along party lines.
“Frankly, we are late to the party. We should’ve addressed this big commitment years ago,” said Rep. Paul Lundeen, a Republican from the suburban town of Monument. “Every day we delay, the problem gets worse, the roads depreciate, the cost of building them goes up, the cost of financing goes through the roof.”