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Colorado lawmakers introduce 2021 transportation fee bill

Fees would raise about $3.8 billion over next 11 years, coupled with $1.5 billion from general fund
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Posted at 6:46 PM, May 04, 2021

DENVER – State lawmakers unveiled their much-awaited transportation bill on Tuesday, saying 2021 is the year Colorado lawmakers will finally take action on such a measure after years of stalemates at the state Capitol and ballot box.

The Democratic sponsors of the bill, SB21-260, were joined by Gov. Jared Polis, Republican State Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, also a Republican, and the presidents of Colorado Concern and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, among others, to unveil the bill they first previewed in March.

Some has changed since then, but the core of the effort remains the same: leveraging fee increases and new fees on gasoline, diesel, ride-sharing services, retail orders and electric vehicle registrations to come up with about $3.8 billion over the next 11 years and pairing that with about $1.5 billion in contributions from the general fund, for a package estimated at about $5.3 billion.

The fuel fee increases now would start at 2 cents per gallon in mid-2022 and increase yearly up to 8 cents – a small change from the earlier version. The latest version keeps in place the 30-cent-per trip fee on ride-share service drivers and a 15-cent-per-trip fee for car pools. The fee on delivery fees for online retail orders is up to 27 cents from 25 cents in the previous version.

The sponsors say the package, if passed in its current form, would cost each driver about $28 in the first year. They said the package helps push one of Colorado’s top needs to the front of the queue of state priorities and to continue to work toward a future with primarily electric vehicles and more and different modes of transportation to cut down on carbon emissions as the state population continues to grow rapidly.

“This is the year we’ll make it happen,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, as he announced the measure. He and other top Democrats said if the bill is passed and signed into law, it would help put Colorado back toward equal footing with neighboring states in terms of road quality and multi-modal transportation, and would ideally make the state a national leader in implementing more electric vehicle infrastructure.

Priola is currently the only Republican sponsor of the bill, but support from Republicans is mostly new to this year’s transportation push, which has generally faced staunch opposition from nearly all Republican lawmakers in years past.

Priola said he was confident that the package, if passed, would bring jobs to his district, better roads, and would be a sustainable funding source “that won’t be able to be monkeyed with by future legislatures.”

Suthers said that while he often does not support measures from the Democratic-held General Assembly, he was supporting this one because he believes “Colorado must move forward.” He said Senate Bill 260 was “the best, most collaborative” effort he has yet seen to do so.

“I’m a political realist and I understand political compromise,” Suthers said. “And I don’t see a better package coming from the legislature or the voters anytime soon, and I strongly believe we simply can’t kick this can down the road any longer.”

Kelly Brough, the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supports the bill because it secures more needed funding and invests in the state’s future.

Priola said he believes that the fees would hold up under Colorado’s TABOR law, which requires any tax increases to be voted on by residents, and said he believed the new enterprises was “the right way to go.”

“For decades our transportation infrastructure has been deteriorating and Coloradans have been paying the price. From ballooning commute times to increased wear and tear on our vehicles, the state of our roads is costing us all far too much,” Priola said in a statement.

Voters have repeatedly rejected ballot questions that would have put money in state coffers to fix roads in recent years – including in 2018, where a measure to borrow money to finance more than $3 billion in highway projects was rejected, as was a measure that would have raised the state sales tax to fund transportation projects.

A conservative group, Americans for Prosperity Colorado, is planning to try to run a ballot question in 2022 that would lower the gas tax in response to the proposal unveiled Tuesday, the group told Denver7 on Monday.

Part of the push by the Democratic lawmakers to raise certain fees and establish new ones is because voters have not approved a gas tax increase since 1991. It currently sits as the 10th lowest in the country, and Colorado faces a transportation project backlog of about $9 billion.

“With today’s action, we are putting forward an unprecedented step towards tackling emissions from the transportation sector and advancing the fight against climate change, which poses an existential threat to our state and communities,” said Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “Colorado is leading by example as the nation takes on the reality that transportation is now the number one source of emissions.”

The lawmakers were also joined by representatives from Lyft, SMART Union, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project and the mayors of Boulder and Denver for the announcement.

However, a rideshare driver who spoke with Denver7 said fees hurt employees because they dig into rider tips.

“Eight cents doesn't seem like a whole lot, but it does kind of hurt the bottom line," said Benjamin Malecki, a driver for Postmates. “I think there's other ways that they can make the money for the roads without having to come out of consumers’ pockets in that way.”

The bill’s first hearing will be in the Senate Finance Committee, but a hearing date has not yet been scheduled.