DALLAS – Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper may call a special session of the General Assembly after a $3.5 billion highway funding bill failed in the 2017 regular session.
“We’re going to look at everything,” Hickenlooper said of his decision. “Obviously, transportation’s a big issue. We’re not even going to have enough money to fix I-25 north and south and I-70, let alone all the projects that have been identified across the state.”
While lawmakers provided $1.88 billion for transportation projects, Hickenlooper said that was insufficient to finish major Interstate 25 corridor projects or work needed along I-70, which is undergoing major redevelopment.
Funding the highway projects in the current bill requires the state to mortgage buildings.
Hickenlooper may also call for a bill to expand broadband communications in the state, which was one of his priorities as the session began. Only $9.5 million was provided in Senate Bill 267, which included the highway funding.
About 30% of rural Colorado lacks adequate high-speed Internet access, said Hickenlooper, who in January created a broadband office that would push the state from 70% coverage to 85% by the end of his term and 100% by 2020.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, the state has $9 billion of transportation funding needs.
“That need will only grow,” Hickenlooper said in a speech to lawmakers. “Voters are tired of us kicking the can down the road, because they know it’s going to land in a pothole.”
The bill that would have invested $3.5 billion in transportation died in a Senate Finance Committee in April despite bipartisan sponsorship from Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City. Republicans control the state Senate and Democrats control the House. Hickenlooper is a Democrat.
Republicans strongly opposed the highway funding measure, which would have required voter approval in November to increase the state’s sales tax from its current 2.9 cents per dollar to 3.4 cents.
In the last day of the session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 267, which featured a grab-bag of funding, including a boost in payments to hospitals and schools, mortgaging state buildings to generate $1.9 billion for transportation, and raising pot taxes to the maximum 15%. The bill also gives business owners a tax break and increases Medicaid co-pays for the poor.
Under the $26.8 billion budget lawmakers approved, spending will increase 4%. The final funding measure includes a 2.5% pay hike for most state employees, a $185 per-pupil increase in education spending, $15 million for an affordable housing program and $9.5 million to connect rural areas to high-speed internet.