New Colorado governor says he will push for transportation funding

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis promised to pursue new funding measures for transportation while seeking to make the state’s system of taxation more fair and productive.

“To keep our economy moving in the right direction, we must upgrade our antiquated roads and highways and limited public transit options,” Polis said in his first State of the State address Thursday in Denver. “They are simply not equipped to sustain a growing 21st-century economy.”

Polis was sworn in Tuesday. He succeeds fellow Democrat John Hickenlooper.

Polis praised his predecessor’s attempts to find long-term solutions to transportation funding in a state that does not issue general obligation bonds.

“Thanks to the bipartisan commitment made last year to dedicate additional funds to transportation, we have hundreds of millions of dollars to improve our roads over the next few years,” Polis said. “That’s a strong foundation to work from but it’s not enough. We must come together around a bipartisan funding mechanism for our future transportation needs that the voters of this state will accept.”

In the November election that sent Polis to the governor’s mansion and gave Democrats control of the General Assembly, voters rejected two transportation funding measures designed to put the state on a more sustainable course.

About 61% of voters opposed Proposition 109, which would have let the state borrow up to $3.5 billion in 2019 for transportation projects. About 59% rejected Proposition 110, which would have raised the state sales tax by 0.62 percent and allowed up to $6 billion in borrowing to fund transportation needs.

“We’re not going to be talking about bonding with no new revenue,” Polis said in press comments before his inauguration. “We’re not going to be talking about an 0.62% sales tax. But every other idea, we want to bring to the table and discuss, to try.”

The 2019 General Assembly is expected to between $956.8 million and $1.22 billion in surplus revenue to put toward education, transportation and other priorities in the 2019-20 budget, according to forecasts from state economists.

Colorado’s economic growth “has continued at a healthy pace in 2018,” according to the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting. “Employment growth has been strong, while wage growth has outpaced inflation each month for the past year. Oil and gas production continue to set record highs, but recent price declines may limit growth.”

Slower economic growth globally and the persistent trade war are factors that could lead to recession, economists said. The tariff dispute is particularly concerning for agriculture and business costs, the forecast said. As an energy producing state, Colorado is also vulnerable to the recent downturn in oil prices.

Polis, who represented the environmentally progressive city of Boulder during his years in Congress, is expected to add pressure to oil and gas interests in the state.

“We want to take advantage of the huge opportunities associated with being a leader in the growing green-energy economy,” Polis said in his state-of-the-state address. “Our commitment to reaching 100% renewable energy by 2040 is not just about climate change. It’s about saving money for consumers with cheaper energy, and it’s about making sure the good-paying green jobs of the future are created right here in Colorado.”

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State budgets State tax revenues Transportation industry Jared Polis State of Colorado Colorado