How the political mood at the Capitol shifted toward a tax hike for roads

Republicans and Democrats are negotiating a deal to pump money into roads, but opposition is mounting

By Brian Eason and John Frank, The Denver Post
January 22, 2017

Colorado needs $9 billion to improve roads and alleviate traffic congestion in the next 10 years — a number so large that state lawmakers are entertaining a once-unthinkable solution: a tax hike.

Democratic and Republican leaders are negotiating a measure for the November ballot to increase taxes and generate billions of dollars for transportation projects across the state, including the expansion of Interstate 25 north and south of Denver and Interstate 70 through the mountains.

The early discussions represent a significant shift in the political mood at the Capitol, particularly in a state where all tax hikes must go to the voters and conservative forces hold immense influence. The proposal, most likely a sales-tax increase, is expected to include other tax cuts in the first years as an offset.

If the legislature referred a statewide tax hike to the ballot, it would be the first of its kind in 25 years.

The only other tax hike that lawmakers put on the ballot since the approval of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992 was Proposition AA in 2013 — which voters essentially sanctioned a year earlier with the passage of a constitutional amendment legalizing recreational pot sales.

Sandra Hagen Solin with Fix Colorado Roads, an organization pushing for a deal, said lawmakers are realizing “that the public is increasingly becoming frustrated with the transportation system.”

“It’s remarkable that the conversation is occurring,” she continued. “And I think that’s why we are encouraged by the potential of a solution being brought forward before the session ends.”

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