Colorado transportation panel sorts through funding options |

Colorado transportation panel sorts through funding options

Steven K. Paulson
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Gov. Bill Ritter’s blue-ribbon panel Tuesday began looking for sources of funding for what lawmakers and politicians are calling Colorado’s quiet crisis of crumbling bridges and roads.

Options on the table include increases in fuel, sales and use, income, and property taxes; tolls; fees on such services as vehicle registration, and even selling the Colorado Lottery.

Lawmakers said the state needs transportation funding that is predictable, accountable and sustainable, and voters need to know what they’re getting in return.

“We have a national crisis in transportation,” said state Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, adding that $4-a-gallon gas isn’t going away soon.

Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, said lawmakers need a bipartisan plan to get more money for roads and people who are willing to take the political heat for plans that are sure to provoke criticism.

“The state itself needs to have a little pain in this game,” Marostica told the panel.

Ritter last week announced he was continuing the panel for another year, saying that federal transportation funding is being cut by a third, state revenues are declining, and maintenance, repair and construction costs are climbing. The current funding formula of registration fees, user fees and state money is not sustainable, he said.

“It’s not responsible to continue delaying. It threatens our overall quality of life and our economy,” Ritter told the semiannual meeting of Colorado Counties Inc., a coalition of county governments.

In December, Ritter’s Blue Ribbon Transportation Finance and Implementation Panel said maintenance of roads and bridges should be the state’s first priority, and that Colorado should spend $500 million annually to do so. They said that is a third of the funding the state needs to improve transportation. Lawmakers, however, failed to come up with funding.

The panel noted 17 percent of Colorado’s bridges have significant deterioration or don’t meet current design standards. Seven percent were structurally deficient in 2006 and 10 percent were functionally obsolete. The panel also found that 8 percent of the state’s major roads are in poor condition.

The panel suggested raising auto registration fees, which would not require voter approval under the state’s tax- and spending-limits constitutional amendment. It also called for improving safety and reducing congestion with large-corridor construction projects; providing more mass transit; adding pedestrian and bike paths; and providing more money to local governments for roads and transit at a cost of $1.5 billion a year.

Other suggested sources of revenue include a 13-cent increase in the motor fuel tax, which would raise $351 million a year and require voter approval; a $6-a-day visitor fee for renting a car or staying in a hotel or motel, which does not require voter approval; an increase in the sales and use taxes on all retail sales to raise $312 million a year, which would require voter approval; and an increase in the severance tax on minerals by 1.7 percent to raise $96 million, which also would require voter approval.

Ritter said he wants the panel to narrow its recommendations and come up with a plan that may require voter approval.