GRAND JUNCTION " Signatures to get a transportation-funding measure on the November ballot will be submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State today, according to one of the initiative's backers, Grand Junction Republican Sen. Josh Penry.
Initiative 120, also known as the Severance Tax and Transportation Initiative, needs 76,047 valid signatures to get on the ballot.
The state splits severance tax money (paid by companies that take minerals out of state land) between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Local Affairs. Initiative 120 would leave DOLA be but would cap Department of Natural Resources funding at last year's funding levels and increase only by inflation rates. The extra money " about $90 million a year " siphoned off the top that would have gone to the DNR would be spent on transportation.
DNR spokesman Mike King expressed concern earlier this month that last year's DNR funding was 50 percent lower than the money they got earlier this month for the rest of the fiscal year due to severance tax fluctuations. Penry said DNR functions shouldn't suffer because of the initiative, including those that involve water.
The Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Transportation estimated a year ago the state needs $1.5 billion a year to get increasingly traveled Colorado roads like Interstate 70 back into the shape they were in a few years ago. The state gave $1.3 billion to transportation this year. Of that amount, $445 million came from the federal government.
Grand Junction Democratic Rep. Bernie Buescher said Monday that federal component will be cut by approximately $250 million next year. Add that to increasing gas prices, less travel, less gas tax revenue and rising construction costs, and legislators have a tricky transportation funding formula to solve.
Buescher said he's open to whatever possibilities come before the Legislature next year, but he'd prefer to start with redirecting existing revenues and finding efficient practices in the system before looking at new or increased fees and taxes.
Instead of having a set fund with a reliable allocation every year, the state currently pays for transportation with money left over from the general fund above a 6 percent annual growth limit. Penry said that's just one of the problems with transportation funding in the state.
"If we're going to say transportation is a priority with a straight face, we need to make it a priority in our budget," he said.
The initiative is meant as a "down payment" on transportation needs, Penry said. He is also advocating for Colorado Plus One, a legislative measure that would recycle the 1 percent of taxable income that currently goes to higher education, K-12 education and prisons and put it into transportation. The amendment is due to sunset in 2011.
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