State Transportation Budget Largely on Autopilot, Sees Moderate Increase

Colorado’s transportation budget is likely to see a moderate increase this coming year of 3.5%, as state funding for transportation is largely governed by the complex maze of state constitutional amendments, ballot measures, and past legislative decisions.

In the 2007-2008 fiscal year, the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee recommends a budget of $1,062,135,447 for the Colorado Department of Transportation, with the bulk of those funds dedicated to construction, maintenance, and operations ($1,018,793,615), while $23,929,075 is recommended for administration.

Senate Republicans complain in a release on their website, however, that the legislature is raiding funds that would otherwise go to CDOT.

Juicy details to follow after the jump…House Transportation Committee Member Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) responds to the Republican criticism that transportation funds are being raided:

The Ref. C reforms, which many Republicans opposed, are what allows all these funds to be available for transportation in the first place.  Had the result of the Ref. C election been as the Republicans wanted it to be, none of this money would be available in the first place.  It is duplicitous to posture about protecting funds they didn’t want the state to have in the first place.

Fellow Transportation Committee Member Rep. Joe Rice (D-Littleton) echoes this view:

I am a huge supporter of transportation.  An effective transportation system is one of the key components of maintaining and improving our state’s economic viability and quality of life…

Most of the same people who are now leveling the accusation are those that opposed Referendum C.  Referendum C is putting something around $2 billion into transportation over the last 2 years and going into the coming 3rd year.  Opponents campaigned to block that.  If they had won — there would be nothing more for transportation.

Several Republican members of the House and Senate Transportation Committees were contacted to comment on this story, but none chose to do so.

Not all Republicans, though, feel transportation is being short changed.  Mark Couch of the Denver Post reports this morning that yesterday in the Colorado House, Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Jefferson County, and Rep. Jim Riesberg, D- Greeley, offered an amendment to shift some money from transportations to capital construction, but withdrew the amendment when Gov. Bill Ritter threatened to veto the provision.

While the overall transportation budget is set to increase by only 3.5%, funds dedicated to paying for highway construction and maintenance in the vicinity of Colorado’s gaming communities will see a significant increase of 171.8%, from $5,259,411 in 2006-07 to $14,292,757 in 2007-08.  These funds come from revenues into the Limited Gaming Fund, and thus are set by statute.

Much of the budget for CDOT is actually on “autopilot” as the legislature has opted not to dedicate any discretionary funds from the General Fund to CDOT.  Instead CDOT will benefit from requirements passed into law in previous years that guarantee overflow funds that are in excess of the state’s 6% statutory spending limit, including approximately $237 million this year will go to transportation from the General fund.  In addition, CDOT is expected to receive $58 million in funds from the “surplus” from the 2006-07 budget year, which will end June 30.

The largest sources of funding for transportation are the state gas tax, and federal matching funds.

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Mark Mehringer

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