GOP senators call on Ritter to veto budget reform bill

Colorado Senate Minority Office (Photo/Bob Spencer, The Colorado Independent)
Colorado Senate Minority Office (Photo/Bob Spencer, The Colorado Independent)
Republican senators in Colorado are going all out today to stop a bill that would end automatic tax-revenue allocations for roads and capital construction.

Threatening a long debate in the Capitol tonight and a “barrage of amendments” to cripple the bill, the senators have now turned to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter to join them in defeating legislation they say will “gut” both highways and the constitution.

“Republican lawmakers called on the governor to commit publicly… [today] to veto another pending proposal that would amount to the largest cut ever in transportation funding,” read the Senate GOP release e-mailed to the press this afternoon.

Throughout the day, the Republicans have been making impassioned arguments in the Senate chambers and in the press against proposed fees and tolls and for the continued right to send tax revenues to road construction at the exclusion of all other government programs.

Senate Bill 228 is the kind of legislation Colorado lawmakers have traditionally felt pressed to line up strongly for and against. Indeed, the bill has sparked ideological flag-planting from the time it was proposed, pitting caricatured “small-government fiscal conservatives” against “tax-and-spend liberals.” But the bill has gained bipartisan traction partly because it has been viewed as a a practical and limited solution to the clear budget constraints that have devastated services in the state, the kind of restrained law that might poke holes in traditional right-left posturing.

Today’s debate turns mostly on whether the long-standing provision SB 228 would overturn — the so-called Arveschoug-Bird provision — amounts in the law to a limit on spending or merely determines how funds should be allocated. Bipartisan supporters claim Arveschoug-Bird has amounted to “formulaic tyranny” that ties lawmakers’ hands during a time of shifting economic realities and program priorities. Since it passed into law in 1992, Arveschoug-Bird has sent any General Fund surpluses over the six percent limit allowed for state budget line items to transportation and construction projects.

In promoting Senate Bill 228, sponsor John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) has asked that responsibility be placed on lawmakers to decide how to allocate the state’s famously capped tax revenues.

“What are we here for if not to make and defend these very difficult necessary decisions?” he asked members of the Senate Finance Committee who conducted a hearing on the bill last month.

In a clever turn of phrase, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Mike Kopp of Littleton called the bill “highway robbery.”

“If the governor really does share the concerns of the business community, he’ll reach across the aisle…,” he is quoted to say in the press release challenging Ritter to promise to veto the bill.

Debate resumes in the Senate chamber at 4:30 p.m. tonight and continues indefinitely. Listen in here.

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