Just don’t be touching our highway funds!

Turns out Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland, wasn’t lying when he said there was room in the state House to negotiate on SB 228, the controversial budget reform bill he is co-sponsoring with Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

As The Denver Post reported Tuesday, the bill, which passed out of the Senate last week, is headed in the House directly to the Transportation and Energy Committee, a revealing legislative path.

Although SB 228 generally concerns the state budget and was introduced by Morse in February to the Senate Finance Committee, the bill seeks to repeal a 1991 provision that automatically allocates revenues beyond 6-percent growth per year to state road and building projects.

In a recession, when there’s little or no growth, the 6-percent cap dips significantly, shrinking the state budget year to year and effectively extending recessionary hardships in the state long after other parts of the country have recovered.

Morse and the bill’s supporters have argued that SB 228 aims to place responsibility for prioritizing state projects back into the hands of elected officials, who would have to answer why, for example, they are choosing to fund health clinics or jobs programs instead of bridges or university research centers.

Although Republican senators strongly opposed the bill as an unconstitutional degradation of fiscal responsibility, the 10-hour filibuster they mounted to register their opposition focused almost entirely on the tax dollars the bill might take away from the road construction projects planned for their districts.

The debate underlined the reality of how government spending priorities have been established in the state.

“It’s earmark government,” deadpanned Scott Downes, communications director at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

That SB 228 went not first to the House Finance Committee, but to Pueblo Democrat Buffie McFayden’s Transportation and Energy Committee, makes the point even stronger. And McFayden, to her credit, was unabashed in admitting as much.

This from the Post:

Republicans fought the bill bitterly in the Senate, saying it was unconstitutional and would steal highway dollars. It passed on a straight party line vote in the Senate, but some of the Republican arguments there have found traction with House Democrats.

McFayden and others have said they would prefer the bill preserve some kind of funding for transportation and capital construction projects. She also said it might make sense to add language creating a rainy day fund.

McFayden said there’s been no shortage of suggestions on how she might modify the bill. Heavy contractors and business groups have opposed the bill because of its effects on highway funding.

“We’ve been the hardest lobbied committee in the House,” she said.

“It may be the long way round, but as long as [SB 228] keeps advancing, Colorado has a better shot at a quick and strong recovery from the recession,” said Downes.

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