- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

DENVER (AP) - There’s no debate - Colorado needs a big plan to pay for billions in needed highway upgrades.

But that’s where agreement ended Wednesday as the state’s divided Legislature began work for the year.

Republicans in the House and Senate gave differing takes on whether Colorado should ask voters to pass a new tax to pay for more than $8 billion in transportation projects.

And Democrats are talking up different ways to pay for roads.

New Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham took the unusual step of not rejecting a tax hike.

Instead, he simply asked Democrats to take a careful look at cutting other spending first.

Colorado requires voters to approve tax hikes, so Grantham called it essential to sell the tax as the only possible option for improving roads.

“If we are going to ask (taxpayers) for more out of their own pockets to fund these bond payments, then we must also demonstrate the commitment to reprioritize the dollars they’ve already entrusted to us,” Grantham said.

That was a softer scolding than Democrats received in the House, where Republican minority leader Patrick Neville insisted that Colorado has enough money and needs no tax increase for roads.

“Revenue for transportation is something we can control without asking taxpayers for more money,” Neville said, without explaining what he’d like to cut, though schools and health care are among the biggest spenders in Colorado’s existing pocketbook.

Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran suggested both parties could seek voter approval for a new tax.

Senate Democratic leader Lucia Guzman, however, repeated appeals to free up money by exempting a hospital tax from state revenues. Grantham has called that idea a non-starter.

Other ideas laid out Wednesday seemed even more doomed in the partisan atmosphere dominating Denver:


Grantham said he was proposing a bill to repeal Colorado’s health insurance exchange, a move that would have residents instead shop on the federal insurance marketplace. Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, will likely see the move as an attack on President Barack Obama’s signature domestic-policy achievement.


Duran called on Republicans to consider big changes to how the state funds public education. Just four years after voters soundly rejected an income tax hike to increase school funding, Republicans are unlikely to view the appeal favorably. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans talked about studying the need for weapons training for school employees, a perennial non-starter with Democrats.


Lawmakers will hear Thursday from Hickenlooper, who will make his own attempt at setting the legislative agenda. Hickenlooper has signaled he’s amenable to a roads tax, and has urged caution on health care as lawmakers from both parties await word from President-elect Donald Trump about how the health law will change.


Kristen Wyatt can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt


Associated Press Writer James Anderson contributed to this report.

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