- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 8, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Colorado lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday to ask voters for an increase in the state sales tax with the goal of generating up to $3.5 billion to improve roads and decrease traffic congestion.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, would raise the statewide sales tax to 3.52 percent - or three and a half cents on a dollar - from 2.9 percent, The Denver Post reported (https://goo.gl/ZSUX73 ). To offset a portion of the tax increase, the measure would decrease vehicle registration fees by $75 million a year.

The majority of the revenue would cover the payments for a $3.5 billion bond package, allowing $350 million in annual spending. Another $216 million would go to local governments for road improvements, and $92 million would cover the cost of local transit projects, which would be awarded in grants by a new commission.

Any potential measure to increase money for roads would need voter approval in November, but the legislation marks a breakthrough after months of difficult negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders to address what both parties agree is a top priority.

“If we are really going to deliver results to the people of Colorado, we need everybody at the table - Republicans and Democrats. I think this is an example of that,” Duran told The Post.

Grantham said the bill probably is not what the final product will look like because a lot of debate and compromise lies ahead to produce a proposal good enough to pass muster with voters, “But I’m optimistic that we’ll get there in the end.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper called for a voter referendum in his State of the State address in January and continued to express optimism Wednesday about the potential for a consensus bill.

“I’m open to pretty much any way to fund it,” he told reporters, emphasizing that it is not a partisan issue.

Colorado spends about $150 million in state dollars on roads. But there’s a $9 billion backlog - plus a $1 billion maintenance bill each year. Doing nothing risks the state’s economic growth rate, one of the top in the country, Hickenlooper has warned.

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Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com

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