Barely six months after Governor Jared Polis signed a landmark transportation funding bill, the governor wants to temporarily undo a key provision: introducing a 2 cents-per-gallon fee on gasoline.
Among his proposals are Republicans who opposed the fee hike, accusing Polis of copying his message in an election year. Democrats say delaying a scheduled increase in the fee until January — effectively a tax, most in the Capitol acknowledge — doesn’t compromise any climate-action goals and their longstanding commitment to helping people. In line with the aim of, and especially those who are struggling, save money.
Bill Polis, signed in June, SB21-260, is set to take effect this summer and projects to raise more than $5 billion by 2032. The bill was supported by a small group of Democrats and Republicans, who celebrated the plan as a historic achievement. At one point he held a packed press conference in the Capitol foyer, to which Polis insisted, “It’s time to fix our bad roads!”
The reason for this enthusiasm? The bill promises a massive increase in transportation funding compared to previous years, when legislators repeatedly tried to create significant and credible new funding streams for roads and bridges, public transport and non-vehicular projects such as bike paths and failed.
Gas tariffs are integral to the plan, with SB21-260 promising to raise it by 2 cents per gallon this year and one cent annually through 2028. Analysts predict that the size of these money will increase to $1.6 billion by 2032.
Democrats said, and say now, that the increase is so small that drivers will barely notice them. Republican lawmakers and political operatives have spent the better part of a year campaigning vigorously against it; When the GOP unveiled its “commitment to Colorado” agenda this summer, it did so at a Denver gas station.
The police are now – for the time being – opposing this increase as well. He is proposing fee cuts and banking much of his election message on cost savings.
“Look, what the legislature has decided as part of the bipartisan transportation bill is that over time, the gas tax will be adjusted for inflation,” he told reporters on Capital Steps on Monday. “I think now we can all agree is not the time. When families are struggling to keep up with costs, now is not the time for the gas tax to keep up with inflation. If we have less traffic, and roads and bridges, it’s a good policy in the long term, so it’s a good thing. But now is not the time. Let’s show people relief at the pump.”
Democratic leaders in the legislature, including major sponsors of the transportation bill, are set to go along with the governor’s proposal, which would need approval through the state’s budget process in March and April.
“Now all of a sudden Democrats are claiming they want Coloradans to keep their hard-earned money in their pockets,” Douglas County Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We look forward to their support.”
Transportation is now the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions of any region in the state. Climate activists have long argued that Colorado needs to recognize and combat it by taxing, and in some cases actively discouraging, driving particularly in single-occupancy vehicles. Senate Majority Leader Steve Feinberg, a Boulder Democrat who sponsored the transportation bill, said the delay in the implementation of the gas fee says nothing about Democrats’ climate commitment.
“Some of the gas tax money wasn’t meant to say, hey, we’re going to make gas two cents more expensive per gallon, so you’re not going to drive anymore. No, it was to raise revenue. Because 50-odd in Utah Percentage is gas tax, and we have 28-percent gas tax and it doesn’t increase with inflation. It was purely about revenue,” he said.
His Senate co-sponsor on the bill, Democrat Faith Winter of Westminster, is one of the fiercest advocates for immediate climate action in the legislature. He spent all previous sessions battling the governor’s office over climate policy. With billions in federal stimulus money boosting the state budget, and Congress passing a new infrastructure spending package that will send billions to aid Colorado’s transportation efforts, state gas charges without delaying climate action. delay, he argued.
“We have unprecedented resources from the federal government that at this time we must use before our citizens” to pay extra, she said. “We can meet our climate goals with the resources we have right now, and the gas tariff was about resources and implementation.”
Republicans say the timing is anxious. Polis is up for re-election in November, and several sitting lawmakers are also on the ballot. They don’t buy that Democrats are serious about saving people money when a transportation law that relies on increased fees isn’t even a year old.
Weld County GOP Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer said Tuesday, “Affordability is not just a matter for Republicans.”
Fienberg said Republicans have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate that they are serious about reducing costs. The GOP was nowhere to be found when Democrats moved last year to slash health care costs and the costs of renters who may be at risk of eviction. Fienberg said Democrats might be okay with some of the GOP’s ideas for this session, including eliminating the sales tax on food and giving some renters relief on income tax.
But, he said, Republicans never put these ideas to Democrats before the session. He thinks it indicates they want to make more of a point than they actually want the law to be passed.