House rejects Colorado provisions in highway bill, including ditch provision
August 2, 2014
The vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday to strip provisions important to Coloradans from the bill to sustain the Highway Trust Fund through the end of the year was met with disappointment from Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats.
The Senate passed its bill Tuesday with a bipartisan Bennet-Udall measure to improve rural water infrastructure. The bill also included Bennet's bipartisan provision to allow liquefied natural gas to compete fairly with diesel fuel.
According to a news release from Bennet's office in Washington, D.C., the House needed to make one correction to the Senate version of the bill to extend the highway fund for about two months, and it was not necessary to strip the Colorado provisions from the bill.
"We are extremely disappointed that these two Colorado priorities were stripped in the House of Representatives. They've done a disservice to Coloradans by rejecting these two measures," Bennet said in the news release. "The bipartisan provisions are important to Colorado's agriculture and energy industries. They're key to rural communities across the country, as well as energy producers and conservationists alike. Instead of simply making minor and necessary fixes, the House chose to reject these Colorado priorities as well."
Emily Hytha, communications director for U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in an email response to the Tribune on Thursday that Gardner voted with a strong bipartisan majority to support the House version of the bill.
"The Highway bill that the House passed (Thursday) focuses on the importance of keeping the Highway Trust Fund solvent," Hytha said. "Congressman Gardner worked diligently with Senator (Orrin) Hatch to ensure that the irrigation provision was included in the Senate version. Unfortunately, the final version passed out of the Senate was missing $2 billion of funding for programs such as the irrigation language, meaning funding would have run out sooner than the extension called for. If the Senate version was signed into law, it would add $2 billion to our deficit. As a result of this discrepancy in the Senate bill, the House passed version will be the final bill."
Hytha said Gardner is exploring other avenues to make sure that the irrigation measure passes out of the House, such as standalone legislation.
"Our office will be pursuing those options to ensure that this language is signed into law," Hytha said.
Udall said in a news release: "The U.S. Senate passed a common-sense bill two days ago — with broad bipartisan support — to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent and strengthen the water infrastructure Colorado farmers count on every day. The U.S. House of Representatives' rejection of the Senate bill today endangers ditch and irrigation companies' abilities to update critical water infrastructure."
He added, "I have been proud to champion this common-sense reform, and I am concerned the House has not stood with Colorado farmers and water managers to update our vital infrastructure. Coloradans expect better from their leaders, and I will keep fighting to get this done."
During the Senate Finance Committee's consideration of the package, Bennet secured a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Udall that would reform outdated tax provisions that hinder ditch and irrigation companies' ability to invest in their infrastructure and serve Colorado farmers. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is also a co-sponsor.
Bennet also secured a bipartisan proposal he introduced with Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Hatch, R-Utah, to allow liquefied natural gas to compete fairly with diesel fuel. It would require that liquefied natural gas be taxed on energy output rather than per gallon.