Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Call us crazy, but we think we should make decisions about our state based on facts and data — not slogans, finger-pointing or name-calling. We hope you will join our coalition of unaffiliated voters, Democrats and Republicans from rural, urban, mountain and suburban communities and back a real answer to our very real problems and actually improve our transportation system.
One thing everybody in Colorado agrees on — we need to fund our transportation system.
Billions in unfunded projects are sitting on the drawing board while our state becomes increasingly difficult to navigate. Our residents deserve a solution rooted in reality that will provide the relief they’re demanding.
Since 1991, the last time Colorado increased taxes for transportation, spending per driver has been cut in half, while our population has nearly doubled, and lane miles have remained static. The gas tax is a diminishing source of revenue as vehicles have become more fuel efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles have risen in popularity.
It is easy to see how this scenario results in the problems we face today. Meanwhile states such as Utah, which we compete with for talented people and high-quality jobs, have made substantial investments in their transportation systems.
Our state leaders have focused on addressing our transportation funding, but they haven’t been able to make a dent in the need. This past year, the legislature focused on this priority, but their efforts fall well short of what is needed on an annual basis for transportation. Despite claims to the contrary, there is no magical pot of transportation money sitting in a secret closet at the state Capitol.
Denver Post Editorial Board
Colorado voters are presented this year with a straightforward proposal to modestly raise taxes and, in-one-fell-swoop, fund transportation needs for the next 20 years. Now is the time to make that investment.
Colorado voters face a difficult question on the ballot this November — does the state need more money to “fix our damn roads” or simply the directive to do so with existing resources?
We dug into the numbers, and are convinced the state does indeed need additional revenue.
We urge voters to approve the sales tax increase in Proposition 110 to fund $6 billion in road projects, at both the local and state level, for the next 20 years.
It’s not an easy ask given that state revenue is growing at such a tremendous pace.
Compared to fiscal year 2017-18, the general fund revenue is expected to increase by $537 million (after $113 million is given back to taxpayers) next year, by $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2019-20 and $1.7 billion in 2020-21. Certainly there’s room in that growth to make additional investments in our transportation needs.
But we think this state deserves safe efficient transportation and adequately funded K-12 schools, higher education institutions, child welfare advocacy agencies, health insurance for low-income families, and state patrol and other public safety programs.
Our state, especially in areas away from the Front Range, needs to invest more money in education. Rural and Western Slope schools are struggling. Some have switched to four-day school weeks. Our state invests less public dollars in higher education than almost every other state, and complicated measures controlling taxes and spending, including the Gallagher Amendment, will leave the state back-filling schools and local districts hundreds of millions of dollars for reductions in property taxes in coming years.
The tax is expected to generate around $767 million in year one and likely more in succeeding years over the next two decades. Of that amount, Duffy says, “45 cents of each dollar would go to the state transportation fund, and 40 cents would be split between counties and municipalities for projects to be identified and accountable locally — and that’s important, because all of us usually start or finish our day on a local or county road. They need work, too, so local officials will be able to sit down and have a conversation about what needs to be done. And the other 15 percent is for multi-modal projects like transit stations and senior dial-a-ride to address senior mobility, which is a real problem in rural areas.”
According to Sean Duffy, spokesman for Let’s Go Colorado, one of the most important aspects of the sales-tax increase designed to fund Proposition 110 is its limitations.
“The money is walled off, so it can’t be used for anything but transportation projects,” he says. “Because the worst thing you can do is put a pot of money near politicians and say, ‘Don’t touch.'”
Duffy portrays Proposition 110 as “a very straightforward request of Colorado taxpayers.” But the ballot title and submission clause shared on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website is a bit of a thicket. It reads…
Here’s how Duffy describes the genesis of the proposal:
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet speaks about Proposition 110 during a Let’s Go Colorado rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol.
Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet speaks about Proposition 110 during a Let’s Go Colorado rally on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol.
“We all recognize that our transportation system, our roads, our bridges, are in need of significant attention, whether it’s repair or expansion,” he notes. “For example, we now invest half of what we did for motorists that we did 25 years ago, even though, obviously, the population has gone up very significantly since then, and lane miles in the state have basically flat-lined. It’s like trying to put a tennis ball through a garden hose.”
In the past, most road-improvement measures have been funded by a gas tax, Duffy points out — “but today, that’s a problem. We’ve seen an increase in the fuel efficiency of cars, and the rise of electric cars makes a gas tax a decreasingly efficient approach. We’d need a phenomenal tax increase to make it work: something like thirty or forty cents a gallon. And it’s only going to get worse.”
With that in mind, he continues, “a big coalition of business folks and elected folks [led by the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce] said, ‘We’ve really got to find a dedicated, sustainable source of transportation funding.’ Just at the state level, there’s a $9 billion hole in project needs that the Colorado Department of Transportation has identified. And when you look at the state level, where we’ve got priorities like public safety and schools and higher education and prisons, we haven’t been able to come up with the dollars we need. So they’ve proposed a .62 percent tax increase, about six cents on a ten-dollar purchase, to go to transportation.”
Aurora Sentinel Editorial Board
Prop 110 was created by a consortium of businesses and consumer organizations to raise badly needed cash for roads without bankrupting public schools or forcing college students and their parents to fund roads through massive tuition hikes. It enjoys widespread support of chambers of commerce and elected officials across the state.
Deciding between this year’s two dueling transportation questions on the 2018 ballot is easy.
Prop 110, Let’s Go Colorado, asks for a small sales tax increase in exchange for $6 billion worth of desperately needed transportation improvements near your home and across the state.
Prop 109, Fix Our Damn Roads, takes $3.5 billion away from schools, colleges, public safety or other services and forces the state to build a proscribed list of projects that may not even make sense by the time Colorado gets the roads cash.
If you still have questions, read on.
Voters are being forced to choose a way to fund desperately needed transportation expansion and repairs because state lawmakers, split between two parties, can’t reach a compromise on how to pay for road projects. With rapid growth and rapidly deteriorating roads and bridges, it’s become one of Colorado’s biggest problems.
Key Republicans insist that Colorado has plenty of money to pay for road projects right now, but the state spends it on frivolous luxuries such as public schools, health care for the poor and state colleges. They’re unequivocally wrong. It’s a childish and dangerous game they play, and it’s clear not all Republicans feel the same way, just the ones currently in charge.
Colorado has long been a frugal state, which regularly ranks far toward the bottom of the list of states’ spending on roads, schools and just about everything else residents deem important.
The situation is made worse because the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which not only forbids lawmakers from raising taxes without voter approval, mandates increased tax revenues during good years be given to select residents. So when the economy is strong like it is now, it doesn’t mean there’s substantially more money for roads or anything else.
Over 20 years of living with TABOR, the state’s infrastructure has deteriorated to nearly third-world status, rural schools have been forced into four-day school weeks and families have had to suffer astronomical college tuition hikes just to try and keep the wheels on state government in Colorado.
Colorado Fiscal Institute
There’s an old adage that’s especially true when it comes to tax and fiscal policy: you can’t get something for nothing. Without a new revenue source, or a permanently booming economy, transportation projects will always come at the expense of other priorities.
The 2018 election is a road trip, one where voters have to decide between two routes for addressing Colorado’s transportation funding woes. One of them, Proposition 109, is a worn-out shortcut riddled with pot holes. The other, Proposition 110, is the only way to get us where we need to go.
Make no mistake, our state’s traffic problems are a big deal. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) estimates there are roughly $9 billion in backlogged projects statewide. In fact, one of the few things both political parties tend to agree on is that we need to make investments in transportation.
While Prop. 110 uses a fiscally responsible funding mechanism to make a big dent in the problem, Prop. 109 is a poorly written plan that would create fiscal problems for decades to come.
The need for change is clear
Colorado’s current, primary source of revenue for our transportation system is the gas tax. In 1991, the year Colorado raised the gas tax to 22 cents per gallon, the average price of gasoline was $1.14. In 2017, the average price of gasoline was $2.47. And the gas tax? Still 22 cents.
Not only has Colorado’s gas tax stayed flat for more than a quarter of a century, it’s also one of the lowest rates in the country, ranking 40th out of 50 states.
The gas tax might not have changed, but plenty of other things have. Because of inflation and other factors, the cost of building roads and bridges (measured by the Construction Cost Index) have outpaced revenue. One dollar’s worth of construction in 1991 was only worth 32 cents in 2015, meaning the state’s buying power has fallen significantly.
Also, thanks to improvements in technology, vehicles are much more fuel efficient than they were even just a decade ago. That means Coloradans are now paying less for every mile of wear and tear we put on our roads.
What does all this mean for our transportation funding? Even though the number of vehicle miles traveled has increased by more than 81 percent and the state’s population has grown by over 63 percent from 1991-2016, CDOT’s budget has only increased by 31.4 percent. Occasionally, the economy experiences the kind of growth that allows legislators to make deposits in the transportation fund (Highway Users Trust Fund, or HUTF) from the general fund (see figure 1 below). The years when those transfers don’t occur typically line up with bad or mediocre economic times, when resources for funding other state priorities are scarcer.
If Proposition 110 passes, nine projects in Southwest Colorado would be funded, including about $55 million to widen U.S. Highway 160 east of Elmore’s Corner to Bayfield and $2 million for safety improvements along Highway 550 in Durango.
Voters will consider two ballot questions in November that would boost funding for transportation statewide in vastly different ways and dedicate different amounts to Southwest Colorado projects.
Regional Transportation Director Mike McVaugh said the additional money for the Colorado Department of Transportation is needed, in part because the 22-cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline that funds the department has not gone up since 1991.
“We’re trying to spend our dollars as wisely as possible. But there is not enough money to do the job we are trying to do for you,” he told a small group gathered at the Durango Public Library on Thursday.
CDOT’s annual budget is $1.75 billion. Its funding is generated by federal and state gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, the state’s general fund and a mix of other sources.
As the state’s population has grown from 3.3 million people in 1991 to 5.4 million in 2015, CDOT’s budget per capita has declined from $125.70 per person annually to $68.54 per person annually, McVaugh said.
If nothing is done, scarcity of funds will continue to worsen, he said.
“We’re short of what we really believe needs to be done, to not just maintain what we have but to improve what we have,” said Sidny Zink, a state transportation commissioner.
Proposition 110 asks voters to raise the state sales tax by 0.62 percent (6 cents per $10 purchase) for 20 years.
The measure would allow the state to spend about $7 billion on construction projects over seven to 10 years.
“If I am paying another 6 cents on a $10 purchase, it’s going to add up incredibly fast and make a difference statewide,” Zink said.
The new revenues from Proposition 110 would be divided three ways: 45 percent would go to state projects, 40 percent would fund city and county roads and 15 percent would fund public transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects.
A Discussion of Proposition 110
Watch the October 1, 2018 episode of CONNECT & COLLABORATE , the Voice of the Colorado Business Roundtable. The episode of American Council of Engineering Companies of Colorado is brought to you by Atkins (Member of the SNC-Lavalin Group) and Move Colorado.
Brad Doyle, Project Director for SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, Carla Perez, President of Move Colorado, and Joe Kiely, Vice President of Operations for Ports-to-Plains Alliance talk about the ever-growing pain in our existence, transportation in Colorado.
ACEC Colorado, Colorado Business Roundtable, Move Colorado, Atkins Member of SNC Lavalin Group, Ports-to-Plains
Colorado’s population continues to grow … In 1991 Colorado spend $126 per person on transportation … Today Colorado spends $69 per person.
Remember 1991? That’s the last time transportation funding got a real boost. Proposition 110 is a guaranteed solution to fund transportation and will get Colorado moving again!
Today’s Denver Post outlines the decision Colorado voters will make this year regarding much needed transportation infrastructure funding.
The piece shows how only Proposition 110 offers the guaranteed, sustainable funding source to address years of transportation neglect.
Colorado voters’ transportation options, broken down. Hint: It’s not as simple as whether to raise taxes.
Competing “Fix Our Damn Roads” and larger tax measure reflect longstanding debate
Should the tax pass, CDOT officials say their current plans call for using their share as well as the already planned borrowing to fund a $7 billion project list around the state, with another $1.5 billion paying for paving work and $500 million set aside as a reserve fund.
Colorado voters’ choice between two wildly differing transportation-funding initiatives this fall could effectively settle a longstanding debate over how to address one of the biggest challenges posed by the state’s explosive growth.
Or the outcome could signal even more pitched battles ahead.
The decision in the Nov. 6 election largely will rest on whether voters believe that transportation needs in the mountains, the Eastern Plains and urban areas are pressing enough to justify a significant sales tax increase pushed by business interests and local officials throughout the state. If approved, the 0.62 percentage-point hike would raise a projected $20 billion over two decades, to be split among state highways, local projects and transit initiatives. The state could borrow up to $6 billion upfront.
The competing measure, offered up by the conservative-libertarian Independence Institute in Denver, would mandate a more modest one-time boon strictly for high-priority road projects. And the initiative would leave it to legislators to figure out how to repay up to $3.5 billion in authorized bonds from the $29 billion annual state budget.
The Colorado Department of Transportation has created a Factual Summary of 2018 Transportation Ballot Propositions (110 & 109). The summary considers for each proposition: