Colorado transportation funding initiatives score spot on November ballot
August 24, 2018
Two new transportation initiatives found their way onto Colorado's November ballot earlier this week, both hoping to increase transportation spending throughout the state, a prospect that may or may not require a sales tax increase.
The proposals represent two of three citizen-initiated measures that qualified for the ballot this year, each collecting more than 110,000 valid signatures in support before the Aug. 6 deadline.
Initiative 167, perhaps better known as the Fix Our Damn Roads Initiative, qualified for the ballot on Wednesday with more than 112,000 signatures in support. If passed, the measure would require the state to take out $3.5 billion in bonds to fund road projects — including bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repairs — all without raising state sales taxes. The funds would be used exclusively for road projects, meaning they couldn't be used for indirect costs, administration and other transit expenses. The measure would also require the state to repay the debt from the general fund without raising taxes.
"We're thrilled to be on the ballot," said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a Denver-based think tank that helped file the initiative. "For too long the state has held our roads and bridges hostage while increasing spending on other priorities like Medicaid expansion, hoping we taxpayers get so frustrated by traffic we'll agree to a tax increase … It will force the state to use its large surplus funds and re-prioritize less than 2 percent of the state budget to roads."
The second measure, Initiative 153 or Let's Go Colorado, is more ambitious in that it seeks to raise the state's sales and use taxes by .62 percent, from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent, for the next 20 years. In addition, the initiative would authorize the Colorado Department of Transportation to issue bonds up to $6 billon to fund transportation projects.
The revenue from the tax would be allocated in three different capacities. Forty-five percent of the revenue would go to the State Highway Fund for highway construction and maintenance, 40 percent to the Local Transportation Priorities Fund for municipal and county transportation projects and 15 percent to the Multimodal Transportation Options Fund for projects regarding mass transit, and walking and biking paths to reduce vehicle usage. Counties and municipalities would need to match 50 percent of the funds for multimodal projects.
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In addition, Let's Go Colorado would create the Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes Citizen Oversight Committee, tasked with meeting twice per year to examine expenditures and ensure funds are being used in compliance with the measure.
The Colorado Department of Transportation could use the funds. According to CDOT's 2016 Transportation Deficit Report, the demand for road projects is outpacing their revenue growth. The report estimates a 10-year deficit of $470 million simply to maintain the current performance for bridges, pavement and maintenance service levels. Reaching CDOT's "vision" targets, or aspirational goals, would lead to a 10-year deficit just under $3 billion.
The report reads: "The demand in Colorado for smooth pavement, sound bridges and regular highway maintenance is outpacing CDOT's revenue growth. Even maintaining current conditions would lead to deficits in the scenarios described in this report, and would leave little to no funding for expansion."
The revenue issues aren't a big surprise. The Colorado Department of Transportation has relied primarily on the state's 22-cent gas tax for road repair and construction since it passed in the early '90s, but it hasn't been raised since. For reference, a dollar in 1991 is equal to about 54 cents today. In that same period, Colorado's population has risen from 3.39 million to more than 5.6 million, creating growing wear and tear to roads.
Let’s Go Colorado could serve as a major boon to Summit County, according to Margaret Bowes of the I-70 Coalition. She gave a presentation on Let's Go Colorado to the Frisco Town Council last week. Bowes said a new tax could provide almost $900,000 in funds for transportation projects in Summit County in the first year, and up to $25 million over the next 20 years.
That's big news considering there are a number of currently unfunded CDOT projects in and around the Summit County area. Among notable projects are the Exit 203 improvement project in Frisco, the I-70 Silverthorne/Dillon Interchange Project, the Highway 9 Gap Project, the I-70 West Vail Pass auxiliary lanes and westbound I-70 mountain corridor improvements which are all backed up, awaiting millions in funding.
Still, the decision will ultimately be left to voters who will have their say on Nov. 6.