Author: Jay Stooksberry
Publication: The Daily Sentinel
Colorado roads are bad. We are reminded with every jaw-rattling pothole driven over and every mind-numbing minute wasted in rush-hour traffic.
And funding to fix our roads is supposedly nonexistent.
Or at least that is what Colorado legislators and regulators want you to believe. Keep in mind that CDOT, all in the same year, spent $70 million in administrative buildings and $5.2 million for Bustang, a subsidized version of Greyhound that offers fewer options at roughly the same price as its private competitor.
Meanwhile, since 2005, Colorado has only spent $50 million on statewide road projects.
The money for roads exists; it’s the political will to budget that is nonexistent.
But voters can change that in November.
Coloradans will notice two competing propositions on their ballots — 109 and 110 — which both start with five eyebrow-raising words: “Shall state debt be increased.” Increasing the state’s debt load should give any fiscally responsible citizen pause.
However, Prop. 109 — also colloquially referred to as “Fix Our Damn Roads” — is the only fiscally responsible option.
As mentioned before, we have the money to fix the roads already. In 2017 and 2018, the Colorado General Assembly passed two bills, Senate Bill 267 and Senate Bill 1 respectively — both of which combined to appropriate $2.5 billion in spending for roads.
That only leaves $1 billion in additional funds needed. Thanks to the newest round of federal tax cuts, which reduces deductions at the state level, we will come close to making up that difference according to forecasts by the Legislative Council. An additional $740 million is expected to hit the state coffers for FY 2019. This spike is expected to continue annually all things being equal.
That leaves $260 million — less than 1 percent of the total state budget. If the Colorado General Assembly cannot budget for that, then we shouldn’t trust them with the job.
Fortunately, we have 20/20 hindsight with 109. Back in 1999, Colorado voters approved Referendum A, which raised $1.7 billion in transportation bonds without raising taxes. At the time of its passing, these bonds—which were used to fund hundreds of statewide projects that were completed on time and under budget — represented close to 42 percent of total state debt. (In comparison, the proposed bonds for 109 would only represent 20 of the state’s total debt.)
Prop. 110, on the other hand, looks worse the more you dig into it.
For starters, rather than rely on existing revenue, 110 creates a new financial burden by raising the state sales tax by 21 percent.
Supporters of 110 also disingenuously argue that taxes are low in Colorado and we are “due” for a tax increase. True, our state sales tax is ranked sixth lowest in the nation. However, our overall tax burden — which also factors in the state income tax, property taxes, and other local taxes — actually places our state 15th lowest, according to the Tax Foundation. Not bad, but no reason to lose our competitive advantage in attracting businesses to our state.
Supporters of 110 repeat the same talking point: “This isn’t a permanent tax.” To which Milton Friedman retorts, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” In 20 years (when the tax increase is scheduled to sunset), it is not hard to envision future politicians holding taxpayers ransom: “You want to keep your roads, don’t you?”
Proposition 110 not only raises taxes, but it appears to be a cash-grab by nefarious characters, who crafted ballot language in the shadows of Colorado politics. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce held private negotiations — meetings so private that even the names of the public officials in attendance were kept secret, sunshine laws be damned.
But one doesn’t need meeting minutes to see which of the two proposals is backed by crony interests. As of today, Prop. 110 has received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the Colorado construction industry. While 109 has already identified 66 road projects for its funding, 110 is nothing more than a slush fund with for special interests.
Fill those potholes by filling out “yes” to 109 and “no” to 110. Then we can get on with fixing our damn roads!
Jay Stooksberry is chair of the Libertarian Party of Delta County and a contributor to the Libertarian Party of Colorado.