Wanted: Coloradans’ in­put on trans­porta­tion so­lu­tions

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Kevin Gran­tham Colorado Se­nate Pres­i­dent Kevin Gran­tham rep­re­sents Se­nate District 2. E-mail him at kevin.gran­tham.se­nate@state.co.us.

For years now, law­mak­ers have talked in broad gen­er­al­iza­tions about the need for a long-term so­lu­tion to Colorado’s trans­porta­tion woes. But ear­lier this month, along with other lead­ers in the leg­is­la­ture, we ended years of wheel-spin­ning by putting a con­crete pro­posal on the ta­ble aimed at fixing Colorado’s crum­bling road and bridge in­fra­struc­ture.

The bi­par­ti­san bill is not per­fect. There are things in it both sides will like and dis­like. It may re­quire a num­ber of changes in or­der to meet the high hur­dle of a two-thirds vote in both cham­bers. But at least now we can move from talk­ing gen­er­al­iza­tions to de­bat­ing specifics.

The bill ded­i­cates $50 mil­lion a year in ex­ist­ing rev­enue to­ward a $3.5 bil­lion trans­porta­tion bond pro­gram. This is a good start, but a greater com­mit­ment of ex­ist­ing re­sources should be re­quired. If we are go­ing to ask for more money from the tax­pay­ers, we should be will­ing to com­mit more of what they have al­ready paid — es­pe­cially if we are go­ing to ask them to vote “yes” on a tax in­crease.

To that end, I will look to make sev­eral changes to this pro­posal be­fore I feel com­fort­able sub­mit­ting it to vot­ers.

The bill pro­poses a tem­po­rary in­crease in the state sales tax per dol­lar spent from 2.9 cents to 3.52 cents to go specif­i­cally into a fund for our state’s trans­porta­tion needs. That num­ber should be able to come down if we com­mit more in ex­ist­ing re­sources. And if we are go­ing to ask the vot­ers for this in­crease, we should also look for ad­di­tional off­sets. Per­haps we could fur­ther cut regis­tra­tion fees on au­to­mo­biles. All op­tions are on the ta­ble as we look for ways to min­i­mize this bur­den on hard-work­ing Coloradans.

Trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity are two hall­marks of this plan. Cit­i­zens will know ex­actly how and where the new monies will be spent, and how projects will be pri­or­i­tized within the Colorado Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (CDOT) and by lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

In the bill’s cur­rent form, about 15 per­cent of the new fund­ing will go to public tran­sit. While tran­sit can help re­lieve con­ges­tion in ma­jor metropoli­tan ar­eas, it leaves ru­ral Colorado out of the equa­tion. I will look at in­creas­ing the share of fund­ing go­ing to coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, for trans­porta­tion projects that re­flect lo­cal pri­or­i­ties.

I rec­og­nize that road­way and trans­porta­tion pri­or­i­ties dif­fer from place to place. Where folks in Tel­luride want their fund­ing spent may not be where res­i­dents of Trinidad would spend it. Greater lo­cal con­trol over the fund­ing stream doesn’t just help en­sure fair­ness, it pro­motes ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency — which is a theme you will see re­peated through­out the pro­posal.

Vot­ers will know in ad­vance what the fund­ing pri­or­i­ties will be, since we will be work­ing from a long-es­tab­lished, well-vet­ted list al­ready com­piled by CDOT. We will con­tinue to seek fur­ther im­prove­ment to over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity of CDOT and how it uses our tax dol­lars.

This pro­posal keeps faith with tax­pay­ers by com­ply­ing with both the let­ter and spirit of the Tax­payer’s Bill of Rights. It will en­sure that all rev­enue gen­er­ated will be locked up for the ex­clu­sive use of our state’s trans­porta­tion needs, and those needs will be de­ter­mined by com­mu­ni­ties and a ro­bust cit­i­zen in­put process.

There are new Coloradans join­ing our num­bers every day, and we must rec­og­nize that a so­lu­tion for our fu­ture will in­volve some cre­ative think­ing. But I be­lieve we are up to the task. We now have a work­able start­ing point, and we are go­ing to put in the time to send vot­ers a pro­posal that meets their needs.

As this bill moves through the leg­isla­tive process, I urge you to reach out to your rep­re­sen­ta­tives and sen­a­tors at the Capi­tol and let us know how we can meet our state’s trans­porta­tion needs. Tell us what so­lu­tions you want to see pri­or­i­tized. We are lis­ten­ing.

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