Wanted: Coloradans’ input on transportation solutions
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.