Grand Valley officials hear push for transportation project tax
Colorado voters soon may see a ballot question asking if they are willing to raise taxes to pay for transportation projects in the state.
A coalition of civic, business and government groups has been meeting around the state talking about that possibility, which wouldn’t occur until the 2014 elections, Colorado Department of Transportation Commissioner Doug Aden told the Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee on Monday.
The problem is, the population in the state, and the traffic that goes with it, has expanded exponentially over the past two decades and is expected to continue that pace over the next 20 years, reaching more than 7 million by about 2030, Aden said.
But the state’s 40.4 cents-a-gallon gas tax hasn’t increased since 1991.
As a result, the state’s transportation needs now can be measured in the billions of dollars, he said.
That’s why the coalition has come together to discuss the possibility of placing some sort of tax measure on next year’s ballot, either to raise the gas tax or increase the state’s tax and dedicate it toward transportation funding.
“I’ve been on the commission for 16 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much momentum (for a tax increase),” Aden told the committee. “That momentum is particularly strong on the Front Range.”
According to a poll released earlier this month by Akins North America, a Denver transportation consulting group, voters would favor a small increase in the gas tax — no more than 5 cents a gallon — but would be more in favor of a nominal sales tax increase and accompanying diesel tax hike for commercial vehicles, as long as the money would go directly to transportation projects, such as road maintenance, new construction and mass transit.
According to CDOT estimates, there is a widening gap in needed funding, reaching about $772 million a year.
A 10-cent increase in the gas tax could raise about $386 million a year, while a 7-cent increase in sales tax would bring in almost double that, Aden said.
While no special ballot language has been drafted, Aden said no one is sure exactly what would be proposed in the end.
In the meantime, though, he and other state transportation officials are encouraging local officials to be involved in those discussions. If not, some regions of the state, specifically the Denver metropolitan area, could create their own special transportation district and go it along, leaving the rest of the state to fend for itself.
“I think it’s real important that we try to find a statewide solution,” he said. “My fear is if we don’t, there’s some real risk of different regions of the state going on their own. The worst outcome for western Colorado and rural Colorado would be if we can’t find a statewide solution that everybody could get behind, the Denver metro area could create their own special district.”