Of the two propositions before voters to fund transportation improvements in the state, we support the one that directs more money to rural Colorado and gives local governments more discretion to prioritize projects that impact their communities.
That would be Proposition 110, which is endorsed by Club 20. The Western Slope advocacy group is a founding member of a coalition that conducted a lengthy stakeholder process to determine the best mechanism to provide a statewide funding solution to address the sorry state of Colorado's transportation infrastructure.
Proposition 110 would increase the state's sales tax by 0.62 percent, or 62 cents on a $100 purchase, for 20 years. With the money generated, up to $6 billion in bonding would be possible. In the first year, the tax will generate $767 million in a dedicated new revenue source for transportation projects across the state.
Forty-five percent of the new revenue will go directly to 107 high-priority CDOT projects. Forty percent of new funds will be returned to cities, counties and local governments for projects such as street and intersection improvements, senior bus service, sidewalks and bike and pedestrian lanes.
That flexibility and the multimodal opportunities available under a match program are why some people favor "Fix Our Damn Roads," the citizen-initiated Proposition 109. This measure would not include a tax increase and would only fund state level road and bridge projects. It would take about $350 from the state's general fund for 20 years to support $3.5 billion in bonding for the state's most troublesome roads — concentrated mostly in areas of the Front Range.
But, as Gov. John Hickenlooper points out in a snappy video supporting 110, the lack of a dedicated funding stream means 109 could impact other areas of the budget.
"It provides no money for maintenance and no money for local projects," he says. "The worst part? It cuts $267 million a year from education and health care."
Colorado is enjoying a strong economy now, which means a $350 million-a-year obligation may not cause budget problems. But if the economy slumps — and it likely will eventually — that's a big chunk of money that can't used for other needs.
With a dedicated revenue stream — the modest tax hike — no extra money has to be diverted from other sources to pay off bonds. Plus, the sales tax ensures that the 40 million visitor who use our roads pay their fair share.
The Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce supports 110, even though it means money will leave the Front Range to support rural transportation needs. That's a good trade-off, because Denver's quality of life is dependent on being able to access the state's natural attractions.
"We have the smartest, healthiest workforce in the country," said Denver Metro CEO Kelly Brough. "If we can't get people around the state, we lose that workforce."
Proposition 110 allows more funding to go to city- and county-level projects than state highways. More importantly it ensures that every county and municipality gets something to improve transportation. Proposition 109 is a much stricter funding plan and the Western Slope would have to fight for a share of smaller pot of money.
Without a statewide plan, it would fall to counties to pass their own funding measures to address transportation needs. Many Western Slope counties don't have the tax base to raise a meaningful amount of money for roads, much less mobility programs to get seniors to the doctor or meals programs.
We need to get past the mentality of stop-gap fixes. Proposition 110 provides the funding source to really make a dent in the state's $9 billion backlog of transportation projects, spreads resources around the state and doesn't force lawmakers to choose between bond payments and health care or other pressing needs. Vote yes on 110 and no on 109.