Road Builders Float 10 Ballot Measures That Snub Transit, Walking, and Biking

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Photo: Colorado DOT

The Colorado Contractors Association wants Coloradans to pay up to $700 million more in annual sales tax on everyday items in order to subsidize driving. To make that happen, they need voters to approve a tax hike on the November ballot.

The CCA just filed 10 different potential versions of their ballot measure, clueing us in to what road builders want to do with that money.

Spoiler: They want to build more roads.

None of the 10 options devote more than 12 percent of that $700 million to transit projects. (By law transit has to get at least 6 percent.) And none of CCA’s options set aside anything for walking or biking.

Nine of the ten call for a statewide sales tax hike of 6.2 cents for every $10 spent. The other option bumps the hike down to 3 cents.

CCA filed 10 versions of the ballot measure to keep its options open. The decision about which one to actually put on the ballot likely depends on what CCA’s polling reveals. It has ironically dubbed the tax hike the “Transportation Safety Sales and Use Tax,” even though it doesn’t set aside anything for safety improvements and doesn’t ask people who use roads to pay for them at all.

All 10 versions are stinkers, but some are worse than others. Some bar any revenue from being spent on toll roads — which at least get drivers to pay for some of the costs of car infrastructure — while at the same time mandating spending on “congestion relief.” That’s code for more car lanes that end up generating more traffic and making congestion worse in the long run.

If any version of the CCA’s ballot measure is enacted, it will cause low-income Coloradans, who tend to drive less than most residents but spend a greater share of their money on taxable items, to subsidize roads even more than they already do. (Nationally, it’s estimated that drivers pay just 51 percent of what it costs to build and maintain the country’s road system.)

Colorado’s big transportation policy problem is that the state drops billions on boondoggles like the I-70 widening. When the state builds more roads, it creates more infrastructure to take care of while sapping the resources available for maintenance. So unless CDOT stops the highway expansion bonanza, more revenue isn’t going to fix the poor state of Colorado’s roads and bridges. If anything, CCA’s ballot measure will deepen the highway building habit and make the state’s problems worse in the long run.

For his part, Colorado DOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt has floated fairer ways to raise revenue, like increasing the gas taxcharging drivers by the mile, and toll lanes. But he hasn’t reformed CDOT’s spending priorities, and he hasn’t taken a stand against the road builders’ bid for this regressive subsidy.

It’s still early in CCA’s campaign, and the ballot measure is far from a sure thing. It will take vocal opposition to quash it, however. Stay tuned as the story develops.