Denver Area Mayors Slam Tax Hike That Would Snub Transit, Subsidize Driving

Metro Denver mayors don’t want sales taxes to subsidize more of this. Photo: Colorado DOT

The Metro Mayors Caucus, an influential group of 41 mayors from Denver to Dacono, won’t be supporting a potential ballot measure to raise the statewide sales tax and use the proceeds to subsidize driving while leaving transit in the lurch.

The Colorado Contractors Association wants people to pay up to $700 million more for everyday items each year in order to fund road projects. As Streetsblog reported last month, none of the possible ballot measures floated by lobbyists devote more than 12 percent of tax revenue to transit projects. Some don’t guarantee any. And none set aside money for walking or biking projects.

“There’s just too many holes in this for us to get behind it as a group… It’s just not there,” Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison said Wednesday at a caucus meeting. “We need transit. We need a lot of transit in the metro area.”

Even the most transit-friendly version of the tax “doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to be as far as funding our next-level transit investments, restoring rubber tire service in some of the areas where it’s been cut, as well as doing first and last mile solutions,” said Catherine Kearney Marinelli, director of the Metro Mayors Caucus.

The caucus won’t take an official stance unless CCA keeps moving forward with the ballot measure, but the majority of its members don’t support it, Marinelli said. That majority includes Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.

The caucus’s opposition significantly decreases the odds that CCA’s proposal will get on the November ballot. Without the support of Denver-area jurisdictions — where the majority of Coloradans live — an expensive, statewide campaign to win voter approval will be less palatable for the lobbyists.

Two years ago, the Mayors Caucus wanted to ask voters to approve a .7 percent sales tax hike that would have funded transit projects to the tune of about $200 million annually. Poll numbers deflated that idea, but that doesn’t mean metro Denver should beg for breadcrumbs this November.

“The bottom line for us is really that this [proposal] is not better than nothing,” said Peter Kenney, who helped found the caucus. “None of these 10 [proposals] are better than nothing because they take away sales tax capacity. We can’t go back to the voters again, so it has to be right the first time… We aren’t done talking about transportation but this is not it.”