A coalition of Colorado contractors dropped 10 possible initiatives into the hopper late Friday that would ask voters to raise the state sales tax 6.2 cents on a $10 purchase for more road-building money.
They will end up choosing just one for the November ballot after doing polling and sponsoring focus groups to help them determine which is most popular — or least objectionable.
Nine of the 10 would raise $640 million the first year by hiking the state sales tax rate to 3.52 percent from the current 2.9 percent. Only the details vary.
The tenth would raise $300 million the first year by hiking the sales tax to 3.2 percent.
All measures would include language to exempt the money from TABOR spending limits.
None of the proposals would increase the current state gasoline tax of 22 cents a gallon. Gasoline taxes have traditionally been used to pay for roads, but coalition spokesman Tony Milo said it would have to be doubled to raise $640 million a year.
That increase did not poll well during previous research. “We tested a 10-cent gas tax increase, and there was no support even for that,” said Milo.
Apparently it is easier to sell what sounds like a smaller increase in the sales tax rate, even if it’s spread out over almost everything one buys.
The sales tax base wouldn’t be changed. In other words, the tax increase wouldn’t apply to groceries, pharmaceuticals and most services, just as the current tax doesn’t.
The coalition includes the Colorado Contractors Association, the Associated General Contractors of Colorado and the Colorado Construction Industry Coalition, operating under the campaign name of Move Colorado.
The proposals vary in the details. For instance, some would allocate 10 percent of the proceeds to mass transit.
Others would mandate that at least some of the money be spent throughout the state’s 11 transportation regions.
Under some versions the tax would sunset after 10 or 12 years.
Other versions would prohibit any of the money being spent on toll lanes.
A couple would limit administrative expenses to 3 percent of the money raised.
These various provisions are mixed and matched through the first nine versions.
The tenth version, raising the sales tax by 0.3 percent, would have no sunset and require that all the money go to road, bridge, highway and transportation projects that address “safety and congestion.”
The final proposal selection will probably be made in May, after the proposals clear the title board.
“We believe that 2016 will be the year of transportation on the ballot,” said Milo. “Through extensive research, stakeholder engagement and statewide outreach, we have learned that Coloradans are concerned about the safety and congestion of our state’s roads, highways and bridges –and they want something done.”
After clearing the title board and surviving possible protests, the coalition would need to collect 98,492 valid signatures by Aug. 8 in order to make the November ballot.