2021 Leg Session, Gold Dome, Jesse Mallory, TABOR, Taxes, Uncategorized

Mallory: Beware end-run around voters on gas tax hike

Colorado voters in November emphatically endorsed tougher rules to keep our state’s politicians from violating the spirit of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR.

Now, only a little over two months later, those politicians are cooking up a new plan to create an end run around TABOR that would cost the state’s drivers millions.

The lack of respect for the people who elected them is breathtaking.

Proposals for what supporters are calling a “gas fee” — it’s an increase in the gas tax, don’t be fooled — would be a blatant violation of TABOR, and particularly insulting in light of the expansion of taxpayer protections approved in November and votes to reject two other road-funding proposals in 2018.

The message this sends to every Coloradan who voted to strengthen TABOR and to oppose the 2018 initiatives is that the politicians in Denver don’t seem to care what you say, no matter how often you say it. So we’ll just have to say it again, even louder.

If the message sent by politicians is “we don’t care what you think,” our message to them has been and continues to be, “stop wasting our money, set priorities, and make better use of the money we are already sending you.”

This new fee — whose cost has yet to be determined — would be in addition to the state’s 22-cents per gallon gas tax (which is in addition to the federal 18.4 cents per gallon tax).

That ranks Colorado in the bottom fifth among the states. But that’s not the whole story, because a sizable proportion of what the state collects at the pump is spent on things other than roads.

Only 11 states divert more of their gas tax money to non-highway projects than does Colorado. More than one of every 10 gas tax dollars is spent elsewhere. In the 2018 budget year, that meant almost $72 million that should have gone to roads and bridges was wasted on something else.

And it’s actually even worse than it seems. According to the Reason Foundation, Colorado “allows cities and counties to spend up to 15% of their share on transit and 5% on administration. Therefore, the diversion rate for Colorado underestimates the actual amount of gas tax revenue that is diverted.”

Gov. Jared Polis has made funding transportation and infrastructure a priority for the 2021 legislative session. His strategic transportation plan carries a tab of almost $3.5 billion. But only about $2 billion has been accounted for. That gives us a starting point for the potential cost of any proposals to come.

A “fee” on gas is just a gas tax by another name, driving up the cost of driving to work, to school, to the grocery store, to Mesa Verde, up Pike’s Peak, or through Rocky Mountain National Park. Whatever you call it, this new “fee” would increase the cost of almost everything you buy. Less money in your pocket, more money for spendthrift politicians to waste.

If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Our advice for lawmakers is to get their ducks in a row before demanding taxpayers pay for more sauce.

If our legislators spend half as much time developing innovative solutions to challenging problems as they do trying to finagle their way around voter-approval, they could get a lot more accomplished.

Having just voted to strengthen TABOR, perhaps it’s already time to consider how we can make our state’s taxpayer protections even stronger. Maybe then Denver would finally get the message.

Jesse Mallory is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Colorado.

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