2021 Leg Session, Columnists, Featured, Jon Caldara, Proposition 117, TABOR, Taxes, Transportation

Caldara: Coloradans being played for fools with transportation bill

What absolute cowardice.

If there has ever been an example of lack of leadership and giving the middle finger to the expressed intent of the voters, the state Democrats’ new “transportation” funding bill is it.

First some quick history. If you don’t fund roads, they don’t get built. So, Colorado used to fund roads.

We had a law that put about 10% of all state sales tax revenue into roads, guaranteed. This made good sense since, after public safety, road infrastructure and education are THE core functions of state government.

Then in 2009 the state legislature repealed that road-funding law and ripped that revenue stream away. Road funding dropped to nearly zero. It’s been that way ever since.

And what little funding roads do get is now diluted by transit — choo-choos, buses, bike paths and open space. Our roadways turned to Third-World quality. No one can act shocked.

At the same time our state budget has been ballooning thanks to Ref C, and a host of “fee” increases without voter consent like the FASTER fee, the mill levy freeze and the hospital provider fee. And now more money than we ever could have dreamed from the federal stimulus frenzy is deluging state government.

All this while Colorado’s highway infrastructure, that core function of government, goes purposefully unfunded, as if it were planned.

Now the legislature and our governor plan on rewarding this colossal failure of basic governance with a gargantuan tax increase. They figured by not funding roads, they can get more money from taxpayers to pay for it twice.

Economists call financially rewarding bad behavior a moral hazard. We can just call it getting played.

But wait. Haven’t the voters expressed clearly that they don’t want to raise taxes for this?

Funny you ask. Why yes, they have, recently striking down both a tax increase for transportation funding and a debt increase for transportation by some 15 points each.

The message seemed pretty clear — hey legislature, fund transportation with the gobs of money we already give you, because that’s your damn job.

Well, like truculent children our leaders are going to raise the gas tax and taxes on delivery services against our expressed wishes. Good thing the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires them to ask our permission first! Well, this tax increase is labeled as a “fee” to avoid asking our consent.

But wait you say, didn’t we just pass Prop 117 to stop them from this gambit of increasing taxes by calling them fees, without getting our expressed consent? Well, yes, we did. But they are planning to try yet another loophole.

They will “raise existing fees” instead of creating new ones. This game is too cute by half, but given the Colorado Supreme Court’s hatred of TABOR they could well get away with it.

If the legislature arrogantly passes this bill, it will certainly result in a follow-up citizens’ initiative to Prop 117 requiring voter consent for raising existing “fees.” It will also likely result in a citizen’s initiative to lower the gas tax by whatever they are raising it by and maybe even more. And they will pass.

This will be the voters’ way of AGAIN telling the legislature and this governor that NO MEANS NO!

This leaves the issue of a couple of squishy Republicans giving aid and comfort to this insult. Doing so they destroy the opportunity to show voters a difference between Republicans and Democrats in this state.

For instance, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has supported fee increases in the past, but to his credit he has always insisted it be brought to the voters first. He should demand that now.

I’ve heard them say that while Democrats are in charge this is the best deal they can get to fix our roads, that there isn’t any other choice. Really? We do have the citizen’s initiative. One such is in the works to return the old law that puts 10% of sales tax revenue back into roads.

These few conservatives will prevent Republicans from showing voters a bold, responsible and respectful way to take on Colorado’s challenges and give voters a reason to vote Republican.

Or they can play the supporting role to the Democrats’ tax increases without consent and enjoy being the minority party in perpetuity.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


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