When Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Michael Lewis visited Chaffee County last June, he made clear which of the two transportation initiatives on the Nov. 6 general election ballot he prefers: Proposition 110. While both Proposition 109 and Proposition 110 focus on funding state transportation needs, they propose to do it in radically different ways.
Proposition 110 would provide a 0.62-percent transportation funding mechanism that would split revenue raised among program areas to provide 45 percent to CDOT for state highways, 20 percent for city and town streets, 20 percent for county roads, and 15 percent for multi-modal transit projects like bike lanes, trails and mass transit.
“That means locally directed funding for your local transportation priorities,” said Lewis. “In its first year it would raise up to $767 million for projects all across the state and allow the state to bond up to $6 billion over 20 years to invest in our transportation infrastructure.”
The beauty of 110, which also goes by the catchy name of “Let’s Go Colorado,” is it provides for a 60-40 split of the revenue to be divided between metro Denver and the rest of the state, creating a transportation windfall for rural counties. That’s because although 80 percent of the revenue raised would come from metro areas, those same Front Range cities have agreed to allow 40 percent of the revenue raised to be designated for use in and by rural counties.
In contrast, the second proposed transportation ballot, Proposition 109, would direct that funds be allocated to repair state highways but provides no new funding mechanism. That means road funding would have to come out of the state’s existing budget, thus competing with things like education and healthcare.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper echoed the CDOT director’s preference in his visit to Salida last week, in fact declaring the competing Proposition 109 as “a wolf on the ballot. You can’t see now what it would do to our budgets for healthcare and education.”
Over the past couple of years, projects that could be funded by Proposition 110 have already been identified by all 64 Colorado counties. They total $7 billion in unmet transportation needs. Not only would Proposition 110 allow the state to preserve $1.5 billion in existing state funding for CDOT (enshrined in SB17-267), it would result in a $7 billion net increase over the current law.
In contrast, the language of Proposition 109 requires replacing that current $1.5 billion in existing state funding and provides that the state be allowed to bond for $3.5 billion over 20 years on CDOT (state highway) projects but would not allow the funds to be used for any other transportation project. The result would be a $2 billion net increase over the current law to the detriment of other currently funded state needs. That’s a $5 billion dollar difference between 109 and 110.
Opponents of both bills are known to cite the need to raise the state’s gas tax (currently CDOT’s primary funding resource) to pay for transportation projects. But the facts do not bear out a gas tax increase as a viable option. The state has not raised its gas tax since 1991, and gas taxes are unpopular nationwide. CDOT also receives 36 percent of vehicle registration fees. Between that and the gas tax, average drivers in Colorado pay around $211 per year to fund transportation.
Proponents of Proposition 110 say the need is outstripping the current funding mechanisms. They say that a new way forward is needed and a small increase in sales tax would share the burden of funding important infrastructure with tourists and visitors to Colorado.