It's never easy to pass a tax here, but it's even more difficult if the city's most public politician opposes it.
So when Mayor Steve Bach voiced concerns to City Council about the wording of the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority II intergovernmental agreement — a tax extension likely headed to the region's November ballot — area leaders began looking for a compromise.
Apparently, they found one. At their July 24 meeting, Councilors retreated into an unexpected closed executive session and returned with an amended version of the IGA, which they approved. Since then, plenty of leaders have asserted they'll support the tweaked document, from El Paso County commissioners to Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder to Bach.
"I appreciate City Council's action on Tuesday to request that the PPRTA-IGA be amended," Bach said in a statement responding to an Indy inquiry. "Assuming that all of our partners in PPRTA also approve the amended language, I will be supporting the ballot issue."
The PPRTA was first passed in 2004, when the voters of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and unincorporated El Paso County approved a one-cent sales-and-use tax for a set list of capital and maintenance projects and improvements to the roads and transit system. The capital portion (55 percent) expires at the end of 2014. PPRTA II — which adds the communities of Calhan and Ramah — would keep the capital money flowing for 10 more years, toward a new set of projects totaling an estimated $400 million.
Generally popular with both the public and politicians, PPRTA has been vital during the recession as a way to keep up with traffic needs, maintain roads and bridges, and keep buses running. Colorado Springs taxpayers chip in about 70 percent of the funding, which came to nearly $70 million in 2011 alone. In general, the authority's board of directors divvies up money to member governments based on population. But that hasn't actually been written into the agreement, which bothered Bach, who believed the Springs might not get its fair share.
City Council sought to ease the mayor's mind by specifying in the IGA that money should be allocated for second-priority projects, or "B-list" projects, based solely on population.
The stipulation ensures Colorado Springs will get the lion's share of PPRTA funding once the highest-priority projects are completed — if they're completed. The first PPRTA hasn't yet made it to the B-list.
Since the change amends the IGA, all member governments will need to approve it. So far, however, that doesn't look like a problem. Of the leaders who've spoken on the issue, some seem displeased, but all say they'll approve the new language. Snyder, for instance, saw the change as unnecessary, but fine.
"Isn't the real problem the suspicion in Colorado Springs?" he asked. "I mean, the little guys [small governments]— the tail doesn't wag the dog. I think sometimes Colorado Springs acts out of an abundance of caution, and I think sometimes a little goodwill and a little good faith goes a long way."
Several county commissioners spoke to Councilors about the amendment, saying they too planned to vote in favor of it. But Commissioner Peggy Littleton noted that Springs residents use roads outside the city, and small towns like Manitou Springs are big tourist draws that bring the Springs money. The region, she said, is connected, and PPRTA funding should reflect that.
"The success story of PPRTA I is that we all worked together," Littleton said. "We all gave ... to really give to our community."