Locally, that played out when voters said yes to keeping excess revenue beyond the TABOR cap for parks and open space. But statewide, voters resoundingly said no to an open-ended attempt to keep revenue without an end date and without stipulating specific purposes.
Supporters of Proposition CC — including Gov. Jared Polis — asked to keep all excess revenue under TABOR (a complicated formula based on inflation and population growth) for education and transportation. Supporters wanted to split revenue into thirds: one-third to fund higher education, one-third for kindergarten through 12th grade, and a third for state transportation projects.
It’s money we clearly need. Colorado ranks at the bottom nationally for higher-education expenditures. UCCS receives only 6 percent of its budget from state coffers. In essence, there’s no public higher education in Colorado — it’s all privately funded. And lack of state investment leaves students with loans that will affect future consumer expenditures: think housing, automobile purchases, the decision to have children. All will be impacted because large percentages of income will continue to be spent paying off tremendous amounts of debt.
State transportation infrastructure is a disaster. Roads are choked and highways are clogged with new residents and tourists alike who are trying to get to the mountains, to work, to the store. The wear on roads equates to a constant need for repaving, repairing and replacing them.
No one disputes that Colorado needs to invest in its future — transportation and education are vital to the state’s economic wellbeing. And excess TABOR revenue — already collected by the state — seems like the best place to fund necessary projects.
Suthers knows what he’s talking about. He’s accomplished voter-approved tax increases for road infrastructure improvements not once, but twice. He’s also thrown his support behind local excess tax revenue remaining in city budgets for parks and recreation. Why? Because those measures are limited, have an end date and include specific, clearly defined purposes.
Voters opted for local parks and open space — for specific projects that benefit the local economy, provide amenities for families and improve the city. They voted yes on 2C for roads because they knew it benefited the streets they use everyday. They voted no on CC because it wasn’t specific. What if all the money went to Interstate 70, ignoring traffic jams around Colorado Springs. Powers Boulevard is a state highway and is being ignored. Highway 24 is another state highway in need of repair and upgrades.
And what about alternative modes of transportation? Would the state use the money for a high-speed rail from Fort Collins to Pueblo? Would it invest in ways to keep cars off the road and smog out of the air? No one knows. And because they didn’t know, voters turned down the measure.
Proponents of CC should go back to the drawing board and come up with a new plan. It should be specific and temporary. Because, like it or not, voters don’t trust politicians with money. Let’s try again — but next time we should take a cue from John Suthers.