An unusual route through our rocky road situation

Column by Greg Romberg
Posted 6/9/21

What should you do when virtually everyone agrees that a problem exists but a solution has yet to be found despite years of discussion and debate? Colorado’s roads and highways are a mess. There …

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An unusual route through our rocky road situation

Posted

What should you do when virtually everyone agrees that a problem exists but a solution has yet to be found despite years of discussion and debate?

Colorado’s roads and highways are a mess. There has been an ongoing conversation about both the capacity and the conditions of them and how we can address undenied needs. At the same time, concerns have been raised that we are too reliant on our cars and that other options would both relieve stress on roads and improve our environment.

Despite the agreement that something needs to be done, voters have rejected prior efforts to raise taxes for additional transportation funding.

The legislature has adopted SB 260, a bill that in conjunction with stimulus funds from the federal government, will put $5 billion over the next 10 years into transportation funding. It will include money for roads, bridges and transit throughout the state and be paid for through a mixture of fees. The bill passed the legislature with all 61 Democrats voting for it, but with only one of 39 Republicans supporting it. While Republicans agreed that more resources are necessary, they argued that money should be directed just to roads, that it should come from cuts to other programs and that voters should approve the expenditures.

While the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) requires voter approval of new taxes, courts in Colorado have ruled consistently that the legislature has broad authority to classify revenue as fees when there is a nexus between the source and use of funds. Voters amended the constitution last November to require that new enterprises that generate more than $100 million in a five-year period be approved by voters. SB 260 contains four new enterprises, none of which exceed the limit alone, but would collectively. Opponents argued that splitting the new funding sources into separate enterprises violated both the spirit and the letter of the law requiring voter approval. It is likely that question will be decided by the courts. As the new requirement is just a few months old, there is no case law, but given rulings on TABOR issues over the years, I expect the bill will be found to be constitutional.

The legislative majority faced tough decisions about funding transportation. While there is no doubt that a long-term, dedicated funding source is absolutely necessary to augment gas taxes that diminish as cars become more efficient and the use of vehicles that don’t run on gas increase, the fact that voters have rejected prior requests for more money raised a legitimate question about whether the increase should be implemented without voter approval.

But when push finally did come to shove, it is clear that the responsible thing for the legislature was to address an overwhelming need. Passage of SB 260 was the correct policy, is a good and proper investment of public resources, and will improve our quality of life moving forward.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.

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