Students in Southwest Colorado ride buses across the state to get to their sporting events. Business owners travel miles and miles on our highways to haul goods and visit other regions. Tourists depend on safe roads to drive to our scenic towns. Moms and dads are spending more and more time on the road just to get to and from work.
While Colorado’s population has grown by 53 percent since 1990, highway lane miles have grown by just two percent. At the state legislature, everyone seems to agree that we need to do something about Colorado transportation, but the solutions differ. Some legislators are pushing the conversation toward bonds, while others have focused on new revenue.
Bonds can be an important tool, but we have to make sure we can pay back that debt. The problem with bonds is that without a clearly identified funding stream to pay off the bonds, we could end up robbing our schools to pay for our roads. Club 20, a collection of businesses and communities on the Western Slope, has made it clear that they will not support bonding legislation unless there is a dedicated source of revenue to pay for it.
A gas tax has been recommended as a revenue stream to pay for projects and maintenance. The gas tax, which has been set at 22 cents since 1991, makes up the largest portion of revenue from within the state.
Unfortunately, changes in vehicles have made this tax less fair and less uniform in effect. The popularity of alternative fuel vehicles in the city means that drivers who depend on more traditional vehicles for agricultural and industrial work end up paying more. A Prius and an old Dodge pickup both tear up the roads they use, but only one of the drivers is really picking up the bill.
Some transportation gurus offer up a more precise road usage tax. This would involve collecting data and information about every driver’s habits in the state. Without a 24/7 GPS transmitter in every vehicle you can’t discount out-of-state miles, and that’s obviously an issue for Durango. But such a system raises serious privacy concerns.
An increase in the state sales tax may provide a reliable revenue source that doesn’t leave rural Coloradans paying more for less. But sales taxes are regressive, meaning they hit low-income families the hardest. And we must consider the impact this could have on our businesses and tourism industry.
If and when we have to vote on a new source of transportation funding, we will have to weigh all the costs and benefits of our different options. Bonds, the gas tax, and sales tax have to be understood not just in terms of what they do, but how they work in relation to each other.
We need dependable transportation funding so that we can address our broad array of needs. It’s not just about highways and safe shoulders for mountain roads, but about bike paths and public transit. We need the kinds of transportation that give people access to jobs and make our choices more sustainable for the environment.
I’m interested in what you think!