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EDITORIAL: Call a special session, for transportation only

By: The Gazette editorial board
May 16, 2017 Updated: May 16, 2017 at 11:41 am
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After legislators ended their 120-day session Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper said that he would consider a special session to deal with disappointing outcomes involving rural broadband internet, funding of the state energy office, health care policy and transportation funding.

Skeptics, including Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, expressed doubt the divided Legislature would accomplish more than it did the first time around.

If the governor spreads the focus of legislators over four diverse subjects, Grantham is probably correct. If Hickenlooper chooses one topic, and makes it funding of transportation, lawmakers will have a clear and attainable objective.

In discussing a special session with ColoradoPolitics.com, Hickenlooper mentioned going for a tax increase again. Legislators failed during the regular session to put a 0.62 percent sales tax on the ballot. A survey found the tax had scant public support.

Voters are not likely to support a new transportation tax. They feel spoofed.

State politicians are spending record-breaking revenues and claiming poverty. The Colorado Department of Transportation committed $150 million to new office space, while leaving roads and bridges to crumble.

By allowing deterioration, state officials probably think voters will give in and agree to new taxes.

Over 20 years, growth in state spending has increased by nearly $13 billion when adjusted for inflation. Revenues have nearly doubled, as population and incomes have grown, but most of our roads and bridges have seen no progress.

Colorado Springs and Denver have grown by hundreds of thousands of taxpaying residents in the past two decades. Meanwhile, the only freeway linking these cities has no additional capacity for 17 miles between Monument and Castle Rock. Crashes are common. Ambulances get stuck in traffic.

North of Denver, I-25 capacity is woefully inadequate between Loveland and Fort Collins. Portions of I-70, west of Denver, have also been neglected for decades.

Transportation funding, as a percentage of the budget, dwindled from nearly 8 percent 20 years ago to about 5 percent in 2016. Politicians have forced taxpayers to live with deadly and inadequate highways, while funding an ever-expanding Medicaid program that benefits about 20 percent of the state's population.

State government's neglect continues costing lives and impeding economic growth. It is so bad the Colorado-based Independence Institute wants a "Fix Our Damn Roads" ballot measure that would force legislators and the governor to prioritize transportation.

The game of chicken needs to stop. Call a special session to focus on highways, bridges, roads, and nothing more. If politicians can't do this, voters will do it for them.

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