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EDITORIAL: Use big surplus for transportation

By: The Gazette editorial board
January 10, 2018 Updated: January 10, 2018 at 7:56 am
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photo - dollar stacks
dollar stacks 

When state politicians cry poverty, and say they can't fix roads without a new tax, call them out for a bald-faced lie.

"It's going to be hard this year like it is every year," said House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, as quoted Jan. 8 in The Colorado Independent.

It should not be hard to manage an unanticipated pile of money that can and should help meet the state's most pressing need: transportation improvements.

Colorado legislators begin the 2018 General Assembly on Wednesday with projections of 2018-19 surplus of more than $1 billion. Politicians will wallow in cash partly because of the hot economy, and because of the historic tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump. By sending less money to Washington, we have more to spend in Colorado.

"Yes, we've got the money," said Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican, in a meeting with The Gazette's editorial board. "We're in a position to tell the voters we can do better with what you're already giving us, and the question is what are House Democrats willing to commit to transportation? What's their number, and for how long?"

Republicans question the resolve of their Democratic colleagues with reason.

Voters approved Referendum C in 2005, giving the Legislature a 5-year timeout from restrictions of the Colorado Constitution's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. The measure allowed the Legislature to keep and spend revenues in excess of the constitution's limits. The retained capital was to pay for health care, public education, local fire and police pensions, and transportation.

Referendum C retained $18.8 billion, and Democrats held the governorship and majorities in both legislative chambers during most of the years it was collected and spent. Only $49 million — 0.26 percent — went for transportation.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, said it is time for legislators to improve highways immediately.

"We've listened to the mantra that we can't use existing funds because it takes away from everywhere else," Grantham said. "Well, now we have those funds and it doesn't take away from anywhere else. So, we're ready to move. Let's fix the roads now. We have it sitting there in front of us right now. There are no excuses left, to be perfectly honest. We can fix it right here, right now, and we have the money."

Urgent needs include widening the I-25 "gap" between Castle Rock and Monument, and portions of the freeway between Denver and Fort Collins. Improvements to I-70 west of Denver should also rank, along with crumbling roads and bridges throughout rural areas. The surplus should buy transportation triage for every region of Colorado.

"Now is the time to take advantage of this unique opportunity to start solving the transportation challenges that our businesses tell us are driving up their costs and hindering their economic competitiveness," said Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corp.

Draper cited record-setting traffic fatalities, calling the need for highway spending "a matter of life and death."

Nothing about this is difficult, complicated, controversial or "hard." Our notoriously bad highways, roads and bridges pose lethal dangers, harm our economy, and are partially responsible for Colorado's first significant population exodus.

Transportation is in crisis. Use this new money to help solve it.

The Gazette editorial board

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