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GUEST COLUMN: Make roads and bridges a priority

By: Paul Lundeen
June 2, 2017 Updated: June 2, 2017 at 7:53 am
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The Colorado Springs Gazette recently reported that Colorado is unlikely to receive new significant transportation funding from Washington. ("Insights: Trump's deal on transportation is a 'no deal' for Colorado," May 28.) The story concluded that federal policy is pushing Colorado toward more toll roads - but I am here to say that another alternative exists. Namely, to define spending priorities within state government and conclude roads and bridges are a priority.

Each year for the past 10 years Colorado state spending has grown, on average, by more than a billion dollars per year. We've gone from just over $17 billion in state spending in 2007 to $28.3 billion in the budget just signed by the governor. Yet our roads and bridges crumble, and traffic routinely grinds to a congested stop on our key roadways.

Conservative legislators offered amendments to this year's budget to shake loose some cash for roads. I offered two amendments, which combined would have redirected more than $315 million for roads and bridges.

While it's disappointing that both failed in the Democratic-controlled House, the point is that such a redirection of funds is not mathematically impossible. It's a question of priorities and the politics around choosing those priorities.

So what has been the policy choice and where does the money go? Between the 2007 budget and this year's, the Health Care Policy and Financing Department, whose most expensive job is managing Medicaid, has grown 178 percent from $3.5 billion to just a tick under $10 billion.

A big share of that money is federal pass-through dollars. But the state general fund money - the money generated primarily from sales and income tax, the money your state legislators have direct spending control overgrew by more than 90 percent ($1.3 billion) in the same time to reach $2.8 billion in this year's budget.

Here's the kicker: In those same 10 years, general fund spending on transportation was limited to $331 million for all 10 years.

Each year, the Colorado Department of Transportation uses state and federal gas tax dollars and other fees and taxes like those you pay when you register your car mostly for road maintenance.

And CDOT says they need another billion dollars a year to keep up with Colorado's growing population.

A crisis the size and scope of the roads and bridges breakdown in Colorado deserves the attention of general fund dollars. We need to have the tough conversations inside the state, and stack up every dollar for other policy items against our transportation needs.

Colorado should welcome funding help if it comes from Washington, but not expect it.

The current budget proposal in Washington would cut transportation programs and promote solutions that will translate into toll roads here in Colorado.

The administration in Washington has been open to reducing regulatory burdens associated with road improvements, which would ease the cost of construction and speed its completion. This is helpful, but it's not a solution.

The big question is this: Are roads and bridges paid for with the taxes collected from the people of Colorado a priority or not? I say yes.

Let's have the tough conversations about the state budget.

Let's allocate the tax money that is being redirected from the everyday budgets of hard-working Coloradans into taxes and pay for the roads and bridges those same Coloradans deserve.

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Paul Lundeen is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from the 19th District, which encompasses portions of El Paso County.

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