It’s never a good sign for your family budget when the word “fee” appears 485 times in a bill. Colorado Senate Democrats are using that word to sell a massive tax increase dressed up as an infrastructure plan. Senate Bill 21-260 is nearly 200 pages long, creates four departments of government called “enterprises,” is loaded with big thoughts about “climate justice,” and would cost Colorado taxpayers $5.3 billion.
There is no doubt Colorado needs to upgrade its roads and bridges. You can’t drive in El Paso County without swerving around potholes. Now that the pandemic appears to have crossed a tipping point, wait times are building again to get from Colorado Springs to Denver.
The fact that Colorado legislators are paying attention to our infrastructure problems should be a win. But SB 260 is more about building government than building roads.
Senate Democrats know SB 260 is a bad plan for Coloradans, and they’ve worked hard to ensure you won’t get to vote on it, even though the Colorado Constitution guarantees you that right.
The 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires that tax increases be approved by a popular vote. To circumvent TABOR, legislators started using “fees” instead of taxes to accomplish the same goals.
But the voters caught the politicians with their hand in the cookie jar and in 2020, Coloradans voted for Proposition 117 to end this practice. The proposition requires that any new fee-based enterprise that will collect $100 million over five years also be approved by a vote of the people.
To avoid coming to the voters with their truckload of new fees, Democrats created four new “enterprises” in SB 260. Each will supposedly collect less than $100 million over five years. They dodge the cap — and you don’t get to vote! That is nothing short of disingenuous.
Seventy percent of the bill’s funding, or $3.8 billion, will come through new and increased “fees,” and another $1.5 billion coming from existing sources. It imposes gas fees in addition to the gas tax you pay, five fees on food delivery services, and fees on ride-sharing, car registration, rental cars, and retail.
If you drive for Uber or Door Dash, you’ll pay a fee at the pump and a fee for every delivery. If you drive at all, you’ll pay a fee to buy your car and new fees that increase over the next few years to drive your car.
The timing for a fee frenzy couldn’t be worse.
A Wallethub study released last month shows that Coloradans are still suffering economically from the pandemic. Our 127% rise in unemployment from March 2020 to March 2021 represents a bigger leap than any other state except Hawaii. Overall, Colorado’s economic recovery ranks 43rd.
When people are struggling to make ends meet, the worst thing their elected representatives can do is add to their financial burden. Simple fairness dictates that government must not raise taxes, or in this case fees, on families struggling to pay their bills.
The state government is awash in money. State and local governments in Colorado have received twelve billion stimulus dollars over the last year. Our 2021-22 fiscal year budget is 34.1 billion dollars. Democrats have been spending millions on pet projects like free diapers for anyone regardless of need and housing benefits for people regardless of legal status, but they refuse to attend to the core state responsibility of maintaining our roads and bridges.
Better solutions to our roads and bridges problem exist. Republicans have offered meaningful plans several times.
We have offered an amendment to SB 260 that would divert $2 billion of federal stimulus dollars toward roads and bridges, removing or at least reducing the fee-and-tax burden on Coloradans. Democrats don’t like it.
Last year, I provided another viable solution through SB 20-044. The bill would have put 10% of existing sales tax — which we pay on transportation-related items like car batteries and tires — toward infrastructure. Democrats killed it.
And Senate Bill 18-001, which passed the Senate unanimously three years ago, would issue $3.5 billion in bonds to fix our roads. For it to take effect, Colorado voters need to approve it with a public vote, but we’ve never gotten the chance, because year after year Democrats have chosen to not allow the voters to speak.
SB 260 makes the question clear. Do you want to improve Colorado’s roads and bridges with the taxes the people already pay? Or do you want to expand government and fund a new round of politicians’ pet projects? My vote will be for family budgets and against SB 260.
Paul Lundeen is a Colorado politician and a member of the Colorado State Senate, representing District 9.