Colorado’s economy ranks among the best in the country. But despite a very low unemployment rate, record corporate profits and tourism revenue, congestion is worsening, one in four roads are rated as being in poor condition and almost 500 bridges have been labeled “structurally deficient.” And we’re one of the worst states in K-12 and higher education funding.
How can we have a strong economy yet suffer with some of the most unsafe roads and bridges and underfunded schools? It started almost 30 years ago when voters narrowly approved what were — and still are — the most restrictive state spending limits in the country. We understand why this sounds appealing.
When our economy shrinks, like other states, we reduce spending and balance the budget. But unlike other states, when our economy rebounds, we can’t invest all of the funds we already have on basic needs, like education, workforce training, infrastructure and supporting an aging population.
Instead the state is forced to pay out money, much of which was collected from business, in the form of a small rebate to individual Coloradans.
We make our families and communities feel the pain of the bad times without the benefit of the good times.
Almost every business, academic and public sector leader will tell you: forcing the state to uphold this antiquated law and refund money to individuals over an arbitrary limit might be good politics, but it’s awful policy.
These rebates are projected to average between $27-$44 per person next year. As local education, business and public service leaders, we hear from a lot of people in the Colorado Springs area, and we get it. For many, that’s a lot of money.
But Proposition CC is asking voters to pool these funds next year to the tune of $264 million for the state, and likely more in years to follow. With one vote we can untangle an outdated budget rule and invest the money the state collects equally among three specific areas: transportation, K-12 Education and Higher Education.
Under Proposition CC, 40% of this money for transportation will go straight to local and county governments such as El Paso County to invest in specific, local transportation priorities. We can begin to expand transit and fix our unsafe bridges, roads and highways.
Our K-12 schools will receive millions of dollars to attract and retain quality teachers and expand learning options. It will help Colorado community colleges keep tuition affordable for all residents. In support of this measure, the Board of the Colorado Community College System unanimously passed a resolution in favor of Prop. CC.
Nobody’s taxes will go up under Prop. CC and this will not affect annual tax refunds from over payment. These rebates are taxes that have been paid. Unprecedented transparency and safeguards are written into the law, with a third-party, independent auditor who will trace every dollar for the public to see how the money is spent.
Some are concerned that the Legislature will have the power to change how the money is carved up between education and transportation. A fair point, but to do otherwise would be to continue the damaging practice of making permanent today’s formulas that may not be wise under future conditions (i.e. putting fiscal policy in our constitution). Legislators will hear plenty from future voters about their priorities for education and transportation and should be given the opportunity to make decisions that fit the times.
This ballot measure won’t fix all of our roads and bridges or eliminate Colorado’s education gaps, but it’s a big step forward. And it’s exactly what many leaders have been asking for decades: to invest in our needs within the limits of the constitution with the money we already have.
Together, we can start fixing things and invest in Colorado’s future.
Richard Skorman is the District 3 representative on the Colorado Springs City Council. Walt Cooper is school district administrator of Cheyenne Mountain School District 12. Lance Bolton is the presient of Pikes Peak Community College. Rocky Scott is state transportation commissioner.