EDITORIAL: Colorado Springs Mayor Suthers will oppose road tax

The Denver Chamber of Commerce should reconsider its push for a transportation tax on November’s ballot. We applaud their support for better highways and bridges, but more taxes are not a good solution.

Voters are under no illusions. They know about state government’s record-breaking and growing tax revenues. They know how the political class neglects roads and bridges, hoping voters will finally give in and raise their taxes in frustration. Voters aren’t happy about getting forced into a corner by the people elected to serve them.

The Denver chamber sponsored a series of secret meetings this spring to plot the tax hike. They closed the meetings to the general public and media. Colorado Politics reporter Joey Bunch found out about the meetings, listened in on one, and alerted the public.

In the unlikely event this proposal generates support, it will encounter the active opposition of Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers. He is a seasoned, pro-business politician and lawyer who often sides with Denver’s chamber and other commerce organizations.

Suthers governs Colorado’s second-largest city. More than 12 percent of the state’s population resides the Colorado Springs metropolitan area. People in and around the Springs like and trust Mayor Suthers. When he convinces the Pikes Peak region to oppose the tax, the measure will stand little chance of passing.

Suthers convinced local voters in 2015 to raise taxes for improvements to bridges and roads. Measure 2C brings in between $50 million and $52 million a year. The measure raised sales taxes in Colorado Springs from 7.63 percent to 8.25 percent. It sunsets in 2020, at which point the mayor and City Council may ask voters to renew it.

The chamber wants a .62 percent state tax increase, which would bring combined sales taxes in Colorado Springs to 8.87 percent.

"That would be too high," Suthers said. "We probably would not seek a renewal of 2C with taxes that high, even though a lot more road work would need to be done. One problem with the statewide proposal is that only 45 percent goes to state highways. The rest goes to transit, or is divided between cities and counties."

For Colorado Springs, it threatens a net increase in taxes and a dramatic decrease in transportation money. It makes no sense for at least 12 percent of Colorado’s population.

"Instead of $50 million, we’d get about $18 million for local roads," Suthers said.

While opposing the chamber’s tax plan, Suthers will campaign for a proposed ballot measure titled "Fix Our Damn Roads." It would force legislators to spend more on roads without raising taxes.

"Fix Our Damn Roads spends $35 million a year (over 20 years) to bond $3.5 billion," Suthers said. "Why would Colorado Springs vote for the state tax increase? They could get more money out of a local tax and by voting for Fix Our Damn Roads?"

As explained by Jon Caldara, president of Colorado’s Independence Institute, the state spends only 6 percent of the budget on highways. That’s down from 10 percent a decade ago, when Colorado’s population was significantly smaller. The institute sponsors and funds the Fix Our Damn Roads campaign.

We do not need a tax increase and cannot afford one. We need politicians to prioritize roads. Polling shows voters are eager to demand it, by passing a law.

The Denver Chamber has a long history of advocating responsible policies that help all Coloradans. The group is right to advance the cause of improving our roads. It should forget the tax hike and get behind "Fix Our Damn Roads" — a plan to benefit all Coloradans with a real solution to a needless transportation crisis.

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