Transportation: Would candidates for governor go to the voters to raise funds?

It’s a question that comes up for the dozen-plus candidates for governor as they campaign across Colorado: What will they do about the state’s transportation and infrastructure woes?

Colorado is facing a decade-long $9 billion backlog for projects, according to the state’s transportation department, as well as a $25 billion funding gap for the next quarter century, which is why one business group is hoping to go to the voters in November with a sales tax increase to help mitigate it.

Over the weekend, Summit Daily checked in with some of the candidates for a story about what they would do on the transportation front. “Front Range business leaders are planning to circumvent lawmakers and take a dedicated sales tax increase directly to voters in November,” the paper reported. “Their urgency is warranted, according to experts who say that long-neglected infrastructure threatens to dampen Colorado’s brisk economic growth.”

As part of our 20-question questionnaire, we asked each candidate if, generally speaking, they would support asking voters to raise money to pay for transportation projects. Three out of six Democrats said they would, and two didn’t answer directly. Three out of seven Republicans said they would not, and three did not answer directly. Only Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and Larimer County GOP Commissioner Lew Gaiter indicated they would want to see a ballot measure on the Republican side.

“I think we need a combination of taking general fund money from the existing budget — bonding against that money — and then I would support a user tax, but not a sales tax,” Coffman said, according to Summit Daily. “I don’t think the appetite is there for a sales tax increase.”

Here’s where the others stand on asking voters, in no particular order:

Democrat Noel Ginsburg said he would go to the voters to help fund transportation projects, adding, that as governor, he would create a Statewide Planning and Development board “with members from our transportation, housing, economic development, water, energy, and infrastructure offices, along with leadership from rural Colorado.” Doing so, he said, will ensure “our infrastructure projects are coordinated across departments and are focused on creating the largest impact for communities across our state.”

Republican Doug Robinson did not answer directly about whether he would go to voters. He says he believes Colorado fix its roads without raising taxes. “Only three times during Gov. Hickenlooper’s seven years in office did he request CDOT funding from the general fund.”

Democrat Mike Johnston told us he would support asking voters to raise money for transportation. “If we are unable to meet our transportation needs – including multimodal solutions like mass transit and bicycle transportation – then we will have to invest more,” he said. “This is why we propose going to the ballot to make changes to the fiscal knot is to make sure we can provide adequate funding not just for education but also for transportation infrastructure.”

Republican Victor Mitchell says he would not want to ask voters to raise money for transportation projects. “We can meet our essential transportation needs within current revenues by reducing CDOT’s overhead, tapping existing pockets of revenue at the department and elsewhere in the state bureaucracy, and performance auditing to free up dollars from other state budgets,” he says.

Democrat Cary Kennedy says she would ask voters to raise money for transportation. “Highway improvements are needed, especially in rural Colorado, in the long term trying to ‘widen’ our way out of traffic is expensive and inefficient,” she told us. “We can have a coordinated system of transportation options that includes high-speed and commuter rail, buses, bikes, van pools and ride shares that will allow us to reduce congestion, improve health, and protect the environment. And we can keep our system safe for the ever increasing number of drivers.”

Republican Walker Stapleton did not respond to our questionnaire. “As Governor, I will demand results from the Department of Transportation (CDOT). Our gas tax revenues have increased by over 30 percent since 1999,” he says on his website. “We should re-bond a portion of our gas tax revenue, as was accomplished successfully in 1999 without increasing Coloradans’ taxes by a dime.”

Democrat Jared Polis didn’t answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ directly when asked if he would ask voters to raise money for transportation. “Each Coloradan is already paying an average of more than $750 per year in lost productivity and car damage due to the poor conditions of our roads,” he said. “My plan calls for fixing our crumbling roads and highways, bringing a high-speed rail to the Front Range to run from Fort Collins to Pueblo, and universal internet access in our rural communities. I will work collaboratively with the legislature to use existing dollars in the General Fund for transportation projects in a way that does no harm to the education of our children and the medical care of Colorado’s most vulnerable … however, our $9 billion backlog of infrastructure projects that need immediate attention is only going to grow, as is our need for a new sustainable funding source.”

Republican Lew Gaiter said he would go to the voters to raise funds. But, he said, “I would prefer we first look inside the state budget and ensure there is not a reallocation of priorities which would obviate the need for additional taxes. After that we should further explore public/private/partnerships to see if that is a sufficient revenue source for CDOT projects. Failing to find sufficient resources within current revenue allocations, I would be open to asking the citizens of Colorado to consider helping us generate additional revenue from existing sources.”

Democrat Donna Lynne did not answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in our questionnaire about whether she would want to ask voters to raise money for transportation projects. “As does Governor Hickenlooper, I support the responsible use of general fund dollars and additional revenue – whether that’s a gas tax, sales tax or other – from taxpayers as the only way to meet our dramatic transportation needs – $9B over the next decade alone,” she told us.

Republican Greg Lopez says he would not go to the voters, either. “As Governor, I will review and advocate for ideas that I consider to be the best non-negotiable aspects of Colorado’s transportation health,” he says.

Democrat Erik Underwood told us he would not ask voters to raise funds for transportation. “The money is already there, repealing TABOR will allow for funding of transportation initiatives including new stations … rail up and down I-25 and more bus stations to our rural areas,” he said.

Republican Greg Lopez says he would not go to the voters, either. “As Governor, I will review and advocate for ideas that I consider to be the best non-negotiable aspects of Colorado’s transportation health,” he says.

Neither would Republican Steve Barlock. “I am confident I will be able to work in a bipartisan effort with the legislature to develop a transportation plan for roads and bridges which will be funded within the state’s current tax revenue,” he says.

To read each of their full responses to this and other questions we asked in our questionnaire, click here.

Photo by Reinis Traidas for Creative Commons on Flickr.