Transportation is a Fundamental Issue for MMC
TABOR, which passed by a margin of 111,402 votes in 1992, mandates that voters approve any statewide tax increase. Since 1992, Colorado has grown from just over 3 million residents to more than 5.6 million and over that same 27 year time period, voters have not approved a single statewide tax increase to support transportation. Because our state and federal gas taxes are not indexed to inflation, a dollar today purchases just 40% as much as it did in 1991. While much attention is focused on Colorado's Department of Transportation funding shortfalls — the challenge is not CDOT’s alone. More than 75% of the paved miles in Colorado are maintained by cities and counties. Every trip begins on a local road, street or sidewalk and local governments also face tremendous unfunded mobility and maintenance needs.
With greater than 53% of the state's population living within the metro Denver area, an integrated multi-modal mobility system is essential to the economic health and quality of life in both the Denver metro area and the state. A fully integrated system provides mobility choices by tying together rail, bus transit, local roads, state highways, bike lanes, sidewalks and mobility solutions like those emerging from the sharing economy. Build-out of this network in the Denver region is a critical component of Metro Vision, the Denver region's long-range growth and development plan.
Significant and sustainable sources of new revenues are required to address the state and local multi-modal needs of current and future generations of Coloradans. Given the critical importance of mobility to economic and environmental sustainability, the Caucus has convened dialogues and supported many initiatives on transportation and mobility since 1993. Support has been provided for multiple rail lines, the $1.67B TREX Project, the 2004 ballot proposal to fund RTD's FasTracks plan, the $200M per year, fee based 2009 legislative financing package known as FASTER, legislative attempts to identify sustainable sources of new funding and, most recently, the 2018 statewide sales tax increase in Proposition 110 also known as "Let's Go, Colorado" which would have generated $767M for transportation in its first year.
With failure of Proposition 110's .62% statewide sales tax increase and the concurrent failure of the fiscally irresponsible Proposition 109 debt proposal, the Caucus encouraged Governor Polis and the legislature to reevaluate all options to fund both state and local mobility needs. In 2021, working with the legislative leadership and Governor Polis, the Caucus strove to find a compromise that would fund both the state and localities needs and balancing maintenance needs of the vast rural network with the intense mobility and congestion relief needs of our dense urbanized areas where more than 83% of Coloradans live and travel daily.
This compromise was struck in Senate Bill 21-260 (see above photo from signing ceremony). SB21-260 commits General Fund dollars, new user fees, and federal stimulus to fund congestion relief, maintenance, EV infrastructure, and mobility needs on state highways and local roads. While the proposed $4.2B investment will address just a portion of Colorado's unmet state and local need, SB21-260 will still provide an unprecedented level of investment in Colorado’s transportation network from a sustainable source of funds. This bill marked an incredibly important step in addressing the diverse transportation and mobility needs statewide that was embraced by mayors from across the political spectrum.
With nearly $950M for local jurisdictions, $461M for multi-modal and $233M non-attainment, SB21-260 will benefit local mobility needs and air quality mitigation efforts. Robust funding for electrification will position Colorado at the forefront of the market transition to electric vehicles and accelerate Ozone attainment. Finally, by empowering transportation planning organizations to identify projects and seek voter approval for funding, the state and our Denver region gained a critical tool to further close the gap on mobility investment. This effort to empower our region to better serve its citizens, without creating new, expensive and duplicative governmental organizations, is the culmination of nearly a decade of work and discussions by leadership and staff of the Metro Mayors Caucus.
FasTracks Vision Plan
In 2004 the Caucus was united in support of the FasTracks ballot question. Voters within the Regional Transportation District approved a .4% sales tax increase to fund buildout of the FasTracks plan. RTD encountered unanticipated obstacles in pursuit of completion of the plan including the global recession that began in 2007 and significant escalations in the cost of materials due to international demand. Work has since been completed on a number of corridors and continues on others.
The Caucus works directly with RTD and supports full implementation of the mobility goals in FasTracks. Completion of FasTracks, restoration of bus service, and integration of new mobility investments are fundamental to the environmental and economic sustainability of the region. To this end, the Caucus continues to explore means of further investing in the region's transit, roadway, pedestrian, and bike infrastructure to meet the needs of current and future metro area residents.
2012 to 2019 Transportation Initiatives
During 2012, transportation funding dominated Metro Mayors Caucus (MMC) discussions. Although identifying funding to ensure FasTracks buildout remained a priority concern, a broader discussion of multi-modal funding came to the forefront and occupied much of 2013. The discussion focused on a multi-tiered approach to funding statewide (MPACT64) and regional (Metropolitan Transit District) mobility needs. In subsequent years conversations have focused on regional funding, statewide funding, legislative approaches, enabling authority, referenda and initiatives. Some of these efforts are detailed below.
This group was a collaboration among four regional organizations covering all 64 counties in Colorado. The Metro Mayors Caucus, Progressive 15, Action 22, and Club 20 began working together on transportation issues in 2005 with the development and adoption of the Colorado Transportation Principles. In 2012 the principles were updated and readopted by MPACT64. The group then began working to find consensus strategies to increase transportation funding for all of Colorado. MPACT64 drafted a set of funding priorities and revenue strategies. MPACT64 discussions centered on the viability of a sales tax for transportation. This statewide discussion quickly grew to include other key partners and stakeholders from governments, business and non-profit sectors statewide including Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Incorporated, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, Metro Area County Commissioners, Colorado Association of State Transit Authorities, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Contractors Association, Colorado Public Interest Research Group, Bicycle Colorado, LiveWell, Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, and leadership from other planning regions. Through significant discussion, MPACT64 arrived at a consensus that a statewide sales tax increase shared across modes and level of government was the best available solution. View the MPACT64 (PPT) presentation to illustrate the problem and the state of the discussion in 2013.
Metropolitan Transit District (MTD)
Simultaneous to MPACT64, discussions were taking place in the Denver metro area about regional funding strategies to supplement increased statewide funding. The Caucus and Metro Area County Commissioners committee met to discuss the potential of a new Metropolitan Transportation District and governance options for a regional mobility funding mechanism. A straw man proposal for governance was circulated among local governments in the region for comment. In 2015, statewide polling showed voter support was growing for a statewide revenue solution for transportation and mobility needs and regional discussions were set aside to work toward a comprehensive statewide solution.
House Bill 17-1242
In 2017 the legislature began discussing a bi-partisan compromise to fund statewide transportation needs by referring a comprehensive measure to voters on the November ballot. House Bill 17-1242 had the sponsorship of House and Senate leadership and struck a balance between financing transportation via new revenues and bonded indebtedness, rural and urban and state and local transportation needs. It also included new state dollars for transit and maximized flexibility of dollars at the local level. Transportation advocates from across the state, including participants from MPACT64, were encouraged by the discussions and support for passage of HB17-1242 came from business, environmental, government and transportation interests. Members of the Metro Mayors Caucus testified on behalf of the bill and provided feedback on proposed amendments to HB17-1242. The bill passed the House and the Senate Transportation Committee but was killed on a 3-2 party line vote by a coalition of conservative Republican senators Owen Hill, Jack Tate and Tim Neville. TABOR prohibits legislators from raising taxes and requires that voters be given the right to decide if they are willing to raise taxes to pay for essential public services like transportation. Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, however argued that the fairest solution of all is giving voters no choice saying, it would have been unfair for legislators to ask voters to weigh in on funding transportation, because “we are still putting a burden on them to come out and defend themselves at the ballot box.”
Proposition 110: Let's Go, Colorado
After the disappointing defeat of the widely supported HB 17-1242, transportation advocates turned their focus to the initiative process. Stakeholders from across Colorado were convened by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and Colorado Contractors Association to identify a funding proposal that would receive broad support on the 2018 Ballot. Several titles were filed with the Secretary of State and Statutory Initiative 153, which when it qualified for the ballot became Proposition 110, was ultimately chosen to be the coalition initiative advanced for statewide consideration. Proposition 110 also known as Let's Go, Colorado proposed to raise the state sales and use tax from 2.9% to 3.52% and devote the new revenues to state and local mobility improvements including highways, roadways, transit, bike and pedestrian improvements. At an average household cost of less than 36¢ per day, the measure would have provided an estimated annual boost in funding of nearly $500,000,000 to the Colorado Department of Transportation, $307,000,000 to cities and counties and $115,000,000 to multi-modal transportation statewide. It would have addressed approximately half of CDOT's unfunded annual need and provided a significant boost to city and county infrastructure investments. To raise a similar amount via an increase in the gas tax, which has remained stagnant at 22¢/gallon since 1992, would require voter approval of a gas tax increase of 27¢ per gallon. Voters, faced with a long and confusing ballot, opted to say no to several competing funding measures for transportation and education, sending transportation advocates once again to the drawing board. The same election swept Democratic majorities into office in the Colorado House and Senate and put Congressman Jared Polis in the Governor's office.