The Colorado Motor Carriers Association, the voice of Colorado’s truckers, has something to say about House Bill 1242, the mega transportation bill. And that message is that it still needs a lot of work, even with the end of the legislative session is just three weeks away.
After hearing the association’s president, Greg Fulton, articulate the case for and against the bill in a couple committee statehouse hearings, I asked him to share his steering-wheel level view with Colorado Politics readers.
Here it is:
Tell me specifically where you guys stand on House Bill 1242 as it’s currently written.
FULTON: It’s complicated. We have been and continue to be a major supporter of increased transportation funding, and we commend legislative leaders in bringing forward a measure. HB 1242 has some good concepts. In particular the identification of key major projects and using bonds to accelerate these improvements is a very good idea. This provides the opportunity to jump start these critical efforts which may alleviate congestion and benefit our economy. It also allows voters clearly to understand what they would be receiving. In addition the measure provides additional funding for cities and counties to address their critical transportation needs.
We also were pleased to see the Senate incorporate an ongoing commitment of $100 million from the General Fund toward the transportation program. This commitment helps the public to see that the state has some skin in the game when we ask them to approve a ballot proposal. We also like the provisions in the measure that would insure accountability and transparency. Finally, the elimination of late fees would remove an ongoing frustration of many vehicle owners.
How would you improve it?
FULTON: Realizing that the public’s greatest concern and the focus of much of the attention related to funding has been our congested and deteriorating state highways and bridges, we have serious reservations that CDOT would only receive 41.2 percent of the overall funds for the state highway system under this measure. Considering that 59 percent of all the vehicle miles traveled in the state occur on the state highway system, this allocation does not appear to be in sync. In fact CDOT would receive a smaller allocation for state highways than under the existing formula for funding related to the current (Highway Users Tax Fund).
Second, we believe that the measure should be clear in stating that none of the revenues raised through this measure shall be used to construct or maintain toll roads. Using public funds to build a toll lane and then turn around and charge the public a hefty fee to use it, is very unpopular. This approach is viewed as double taxation and many deem these lanes as Lexus lanes because of the high tolls. Both the Senate president and House speaker recently were quoted in news articles that they opposed tolls in their bill. While an amendment was made to the measure, the language in the current bill still allows for tolling associated with managed or express lanes. We believe that any reference to allowing revenues under this proposal to be used for toll purposes should be removed.
Third, we believe that the provision in the bill for a reduction in the safety surcharge fee for light duty vehicles should be removed. This fee was approved under the FASTER Act several years ago toward addressing safety projects and needs in the state. In light of rising traffic fatalities in the state as well as CDOT’s financial situation, a reduction in this fee does not seem to be a sound idea. Also, we question why the bill would only reduce the fees on light duty vehicles, when the accident rate for automobiles is almost double that of trucks. This fee reduction would result in an average savings of only about $10 to $14 per year which would not seem to affect voter sentiment for the measure. Further, being that the safety surcharge fee is assessed on vehicles, it is more directly related and linked to transportation. We encourage legislators to remove the fee reduction provision for light-duty vehicles and restore those funds to CDOT within the proposal.
Fourth, while the bill provides an overall amount for the bonds and indicates that a project list would be in the measure that goes to the voters, the list does not appear in the bill. Rather, the list would be compiled by the Colorado Transportation Commission within 45 days after passage of the measure. Thus legislators would be voting on committing the State to the largest bond in the state’s history while not knowing fully what those projects may be. We strongly believe that the project list should be in the bill so that legislators may know what they are voting on and that the public may know the same as well as having input on this list that should be drawn from CDOT’s high-priority projects.
Finally, the bill provides that the sales tax would sunset in 20 years, making this a temporary tax. At the same time it allows for funding through the multimodal account to be used for operating assistance for transit. This situation sets up the potential for a major unfunded liability when the sales tax would sunset in 20 years. Either, the state, cities or counties could find themselves in the position where they would need to provide substantial funding to backfill the costs of these transit systems in regard to operational support at that time if the sales tax were not continued. Because of the temporary nature of the measure, any funding for multimodal projects under this proposal should be limited to capital assistance.
I’ve heard the association has concerns about toll roads. Truckers wouldn’t be required to use them, so why is it an issue for motor carriers?
FULTON: In regard to key corridors such as I-25 North, the only additional lanes that would be added would be managed or express lanes. These are really toll lanes unless one is in a three-plus carpools or bus. So, we would have the public through this measure help pay to build those lanes and then pay again every time that they wish to use them. This equates to double taxation. Further, these lanes truly are Lexus lanes which are beyond the means of most of the public. The cost to a driver traveling to and from work daily during the peak hours on the North I-25 Express Lane from U.S 36 to 120th Ave would be almost $2,000 per year. This cost is beyond the means of many in our state, especially those who have lower incomes.
Is the sales tax a better option than a gas tax? Most states have gone the gas tax route.
FULTON: It’s hard to say. While sales tax appears to be polling better than a fuel tax in Colorado, this could be misleading based on the track record of other states. Fuel taxes are viewed by the public as more of a user fee which tends to be better understood as to its relationship to transportation needs. In addition each penny for fuel tax raises about $25 million so you would need to raise it substantially to generate the amount sought by the sponsors. In contrast sales tax cuts across everything that we buy (with some exceptions as listed in the bill) for many things have little relationship to transportation. Sales tax though generates a substantial amount of money and will continue to grow in the years ahead while fuel taxes may drop based on the efficiencies of vehicles.
Can you quantify the cost of Colorado’s traffic jams and lack of repairs to truckers? Will the HB 1242 help or hurt the ultimate cost of goods to consumers?
FULTON: The U.S. DOT recently estimated that congestion in the Denver Metropolitan Area cost businesses, using trucks, over $1 million per day.
That figure doesn’t even take into account the costs of gridlock for our companies and other businesses on I-25 in northern Colorado or on I-70 West from Denver. The time and cost for freight movement in the state will continue to rise unless key transportation improvements are made.