Caldara ‘Fix Our Damn Roads’ initiative free of new Amendment 71 hurdles

Author: John Tomasic - April 14, 2017 - Updated: April 15, 2017

Colorado's "gold dome."
Colorado’s “gold dome.”

The “Fix Our Damn Roads” transportation-funding ballot initiative proposed by Jon Caldara, the political bomb thrower who heads the libertarian Independence Institute, is a statutory proposal, not a constitutional proposal.

That’s a significant difference. It means the initiative will be easier and cheaper for him to pass than if it were a proposal meant to make a change to the state constitution.

Caldara, who has run many initiatives in the past, will still have to gather and submit 98,492 valid resident signatures to the Secretary of State’s office by August 7 — at 3:00 p.m.

But he can gather all of those signatures from anywhere in the state — including from busy downtown corners in Denver and in the rest of the relatively densely populated Front Range cities.

In other words, Caldara doesn’t have to abide by the rules put into place by Amendment 71, which passed last year and “raised the bar,” as its proponents put it, requiring proponents of constitutional initiatives — and only constitutional initiatives — to gather signatures from 2 percent of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 Senate districts.

What’s more, Caldara’s statutory initiative will only have to win a simple majority of voter support to pass.

Amendment 71 requires constitutional initiatives to win 55 percent of votes.

Caldara’s initiative would ask voters to approve a plan that would see the state issue $2.5 billion in bonds to fund road and bridge upgrades and then pay the bond debt through the state budget without raising taxes.

It’s a small-government lover’s dream — a fantasy is more like what critics of the measure call it.

The proposal would pull funding for transportation upgrades from many state programs, essentially strangling them. Indeed the entire state budget is $26.8 billion this year and lawmakers are desperately squabbling over $50,000 here and $1 million there.

“I think the people of Colorado would rather have better roads than Medicaid expansion,” Caldara told Coloradopolitics last week. “I think they’d rather have better roads than giving our corporate welfare to Quentin Tarantino or buying Teslas for rich white guys. The money is there. You just have to make some tough calls to do it.”

Currently, Medicaid draws some $2.67 billion from the state budget and is subsidized with billions more in federal funding. It provides health insurance coverage for 454,000 low-income Coloradans.

Lawmakers in both chambers this year made headlines for battling over the $3 million in annual incentives the state has paid to fuel the film industry here — the “corporate welfare to Quentin Tarantino,” Caldara laments.

Residents of the state who buy electric vehicles, including high-end Teslas, are eligible for a $5,000 state tax credit, the aim of which is to put more zero-emissions cars on the road, especially in the sprawling Front Range commuter region plagued over the years by “brown cloud” smog.

Caldara’s proposal comes in reaction to a bill authored by House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Canon City Republican. Their House Bill 1242 would ask voters to hike the state’s sales tax to 3.52 percent from 2.9 percent.

Democratic lawmakers point out that essential state programs are struggling, particularly education. Colorado’s public schools lost more than $800 million this school year. The perennially short school budget has been the subject of lawsuits. The state ranks near the bottom in spending in high education.

Should Caldara’s initiative pass, it would be signed into law by the governor and submitted to the Department of Transportation to implement with the help of members of the Legislature.

Note: Thanks to readers of an earlier post on the topic for pointing out that the Caldara initiative proposes a statutory change.

John Tomasic

John Tomasic

John Tomasic is a senior political reporter for The Colorado Statesman covering the Colorado Legislature.