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Fix Our Damn Roads could ask Colo. voters to force lawmakers to use existing taxes

Author: Joey Bunch - May 7, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018

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Independence Institute President Jon Caldara strikes a pose during a recent interview at the conservative think tank's Denver offices. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)Independence Institute President Jon Caldara. (Photo by Ernest Luning/ Colorado Politics)

Fix Our Damn Roads, a ballot initiative to force Colorado lawmakers to spend existing taxes on transportation instead of a new one, will soon receive signatures from like-minded voters.

The effort is counter to a proposal being considered by a coalition led by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which could ask voters to approve a statewide sales tax of up to a penny.

Fix Our Damn Roads is led by the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver, which made the announcement on its website Monday morning.

Meanwhile, with three days left in the legislative session, Senate Republicans and House Democrats are still working on a compromise to take some money from the state budget, but it’s not clear whether Senate Bill 1 can pass.

Republicans who hold a majority in the Senate say they state has enough money, with current growth in revenue from a robust economy, to allocate $250 million annually for 20 years from the budget to borrow $3.5 billion to spur projects, such as widening interstates 25 and 70.

House Democrats say they can raise about $200 million annually to bond in their version of the transportation bill, but the calculation relies heavily on money in the budget already allocated for transportation. They say putting so much into transportation could imperil schools, as well as state programs and services in an economic downturn.

Monday morning, Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City told reporters that he believes the two chambers are nearing a compromise and that he’s encouraged by the discussions. “We’re close,” he said.

“We’re told the only way to Fix Our Damn Roads is to raise taxes and raise fees. We’re told the only way to Fix Our Damn Roads is to pay ransom to ineffective transit schemes and pay off cities with slush funds,” Independence Institute President Jon Caldara said in the announcement. “I’m here to say HELL NO! We’re not going to be played again!

“We expect our lawmakers to Do Their Damn Jobs and fund this core function of state government. We expect lawmakers to STOP holding our roads and bridges hostage as a way to pay for their skyrocketing Obamacare Medicaid increases. If they wanted a tax increase for Obamacare, they should have asked for one instead on squeezing road funding so that 1 out of 4 Coloradans could be on Medicaid.”

You can read the ballot question by clicking here.

Caldara pointed to the “MASSIVE budget surplus” this year to make his case — a surplus Democrats say won’t last.

“I am convinced voters will do what lawmakers refuse to do — Fix Our Damn Roads without raising taxes or fees, without siphoning off payola money to trolley cars and bike paths.”

The Denver Metro Chamber nor the coalition responded immediately to a request for a comment on the Independence Institute’s announcement. (This story will be updated if we hear back.)

Both efforts will have to collect 98,492 signatures to get on the ballot, including at least 2 percent of the registered voters in each of Colorado’s 35 state Senate districts.

Signatures for both measures are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Aug. 6.

Grantham said polling on the two ballot measures shows the Independence Institute’s measure is gaining more voter approval than the one sponsored by the Chamber. Both have been part of the negotiations going on between the House and Senate in recent days, he said. “It’s unfortunate that the legislative effort isn’t the one going to the ballot,” and that he would prefer a legislative solution to the ones proposed by the outside groups.

Should the Independent Institute measure pass, Grantham added, its $3.5 billion in bonding, along with Senate Bill 1, would come “awfully close” to filling out the road and highway project list from the Colorado Department of Transportation. But it also would create budgeting problems, Grantham said.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.