Election 2018GovernorNewsTransportation

Stapleton says he would halt new I-25 toll lanes, after Suthers’ endorsement

Author: Conrad Swanson, The Gazette - May 29, 2018 - Updated: May 29, 2018

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StapletonColorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, right, gives his endorsement to State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton Tuesday at America the Beautiful Park in Colorado Springs. (Photo by Christian Murdock/Colorado Springs Gazette)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton promised Tuesday to halt the construction of any toll lanes on Interstate 25 connecting El Paso County to Denver. The declaration came as he accepted the endorsements of Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.

“I will veto it as fast as the ink and the pen will carry me,” said Stapleton, the state’s treasurer and one of eight candidates vying to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

Stapleton and Suthers stood together Tuesday morning with America the Beautiful Park and a congested I-25 as a backdrop. They addressed a small group of reporters, just a few hundred feet from yet-to-be-completed U.S. Olympic Museum.

Those landmarks served as reminders of the transportation and economic development challenges facing Colorado Springs – and the rest of the state – in the years to come.

Toll lanes on I-25 have proven politically unpopular up and down the Front Range, but especially in El Paso County. The state highway department uses interstate “express lanes” to relieve traffic by charging those willing to pay to avoid the slower-moving free lanes. Tolls, in turn, generate revenue for transportation.

Funding the proposed $350 million project widening I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock with toll lanes would be a “cop out,” effectively taxing county residents for the work twice, Stapleton said. County voters in November overwhelmingly approved setting aside at least $6 million in excess government revenue to pay for the project.

Rather than a double tax for El Paso County residents, the next governor must allocate more money for Colorado’s transportation needs, Suthers said.

“Spending 5.6 percent of our state’s budget on transportation doesn’t cut it,” he said.

As treasurer, Stapleton understands the complexities of the state’s budget, Suthers said. The two worked together for four years when Suthers served as the state’s attorney general.

Stapleton is also equipped to handle the state pension plan’s $32 billion shortfall expected for the next three decades, Suthers said.

In the last minutes of the state’s legislative session, lawmakers approved a bill that would dedicate $225 million annually from the state budget for the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association pension, which serves more than 585,000 state and local public employees, ab out 60 percent of whom are teachers. Under the bailout plan, current workers also will contribute more toward their retirement plan, and retirees will receive less in benefits.

That bill has been criticized as a Band-Aid that might only keep buy the state more time until the next recession.

Moving forward, Colorado’s cities are depending on the state to revisit the issue, which, left untouched, could damage the state’s credit rating, Suthers said.

Money could be found by tightening the state’s budget and boosting line-item transparency and accountability, Stapleton said.

“If you look across all our state agencies, there is plenty of stuff to cut,” he said.

Suthers also alluded to Stapleton’s ability as governor to curtail the practices of the state’s sanctuary cities.

“Some of our cities simply cannot continue to allow themselves to affirmatively undermine the enforcement of federal immigration laws because that ultimately undermines public safety and fiscal stability,” Suthers said.

Former five-term Republican congressman and immigration hard-liner Tom Tancredo endorsed Stapleton last month, noting the treasurer would take the strongest position on sanctuary issues.

Stapleton faces three other Republicans in the June 26 primary: former state legislator Victor Mitchell, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez and Doug Robinson, a retired investment banker and Mitt Romney’s nephew.

The Democratic primary ballot is made up of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy and former state Sen. Mike Johnston.

Conrad Swanson