Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 28, 20174min303

The highway-funding ballot proposal by the Independence Institute that kind of was — though many were skeptical — won’t be, after all.

You may recall the libertarian-leaning Denver think tank had announced in March it had filed a ballot proposal with the state that would require the General Assembly to issue $2.5 billion in bonds to fund a raft of highway projects statewide — and repay the debt by “reallocating priorities in the state budget.” No tax hike or fees; it would be paid for out of the state budget’s existing funding stream. Dubbed the “Fix Our Damn Roads” ballot initiative, it was a response to the General Assembly’s own transportation plan, which also would have gone to the ballot.

As it turn out, that much-anticipated, grand legislative compromise — one part tax hike, one part bonding — fizzled amid partisan sniping and recriminations (surprise) before the end of the 2017 session.

Today, Independence President Jon Caldara announced via his regular newsletter that Fix Our Damn Roads had hit a dead end, as well:

… with the deadline fast approaching, the reality is that there just isn’t enough time to get all the petitioning done with the margins we need. So, we’ll be re-filing the initiative for the 2018 ballot, which will give us the time we need to get the job done right.

Which no doubt left skeptics feeling vindicated. Many had smelled a ruse all along. The speculation was that Independence had floated the proposal only to steal the thunder of the legislative proposal — and to provide a pretext for fellow tax-hike-loathing Republicans not to sign onto the legislative proposal because, hey, here was a highway plan without a tax hike.

Caldara in his public statement today insisted, as he has in the past, that the Independence proposal was the real deal:

…we didn’t file this citizen’s initiative just to play defense. We are committed to bringing it to the voters and getting legislators to do what they are so hesitant to do. I had hoped we could get it on this fall’s ballot.

Yet, he also acknowledge the stillborn ballot issue’s ripple effects:

So far, our proposal has scared away all the competing “transportation” tax increases (and there were a ton of them) from being on this fall’s ballot. So, in that sense, mission accomplished!

Guess we’ll have to wait until 2018 to see if Independence follows through.

Meanwhile, transportation did get a consolation prize: Senate Bill 267 turned out to be an unanticipated, grand compromise of a different sort. In addition to extending life support to Colorado’s rural hospitals and providing some capital funding for schools, it also set up a $1.8 billion roads program and a $120 million capital construction program by selling certificates of participation on state property. It’s a form of debt that the courts have said doesn’t require voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, meaning, it won’t go to the ballot.

That provision of the omnibus legislation obligates the state to pay $100 million in general fund money and $50 million in Highway User Tax Fund money each year to pay off the debt. Not the level of highway funding that either of the now-moot proposals would have raised, but a start.

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 30, 20175min329
The news is surprising, so maybe that’s why the Independence Institute released a new poll on Coloradans’ disdain for new taxes at 5:02 p.m. on a Friday. Usually that’s when politicos release news they hope the media ignores. I have no life, however. Are you ready for this? Coloradans by nearly 2 to 1 want […]

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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 14, 20175min535

The “Fix Our Damn Roads” transportation-funding ballot <a href="http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/Initiatives/titleBoard/filings/2017-2018/21Final.pdf" target="_blank">initiative</a> 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.


John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 12, 20174min357

The dead serious transportation-funding ballot <a href="http://www.sos.state.co.us/pubs/elections/Initiatives/titleBoard/filings/2017-2018/21Final.pdf" target="_blank">initiative</a> submitted by Colorado political prankster Jon Caldara is scheduled to land before the state Title Board next week Wednesday. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, April 19, at 9:30 A.M., at the Secretary of State’s office.

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 10, 20177min431

Hey, how about a ballot issue to upgrade the state’s woefully bottlenecked, backlogged and aging highway network — without raising taxes?

You want it? You got it: The libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver announced it filed a ballot proposal with the state today that would require the General Assembly to issue $2.5 billion in bonds to fund a raft of highway projects statewide — and repay the debt by “reallocating priorities in the state budget.”

No tax hike; no fees; no additional revenue. The entire tab would be paid out of the state budget’s current funding stream. Lawmakers would have to reconfigure — radically — the way they spend the money they have. Like it or not.

Dubbed the “Fix Our Damn Roads” ballot initiative, the pitch is an in-your-face comeback — a serious one, its authors make clear — to the General Assembly’s much-anticipated transportation plan unveiled Wednesday.

House Bill 1242 — a bipartisan proposal that emerged after weeks of on-again-off-again negotiations led by Republican state Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver — would ask voters in November to approve a 0.62 percent statewide sales tax increase. If approved on the ballot — and it first has to make it through the legislature — the proposal would pump about $677 million a year into Colorado’s ailing transportation grid. Some of that revenue, in turn, would repay $3.5 billion in bonding that also would have to be approved by voters under the plan.

The fact that the legislation included the three letters feared and loathed by the political right — T-A-X — not only drew almost immediate push-back from conservative advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity:

…but also sparked a revolt within Republican ranks in the legislature. The House’s minority GOP leadership denounced the compromise legislation, and even Grantham’s own No. 2 in the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, announced he was a “no” vote.

Independence and its longtime president and colorful pitch man, Jon Caldara, stepped up to the plate with today’s counter-proposal. In a news release quoting Caldara, Independence mocked the legislature for what it characterized as misplaced budgeting priorities:

“All we’re asking is that the Legislature re-prioritize less than 2 percent of the existing budget to fix our damn roads…Instead they want a massive 21 percent tax increase, with a give-away to transit and a slush-fund to bribe local governments.”

The news release continued:

Since the mid-1990s, Colorado state government has raided the budget for roads in order to help fund new programs that are often far outside of the core responsibilities of state government. From 1999-2014, state inflation-adjusted transportation spending actually fell by 9 percent, while overall inflation-adjusted state spending grew by 38% during that same time.

Independence chided the state for policies it contends illustrate state government misspending:

As just one example, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) spends $57 million on various corporate welfare and cronyist schemes, including film subsidies for Hollywood millionaires and tax credits for wealthy front-range residents buying Teslas.

Reached late Friday afternoon for comment, Caldara said the proposal ought to appeal not only to rank-and-file taxpayers but also, out of sheer pragmatism, to the very business community that had been the driving force behind this week’s legislative compromise. Notably, he said, Independence’s proposal has a far better chance of passing muster with voters.

“According to ColoradoPolitics.com, the proponents of the tax increase are starting at only 40 percent support,” Caldara told us in a text message. “Perhaps the business community should look at this as a better option.”

“Since the legislature refuses to do their jobs by reprioritizing the budget to fix our damn roads, then perhaps the people of Colorado will do it for them,” he said. “Instead of giving millions of dollars to the likes of (Hollywood filmmaker) Quentin Tarantino to make slasher movies and giving millions of dollars to rich white guys to buy Teslas, maybe that money could be used to fix our damn roads.”

As Caldara acknowledged, the Independence proposal first has to go through the state’s lengthy title-setting process before its backers can begin gathering signatures to petition the plan onto the fall ballot.

“But I can guarantee you if the tax increase goes to the ballot, voters will have this choice as well,” Caldara said.

The funds corralled for highways under the Independence plan would be earmarked for a specified list of highway projects that runs pages long and takes up most of the proposal filed with the state today.

Independence’s nickname for its proposal, by the way, is a shot at the Fix Our Roads civic coalition that has been the prime mover behind the legislative compromise. We reached out to Fix Our Roads point person Sandra Hagen Solin for comment but had not heard back as of late Friday afternoon.