VICTOR MITCHELL: No tax hikes or bonds; reform CDOT and cut waste
Author: Victor Mitchell - June 7, 2018 - Updated: June 7, 2018
Colorado literally stands at a crossroads this year when it comes to transportation funding.
I wish it was just a pun. Unfortunately, it’s the truth. As the November election approaches, special interests and Capitol insiders are demanding new revenue for transportation, by whatever means. The downtown Denver crowd is asking for a statewide sales tax increase for more transit, trails and other goodies. A second, separate group opposes the sales tax, but wants to obligate Colorado to $5.2 billion dollars in additional debt and interest for selected road projects chosen by the big road builders and CDOT bureaucrats. I oppose both initiatives. My opponents embrace one or the other. We can and must address our road and bridge challenges without new taxes or debt.
First and foremost, there is an urgent need to reform CDOT. It has become an agency with bloated overhead, hyper-political administrators and an organization without a bold vision. CDOT desperately needs a new executive leader from outside of government who’ll structurally reform this mess. These tasks call for an individual with deep Colorado roots plus a track-record in development and engineering, combined with a penchant for fixing broken bureaucracies.
Admittedly, CDOT has some problems not of its own doing. Consumption-based motor fuels taxes produce less revenue because of improved gas mileage. Electric vehicles are a factor, too. And other, competing state priorities, especially Medicaid, are sapping the general fund. As these challenges multiply, we have more cars on the road. But asking taxpayers to pay more in new taxes and retire debt is not the right approach. It’s time to put the government on a diet. It’s time the government has to do more with less, like the rest of us.
One of the biggest wastes inside CDOT is overhead. The agency employs too many bureaucrats, spends far too much on contracts to well-connected consultants, including some friendly deals to former employees. Projects languish on the drawing boards for years. We sit in traffic and traverse potholes while CDOT thinks and plans. We’re still stuck in traffic. And the potholes keep growing larger.
One of my first solutions would be to conduct a full performance audit of CDOT, examining the agency’s accounting and overhead, procurement procedures, management efficiency and leadership effectiveness. This audit would be conducted by an independent private-sector auditor with no financial stake in their findings. We must also audit other state agencies. The bonanza of marijuana tax revenue should be in play as well. We must do a better job of deploying existing state revenues to accelerate completion of transportation projects.
Finally, it’s time for some frank conversation about geographic equity of funding for roads across Colorado. Too often, rural and suburban Colorado has not gotten its fair share. I’m proposing a 64-county economic development plan and a 20-year transportation plan. Both of these efforts would provide rural and suburban areas a meaningful voice in transportation and infrastructure decision-making.