WALKER STAPLETON: We can tackle transportation without a tax hike
Author: Walker Stapleton - June 7, 2018 - Updated: June 7, 2018
Colorado’s roads and bridges have fallen into disrepair. The state’s growing population, history of underfunding transportation, and bureaucratic inefficiency have had real consequences for the condition of our infrastructure. As a result, Colorado has a $9 billion funding gap and maintenance backlog. These costs will only continue to grow the longer we neglect our transportation needs.
As always, Democrats argue the solution is to increase taxes. This is NOT what Coloradans need. It is unfair to ask taxpayers for more of their dollars when legislative inaction and departmental territorialism have worsened our situation. Colorado already has the revenues available to address our transportation issues, but it will require the political will of the next governor to make it a reality. Without raising taxes, we can solve our transportation problems by demanding more efficiency and fiscal responsibility from our state government.
I commend the legislature this year for finally using the General Fund to support infrastructure. After nearly a decade of spending no money from the General Fund on roads, the additional $645 million earmarked for transportation over the next two years is an important first step. However, the inclusion of alternative forms of transit and bike lanes as part of the deal is a misallocation of resources. I think bike lanes are great, but Denver and Boulder should finance their own bike lanes. It is misguided for state dollars to subsidize these nice-to-have projects in cities while rural Colorado is still struggling to get access to need-to-have infrastructure.
Even with these initial investments, we need to do more to address our long-term infrastructure needs. We need to make a sustained investment to close the funding gap, and there are numerous ways we can do this, without raising taxes. As governor, I can fix these problems.
Just as an example, using last year’s budget as a guide, if we required all departments of the state government to reduce their administrative and executive overhead by just 10 percent, we could save over $130 million. Given the growing tax base from our booming economy and the Trump tax cuts, this figure will likely be greater in the future.
Maintaining our roads is a difficult task, but blaming state geography is not an excuse. Colorado is responsible for 9,914 miles of state-controlled highways, well below the national average of 16,238 miles. As governor, I will make CDOT get their expenses in line with the average of other mountain states or our bordering states. By doing this we could free up an additional $143 to $176 million. Going forward, our state government will use these savings to make continued and consistent investments in infrastructure and capitalize on our ability to finance projects through bonds.
Business as usual at CDOT will not cut it. To begin, the head of the department should be a civil engineer with technical expertise, not a career bureaucrat. Also, we must require greater line-item transparency into CDOT’s budget and hold contractors and consultants to higher standards. It is critical that contractors have long-term accountability for their work. Much like the president’s ban on administration officials becoming lobbyist, I would pursue similar non-compete policies to avoid the revolving door between the government and industry. Sweetheart deals for former employees drive up costs. Externally, the government needs to make sure all our projects are properly bid out and teams are thoroughly vetted. Internally, we need to demand accountability from administrators and look to reduce redundant costs.
Building and maintaining roads is one of the main functions of the state. Despite the lip service paid over the years, it’s time to truly treat transportation as a priority. This starts with strong leadership from the governor’s office. As governor, I will take the lead and proactively engage the legislature early and often to get our roads and bridges back up to standard.