EDITORIAL: Hickenlooper is right. Time to let Colorado voters decide how to fix, pay for ailing, inadequate state roads

Hickenlooper is asking only that state lawmakers create a responsible, comprehensive transportation funding package, fund it with either increased gas taxes, sales taxes, whatever both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and let voters decide whether to support and approve it

It’s come to this, Colorado.

We can either raise some kind of tax revenue to pay for repairing and expanding Colorado’s ailing, inadequate roads, or the consequences will be gridlock, increased road deaths and injuries and lost economic gain across the state.

Alarmist? Not in the least.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in his final State of the State Address on Thursday simply and clearly spelled out the fact that the sheer volume and costs of Colorado’s transportation needs could never be met by the state’s already overburdened finances.

“Not only do we under-fund maintenance by more than $200 million per year, but we also have a project list of $9 billion. Total needs are estimated to be $25 billion by 2040. And that’s all on top of (The Colorado Department of Transporation’s) existing budget,” Hickenlooper said.

We are sinking, Colorado. It’s as plain as the ice on your highways when it snows and police beg CDOT for de-icer and plows across the metro area. Roads aren’t adequately cleared during storms because the state doesn’t have the funds to adequately maintain roads anymore.

It’s as plain as the gullies and faded stripes and endless pot holes you hit in Colorado the second you cross state lines.

It’s as plain as the bridges you can actually see crumbling before your very eyes as you drive across the state.

State lawmakers were able to scrape real money together last year, and state revenues have picked up with the economy. The Associated Press reported this week that the Senate Republicans’ first bill, dubbed the “Fix Colorado Roads Act,” would ask voters to let the state issue up to $3.5 billion in bonds for roadways.

Bonds means loans. The bonds would be backed by 10 percent of existing sales taxes and would augment nearly $1.9 billion in transportation bonds lawmakers agreed to last year.

Don’t be misled. This is not now and will not be nearly enough to meet Colorado’s critical transportation needs.

Why is this so hard for a handful of far-right Republican legislators to understand? Their underwhelming, delusional argument essentially focuses on cutting even deeper into school funding.

Schools are already so vastly underfunded in this state that Colorado has the dubious distinction of spending less per pupil than almost any other state in the nation — and we have the dismal student performance scores to prove it.

Other fantastical proposals hail from tea-party Republicans — stoked by libertarian anarchists at the Independence Institute, an institution that helped breathe political life into Tom Tancredo, John Andrews and Douglas Bruce. They include things like cutting Medicaid programs even further, shifting the costs of indigent care to already struggling middle-class health-insurance customers. Or they want to cut into state colleges that are already milking students with endless tuition hikes that will force even more middle-class families out of higher education.

There is nothing left to cut, Colorado. There are only growing lists of unmet needs in a government that is renown for its frugality.

Hickenlooper is asking only that state lawmakers create a responsible, comprehensive transportation funding package, fund it with either increased gas taxes, sales taxes, whatever both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and let voters decide whether to support and approve it.

“Coloradans deserve the opportunity to vote on whether we need new resources, and where they should come from,” Hickenlooper said. “It’s time to go to the voters.”

We agree. Colorado is out of money, out of time, and Colorado taxpayers are out of patience.

Let voters decide.