The proverbial elephant for the Colorado Legislature isn’t in the room, it’s stuck in traffic in the middle of the road and taking up space in Colorado’s crowded classrooms and pricey college dorms.
The Colorado General Assembly begins its annual 90-day session this week, this time with Republicans taking control of the state Senate, by one seat. The margin is nearly as tight in the House, where Democrats run the show.
There’s little doubt that this highly politicized group will devolve into a partisan smack session at some point. Already, Republicans are talking about trying to upend a three-year-old limitation on large-capacity ammunition magazines, an issue that means pretty much nothing in the day-to-day lives of almost every Colorado resident. Both Republicans and Democrats say they want to focus on issues that really matter to everyday folks and families. Except roads. And not education.
To be sure, both sides have plenty to say about both of those topics, which arguably are the bread and butter of state government. But neither side is offering any meaningful solution to either of the state’s pervasive and dangerous problems.
The good life and a good economy has made Colorado one of the most attractive places in the country to live, especially in Front Range communities. The region has good jobs, good neighborhoods and the state’s remarkable environs as a selling point. But the growth that’s a result of our good lives and good fortune are straining already overburdened roads and increasingly troubled schools and colleges.
As to roads, you need only drive to work each day to know that metro highways and streets are overloaded. A trek across the state makes it clear how many thousands of miles of Colorado roads are in serious disrepair. State officials estimate that Colorado suffers an $800 million road budget shortfall each year, just in state highway needs. Multiply that many times over for the unmet need of local roads that need expansion, attention or simply to be built. And even though the metro area is finally, slowly rolling out expanded light rail, the parking and commute to train stations are so disruptive that it’s hard to see the system offer any real benefit to the region.
Likewise, despite decades of “reform” and encroachment by the state inflicted on local school districts, student academic performance has stalled, and in many ways, become an embarrassment. After years of re-arranging the deck chairs, it’s time for state officials to admit that they’ve tried everything but funding the system at a level that effectively moves the needle. And while state colleges still offer competitive educations, they’re becoming unaffordable so fast that they’re no longer able to sustain their mission: college education for working-class families. It now costs about $30,000 a year to send a student to CU Boulder, and other state colleges aren’t far behind. That is unconscionable and dangerous to the state’s economy and future.
While there are things the state must do ensure frugality and fiscal prudence, state lawmakers are irresponsible in not paying for the upkeep of Colorado, creating a shanty state that looks good from the outside, but won’t stand much longer.
If Colorado can’t fix its problems by raising the gas tax, raising sales taxes, ending its ludicrous “refunds” or even raising income or property taxes, then it’s incumbent on this new Legislature to tell residents how they plan to fix the state’s dire problems. And if they can’t, we need to find leaders who can.