2018 Ballot Questions: Propositions 109 and 110: The road to better statewide transportation

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File photo, traffic backs up on Interstate 70 near Silvethorne, Colo., a familiar scene on the main highway connecting Denver to the mountains.

Colorado voters will be asked this year to fund future road improvements across the state via two starkly different ballot measures.

The first measure, Proposition 109 — also known as “Fix Our Damn Roads” — will ask voters to approve $3.5 billion in bonds to improve state highways. The measure does not increase Colorado taxes, but instead it would allow the state to increase its debt and borrow the aforementioned amount through bonds, which would be paid back over the course of 20 years. The ballot language stipulates the total repayment cost cannot exceed $5.2 billion. The measure was petitioned onto the ballot by the Independence Institute, a Denver-based Libertarian think tank.

The second measure, Proposition 110 — also known as “Let’s Go Colorado” — would raise as much as $6 billion over the course of 20 years by way of a 0.62 percent increase to state sales tax. The measure would net an estimated $767 million in its first year, with the remainder coming in the form of state bonds purchased and paid back over the course of two decades, at which point the tax increase would sunset. The state wouldn’t be able to pay more than $9.4 billion in bond repayment, according to the ballot language.

The current state sales tax is 2.9 percent of any given transaction. There are additional taxes imposed by counties, cities and special districts, such as the Regional Transportation District, which encompasses Aurora.

If approved, the new tax would begin at the beginning of next year. The mechanisms for Proposition 109 would take place “as soon as possible,” but no later than next July, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

Proposition 109, the non-taxing transportation option, calls for the bonded money to be used exclusively for some 65 specific projects along state highways across Colorado. One of the main Aurora-centric projects outlined in the proposal describes retooling the bottleneck near the interchange between Interstate 225 and Yosemite Street. The list of projects also includes widening Interstate 270 from Interstate 76 to Interstate 70 in Commerce City.

Through Proposition 110, Aurora is poised to receive nearly 8 percent of the total pot, which would equate to about $12.2 million in transportation funding in the first year of the tax, and nearly $350 million in transportation dollars over the fee’s 20-year lifespan, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. Potential projects include expanding East Sixth Avenue near Airport Boulevard, a similar re-imagining of the I-225 and Yosemite Street bedlam as described in the Proposition 109 proposal, and re-examining the long-proposed bus rapid transit line along East Colfax Avenue between I-225 and I-25 in Denver. Those three Aurora-specific projects would boast a total price tag of about $290 million, according to CDOT.

If approved, Proposition 110 would allocate money as follows: 45 percent for transportation safety, maintenance and congestion; 40 percent for municipal and county projects; and 15 percent for multi-modal projects, including those related bikes, pedestrians and transit. The middle 40 percent for local projects would be split evenly between cities and counties, according to CDOT.

The committee established to support the sales tax increase, Coloradans for Coloradans, has raked in about $5.1 million so far, and spent about 90 percent of that total, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Colorado Secretary of State. The Committee for “Fix Our Damn Roads” has netted about $436,000, almost exclusively from the Independence Institute, and spent the vast majority of the money in its coffers.

At least four issue committees are registered in opposition to Proposition 109, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The only issue committee registered in opposition to Proposition 110 is “State Ballot Issue Committee,” which was formed in late September by disgraced Colorado Springs politico Douglas Bruce, the godfather of TABOR. The committee was created to oppose all statewide ballot measures except for Amendment 74 and Amendment A, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The committee is also opposing Proposition 109.