Propositions 109 and 110: different ways to fix Colorado’s roads

(Kai Casey/CU Independent)

Today, Coloradans have a chance to vote on Proposition 109: Fix Our Damn Roads and Proposition 110: Let’s Go Colorado. Both attempt to fund much-needed transportation improvements in the state, including for roads, bike trails and sidewalks. Both have slightly different approaches to get the funds.

Proposition 109 would have the state borrow 3.5 billion dollars in bonds to pay for statewide transportation projects. The funding would only go towards “roads, highways, and bridges”.  However, this proposition would borrow the $3.5B, with a maximum repayment of $5.2B, “ without raising taxes or fees”, so the repayment would have to come from the general fund. 

Proponents of Prop. 109 point out how Colorado’s roads “haven’t kept up with population growth and the daily traffic load” and require more funding to be fixed. 

The biggest proponent of Prop. 109, John Caldara of the Independence Institute, argues that there is enough in the budget to pass around for repaying the bonds. He says that with the new Trump tax codes, Coloradans will be paying a “crap ton more in state income taxes”, so we should “spend that money fixing our damn roads”. 

Opponents of Prop. 109 critique this proposition’s lack of financing, as they claim that the repayments for the bonds would likely “siphon money from schools or healthcare”.  In order to pay for the bond without slashing funding towards education, some say that the state would have to raise taxes.

Raising taxes to pay for the Fix our Damn Roads initiative would prove difficult, as Colorado is the only state to adopt TABOR, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. TABOR restricts Colorado’s revenue growth to just the annual interest rate plus population growth.

For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a non-partisan research and policy institute, explained that “if the general inflation rate is 2 percent and the state’s population grows by 1 percent, state revenue available for expenditures can increase by 3 percent”. 

This also means that the potential state revenue increase generated by the Trump tax reform would have to be refunded to the taxpayers once it reaches above that threshold. The only way for Colorado to get around the restrictions held in place by TABOR would be for Coloradans to vote to raise their own taxes.

Proposition 110 would have the state issue 6 billion dollars in bonds, with the repayment limited to $9.4B. This would increase the state sales tax from 2.9% to 3.52% to pay for the bonds, raising “an estimated $767 million a year.”

Unlike Proposition 109, the funding from Prop. 110 is much more flexible. The funding will go towards local governments, which are in need of funds to help fill potholes, widen roads and encourage multimodal transportation. Those governments could then decide how to best use it. Additionally, some portion of the money will go towards state highways, transit hubs, and the Bustang commuter bus line.

However unlike Prop. 110, which plans to increase the sales tax to pay for transportation projects, Prop. 109 has no plan in place to repay the bonds. In order for the state to repay those bonds, it would have to cut spending somewhere, and that could likely result in a cut towards education funding.

Ultimately, a “yes/for” vote on Proposition 109, Fix our Damn Roads, would allocate a large amount of funds towards roads, highways, and bridges, without a clear plan as to who or what will pay for it. A “yes/for” vote for Proposition 110 aims to solve the same problem by raising taxes to pay for it.

Contact CU Independent News Staff Writer Jay Ghosh at jay.ghosh@colorado.edu.

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