Denver Post Editorial on Kinds of Taxes for Transportation

The editorial below lists some important points regarding regional transportation funding.

Could a hyperloop system in Colorado be funded and operated by entirely private organization? Is it better to have a transportation infrastructure project be paid for by citizens and government or something like E-470? (Wikipedia says E-470 is “E-470 Public Highway Authority, which is controlled by a governing board of ten elected officials, three from each county and one from Aurora. Construction and operation involves no state or federal funding or taxes.”

Despite technological hurdles of R&D, the total cost of the system by Elon Musk’s example hyperloop in California is significantly smaller than any other rail or transportation project. Surly there are examples of private transportation infrastructure.

At least the editorial provides a glimpse into how the current fiscal outlook for Colorado will be for the years to come. It doesn’t look very promising for rural areas in either their road and bridge repairs nor future projects like the hyperloop and its connection points to medium sized population centers.

For Colorado roads, fuel tax trumps sales tax – The Denver Post:

‘via Blog this’

“We’re glad a coalition of city and county officials across Colorado is talking about whether it’s time to ask voters for more money to fix our roads and pay for transit projects.

But we’re less enamored with seeking a sales tax hike to do it.

As reported by The Denver Post’s Monte Whaley, that is the current proposal being floated by MPACT64, a coalition that includes the Metro Mayors Caucus and groups representing counties from around the state.

The coalition is proposing a 0.7 percent state sales tax for up to 15 years to generate about $605 million a year, two-thirds of which would go into a state fund. Sixty percent of that money would go for state road projects while 22 percent would go to counties and 18 percent to cities.

The remaining third of the sales tax hike would go for transit projects, which could include helping fund items like the Regional Transportation District’s Northwest Rail Line from Denver to Longmont. RTD may not finish that project for decades with its current funding.

We don’t dispute the need for additional road funding. The Colorado Department of Transportation in 2010 said 52 percent of highways were in poor shape. CDOT estimates it needs another $800 million a year to keep up with road repairs, carry out rural road safety projects and relieve congestion.

Meanwhile, CDOT’s funding from the federal gas tax has been staying essentially flat because the tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. And the state fuel tax, at 22 cents per gallon, has not been increased since 1991.

Neither tax is indexed for inflation, so while the price of fuel has increased considerably since the early 1990s, gas taxes make up a smaller proportion per gallon.

Fuel tax collections also have been going down because cars are becoming more fuel efficient, and federal standards will require they become even more so. And for the first time in decades, Americans are actually driving less.

Still, we would favor an increase in the gas tax over a general state sales tax hike, which hits the poor hardest and doesn’t place the burden on those who use the roads.

Relying on a sales tax for road funding also limits the potential for local governments to ask voters to increase sales taxes to fund services that actually ought to be funded by the larger populace.

But as MPACT64 officials tell us, increasing the gas tax is unpopular with the public, polling shows. A sales tax hike polls far better, bad public policy aside.

In addition to fuel taxes, we’d be willing to look at other kinds of user fees, such as a vehicle-miles traveled, or VMT, tax based on how much you drive. Despite what you may have heard, there are ways to implement a VMT tax without Big Brother tracking you.

We understand polling may show voters would rather support a sales tax hike than increasing the gas tax, but we still think a user-based fee or tax is the right choice.”

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