Transportation is Colorado’s number one priority for the 2009 legislative session beginning in January, says Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.
"Transportation is fundamental to economic development," Gov. Ritter said at a meeting of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, September 22. "When we're talking about companies coming here or even companies growing, the conversation comes back to two things: education and transportation."
Gov. Ritter devoted much of this year to championing education, including major funding initiatives for K-12 and higher education.
"Over 20 percent of our roads need to be completely restructured," the governor said, adding that there are 126 "structurally deficient" bridges in the state, an increase of 10 from 2007.
Rising construction costs, coupled with the revenue and spending restrictions imposed by the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, have left the state’s "construction buying power at 40 percent of what it was in 1992," the year TABOR took effect. The end result is a "quiet crisis," as described by the panel of experts appointed by Gov. Ritter to analyze Colorado’s transportation needs and funding.
The 32-member panel, formed in April 2007, along with its technical advisory council, met dozens of times around the state before completing deliberations Nov. 15, 2007. In January 2008, they produced a "Report to Colorado" identifying the "quiet crisis" facing transportation funding in the state and listing the major transportation needs.
"We have to think differently about transportation funding," Gov. Ritter said. "The problem is if you ask Coloradans, they don’t think we have a problem, or a very serious problem."
To help counter this thinking, Gov. Ritter directed the panel to embark on a campaign to educate the public about the state’s dire transportation funding situation and to craft specific proposals to be considered during the 2009 legislative session.
Gov. Ritter will present his 2009 budget proposal on Nov. 3.
"The people of this state are waiting for us to articulate what the crisis is," Gov. Ritter said.
Appearing with the governor was Russ George, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, who said a projected $950 million state transportation budget in 2009 would be inadequate to undertake any new projects. He added that the legislature could increase fees, go to the taxpayers for the authority to increase taxes, or put new projects, such as a Front Range commuter rail system, on hold. Gov. Ritter noted that there will be a continuing decline in funding from the federal government.
"To talk about raising fees and taxes in this economic climate is tough," George said. However, Amendment 52, an initiative on the November ballot, would increase funding for transportation projects.