Colo. highway advocates present plan to Legislature to increase sales tax

DENVER – A group of civic leaders that wants a 2014 sales-tax increase for highways and transit presented the idea to the Legislature on Tuesday.

The meeting made clear that there’s plenty of work to do before voters will be willing to accept a tax increase.

MPACT 64 is the name of the group pushing for more road funding. Its members include the Metro Mayors Caucus and the state’s three regional lobbying groups, Progressive 15, Action 22 and Club 20.

The group has not settled on a tax plan yet, but after the November election, it plans to conduct polls on a 0.7 percent sales-tax increase, said the chairman, Jim Gunning, who also is mayor of Lone Tree, a Denver suburb.

“I believe that most voters already understand the value of transportation,” Gunning said.

However, previous polling by MPACT 64 shows that voters would reject an increase in the gas tax or a new tax based on miles traveled, he said.

Colorado used to fund its roads through the gasoline tax, but revenue has been declining as cars get better gas mileage. The 22-cent-per-gallon tax has not been raised since 1992, when the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights took the power to raise the tax away from the Legislature.

“I think we all have a little work to do with the electorate about how we have funded transportation and transit previously,” Gunning said.

Legislators on the Transportation Legislation Review Committee were supportive yet skeptical.

“I don’t get any sense that the people of Colorado think the roads are anything we have to deal with. They’re just fine, thank you very much,” said Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood.

Also, Tyler said, voters already are being asked for an income-tax increase this fall.

Boulder County legislators said their area will be crucial to passing a tax, so any plan had better offer something for their voters. The county’s residents feel overlooked by a metro-area transit project that left them last in line for light-rail service.

And that was just the Democrats.

Three Republican legislators attended the meeting, but they didn’t make statements or ask questions. Two of them left the room during Gunning’s presentation.

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