Dead end for gas tax shouldn’t end search for fixes

By Denver Post Editorial Board
February 7, 2017

It’s no secret in Colorado that our state and federal gas taxes aren’t able, by far, to keep up with the demand for new roads and the upkeep of those already in place — and often clogged with traffic.

So we hope Coloradans pay attention this session to various efforts afoot to fill the gap. As thousands of newcomers move to the state each year, the strain on our transportation infrastructure will only increase, and there just isn’t the money available to pay for it.

One straightforward fix appears hopelessly out of the question. As The Denver Post’s Brian Eason recently reported, polling by the influential Colorado Contractors Association, which has for years supported raising taxes to support our struggling transportation system, shows little appetite among voters for raising the gas tax.

“We’ve done quite a bit of polling over the last two years and have found that the prospect of voters increasing their own gas tax is very slim,” said Tony Milo, of the contractors group.

“They are actually much more open to some other types of taxes than they are to gas taxes.”

And little wonder. Asking voters to increase that tax, especially when those dependent on gasoline-powered cars know that their hybrid and electric driving cohorts would largely escape the increase, does seem foolhardy.

The news comes as Republican and Democratic lawmakers are considering going to voters this November to increase sales taxes to fund transportation spending. Should voters approve a tweak to the 2.9 percent statewide sales tax by 0.5 percent, as much as $514 million could be raised in the next fiscal year.

We’ve long bemoaned the fact that the gas tax, which was last increased in 1991, isn’t doing the job. As Eason reports, advances in fuel efficiency combined with inflation have eroded the power of the tax significantly. The 22-cents-per-gallon tax pulls in 30 percent less than it did in 2000.

What does that really mean? Consider that back in 1991, the state spent about $125.70 per person a year on transportation. By 2015, the state had added 2.1 million people, who are driving 2.6 billion more miles than in 1991, spending per person had dropped to $68.94.

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