Editorial: Supporters should work to get tax hike for roads on November ballot

Some Republican lawmakers in the state Legislature are asleep at the wheel, so it’s now up to voters to get in the driver’s seat.

A state Senate panel killed a measure April 25 that would have placed a $3.5 billion transportation-funding measure on the November ballot. House Bill 1242 would have asked voters to approve a 0.5 percentage-point increase in Colorado’s sales tax, from 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent for 20 years. The additional funds would have gone to improvements on Interstate 25 in Northern Colorado — as well as south of Denver — and to Interstate 70 west of Denver. Additional funds would have gone to local governments around the state.

The bill had bipartisan support, at least from legislative leaders. But it hit a roadblock with some Republicans on a Senate panel.

The Denver Post quoted one, Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, as saying, “In some ways I feel like we should exhaust our options before we go to taxpayers.”

Really, Senator? Why shouldn’t taxpayers have had an opportunity judge the bill on its own merits? The Taxpayers Bill of Rights, known as TABOR, requires tax increases to be approved by affected voters. The argument against even allowing such a vote because other ways to address funding the measure have not been exhausted is specious.

Does Tate know of $3.5 billion in budget cuts that would have made the sales-tax hike unnecessary? If so, we’d like to see them.

Voters should have been given the opportunity to vote on a measure that was favored by bipartisan legislative leadership, Gov. John Hickenlooper and business groups throughout the state, and they still could.

We encourage supporters to gather petition signatures to put the measure on the ballot, despite the roadblock erected by Tate and his ilk.

House Bill 1242 had broad support because it had a lot going for it. Much work was done to ensure that the measure would fund critical road projects along the heavily congested I-25 and I-70 corridors, in both Northern Colorado and toward the south. Other funds would have gone to local governments around the state.

And the fact that the tax increase had a 20-year sunset — versus extending indefinitely — should reassure those who oppose open-ended tax increases.

If any similar measure makes it on the ballot, it will have our full support.