February 1, 1998

Allocate state budget surplus to highways

|While spending an early morning driving south on Interstate 25 to Denver, I had an opportunity to ponder the current state of traffic congestion on our highways.|This certainly was not an intended occupation; but, my additional time was created because the design capacity of the road network was exceeded by traffic. Put into plain language, I was involved in a parking lot on wheels. It seems more often than not that when you drive on Interstates 25, 70, 76, or 225, the typical experience is traffic gridlock.
With the General Assembly in session, most of us would like to believe that solutions to this mess will be readily forthcoming. After all, a predicted budget surplus of $350 million should soon exist, so allocating funds to improve traffic should be easy enough.
Unfortunately, 1998 is an election year. The term "election year" can be defined as a period of inaction for fear of voter retribution in the upcoming November election.
This problem is compounded by the impact of term limitations. Seventeen of the 65 House members are prevented from seeking re-election due to term limits. In fact, the House leadership positions will largely turn over after the end of this session. Notably, House Speaker Chuck Berry and Transportation and Energy Committee Chairman Ron May (both R-Colo. Springs) face sunset.
Many believe that the loss of experience from long-time legislators will cause a leadership void. Upon closer examination, the problem for the future is more the beliefs of those waiting in the wings to assume leadership. Generally, their views are parochial and without regard for the needs of the entire state.
The main issue needing to be addressed by the current legislative session is future tax and budget policy. Due to a robust economy, the state˜s government will produce estimated surpluses of more than $2 billion over the next five years. These surpluses arise not from a lack of projects on which to spend the money; but from a constitutional amendment that mandates revenue refunds.
The legislators chafing at the bit to become House leaders after term limits are scary. Their mantra is to reduce taxes because "Nearly no state government is the best government." Their future structure for Colorado is having every citizen make his or her own economic decisions without the burden — or benefit — of government. Under their scenario, today˜s highway gridlock will become little more than a speed bump.
The challenge before the Legislature is impossible. First, they must have a vision of the future needs of Colorado and must set aside the coming surpluses to fund those needs. Next, they must develop a comprehensive program of how they would spend these surpluses on highways or alternative transportation systems. Projects of this scope are clearly beyond the talents of this legislature and the various departments of state government. So, in the end, expect a variety of November tax-refund proposals and even more massive traffic tie-ups in the immediate future.

|While spending an early morning driving south on Interstate 25 to Denver, I had an opportunity to ponder the current state of traffic congestion on our highways.|This certainly was not an intended occupation; but, my additional time was created because the design capacity of the road network was exceeded by traffic. Put into plain language, I was involved in a parking lot on wheels. It seems more often than not that when you drive on Interstates 25, 70, 76, or 225, the typical experience is traffic gridlock.
With the General Assembly in session, most of us would like…

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