home guest columnist archives about us contact us

Metro Area County Commissioners Meeting
of March 28, 2008 and Transportation Issues

At the March 28, 2008 Metro Area County Commissioners (MACC) meeting in Arapahoe County, a PowerPoint presentation on the topic of transportation issues was provided (PowerPoint enclosed).  Douglas County Commissioner Jack Hilbert organized the presentation and MACC chairperson, Commissioner Kathy Hartman, presided.

The main theme was the difficulty of raising transportation funds at the state level (a separate presentation from CDOT made clear federal transportation dollars are also likely to be in short supply).  The solution increasingly has become county tax initiatives (e.g., sales tax extensions), multi-county tax initiatives (RTD sales tax increase) and the potential for multi-county agreements (RTAs).

The following text corresponds to the PowerPoint slides.

Slide 2.    Colorado Economy Slows and State Budget Takes Hit

Polls show Coloradans are positive about the direction of the state and their local communities, and, as of February 2008, continue to be upbeat about the local economy.  But in the last two weeks, the national recession has begun to effect Colorado’s state budget projections.  Governor Bill Ritter announced a $700 million shortfall on March 20, 2008.  The Joint Budget Committee began immediately slashing the capital development budget (hence, construction of the new Auraria science building was temporarily left as a hole in the ground).  Of course, state transportation funding will be reduced as dollars decline and other expenditure priorities take precedence.

Slide 3.    Illegal Immigration Down and Economic Concerns Up

While Colorado voters have been upbeat about the local economy, they join with their national counterparts and rate the economy as the number one problem, pushing Iraq into second place.  Illegal immigration has also declined as a concern, helped by news that illegal border crossings and local arrests are down.  Of course, the poor economy, especially as reflected in new construction, has contributed to the decline in illegal immigration by reducing the economic incentives.

Slide 4.    Denver Metro Transportation Investments

In the last two election cycles, Adams, Douglas and Denver counties have won approval of countywide tax extensions and increases for local transportation projects and maintenance.

County Transportation Elections



Type of




Sales tax extension




Sales tax extension




Property tax


Ciruli Associates 2008

The three elections received bi-partisan support.  Polls conducted by Ciruli Associates in August in Adams, Denver and Douglas counties were within the margin of error of the final results, showing the strength and stability of public support for local transportation projects.  The proposals were well-positioned by county officials and other supporters, and no significant opposition surfaced.  Proponents conducted well-funded campaigns.

More than a decade of effort has been dedicated to developing sufficient, sustainable funding for state and local transportation.  Statewide ballot efforts have met with some, but limited, success.  In the 1990s, a gas tax and TABOR override for transportation were defeated.  In 1999, Governor Bill Owens’ federal gas tax bonds passed, as did an RTD TABOR override.  The Referendum C TABOR override, which included transportation funding, was approved in 2005.  However, Referendum D, which had explicit bonding funds for transportation construction, lost.

State and Regional Transportation Funding Initiatives
Election Results





Total Vote


Gas tax increase (Amend. 1)





RTD Guide the Ride





TABOR override (Ref. B)





Federal gas tax bonds (Ref. A)





RTD bonds TABOR override





RTD FasTracks





TABOR time-out (Ref. C)





TABOR bonding (Ref. D)




Slide 5.    Weak Support for Extending TABOR “Time Out”

The Referendum C initiative was approved in 2005 by 52 percent of voters statewide.  It passed in the metro area by 54 percent, losing in Adams and Douglas counties and barely passing in Jefferson County.  In a September 2007 statewide poll, 51 percent of voters said they would not vote for another renewal, with only 41 percent supporting a future renewal.

While much of the political and economic leadership in the state support Referendum C, voters remain closely divided and very cautious on state spending issues.

Slide 6.    Increase in Severance Tax for Local Communities and Higher Education

A recent poll conducted in Mesa County, one of the state’s fastest growing counties and with considerable energy development, shows that the severance tax increase proposal to provide increased higher education and local impact funding has weak local support.  A projection based on the rates of partisan support in Mesa County show that the proposal would have only about 53 percent support statewide.

The lesson from the Referendum C results and poll and the severance tax poll is that raising revenue by way of statewide ballot initiatives is extremely difficult, and expecting more transportation funding from the state through a successful ballot issue is unlikely at this time.

Slide 7.    Fiscal Regionalism

The Denver metro area has had considerable success in developing cooperative strategies that use the existing structures of local government, but overlaying them with regional funding mechanisms for public purposes.  Voters have been willing to approve tax initiatives, especially sales taxes, for specific projects.  Beginning in 1988 with the 75 percent approval for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, the metro area voters have been willing to approve specific programs and projects deemed of metro-wide importance.  For example, baseball and football stadiums and regional transit have won voters’ favor.

Slide 8.    Denver Metro Area Growth Continues

The latest U.S. Census data shows most metro area counties have grown rapidly since 2000, in spite of the recession of 2002-2003.  Adams, Broomfield and Douglas counties lead the seven-county region in population growth.  The implication is that growth continues and is meeting or exceeding expectations, resulting in increased transportation system usage and congestion.

Slide 9.    Seven Metro Counties and Unaffiliated Voters

An increase in statewide unaffiliated voter registration in the last few years suggests it may overtake Republican registration, which has led since 1992.  In fact, in three metro counties, unaffiliated voters already lead voter roles.  Because tax initiatives must go before voters, partisan support, while important, must be augmented by persuasive campaigns aimed at motivating unaffiliated voters.

Slide 10.  Denver-Boulder 1 of 40 Mega-Regions Worldwide

Richard Florida, famous for his report, “Rise of Creative Class,” has written a new study titled, “Who’s Your City?” In it, he lists the Front Range area (labeled “Denver-Boulder”) with 39 other metropolitan regions of the world he considers mega-centers of economic activity, having particularly high concentrations of talent, innovation and creativity.

He specifically cites the importance of roads and transportation, as well as civic and business leadership, in defining the leading areas.  “Who’s Your City?” is a good study to share with your local planners, economic development agencies and stakeholders.  It may also be a useful resource for developing regional initiatives and the momentum to achieve them.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ciruli Associates is a non-partisan research firm providing polling, election analysis and political commentary to Colorado and national organizations and media since 1976.

[top] [archives] [home] [send this page to a friend]