Heidi Ganahl wants to put existing gas, delivery fees to voters for transportation plan
The Republican gubernatorial candidate’s $10 billion road improvement plan relies on taxes, general funds and private partnerships
Republican candidate for Colorado governor Heidi Ganahl lays our her transportation plan in Denver on Sept. 15, 2022. (Sara Wilson / Colorado Newsline)
Heidi Ganahl, the Republican candidate for Colorado governor, laid out a $10 billion infrastructure plan on Thursday that would involve bringing a question to voters over whether to approve already-existing fees, passed through legislation, as taxes.
“In May of 2021, (incumbent Gov.) Jared Polis promised that we are finally going to fix the damn roads. Well, that has not happened. In fact, things are worse, and that is why we’re here today,” Ganahl said during a Thursday press conference with the Colorado Department of Public Transportation headquarters as a backdrop, trains zipping by at the nearby light rail stop and traffic moving along at the busy Federal Boulevard and Colfax Avenue interchange.
Ganahl’s plan would pull funding from three sources to complete a list of specific transportation projects around the state, one of which focuses on bus transit investments and none of which include funding for rail or cycling. She said her plan has no “wiggle room” for special interest projects.
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The crux of the plan would be asking voters to approve, through the ballot initiative process, provisions of a transportation bill passed last year. That transportation-funding legislation — which aims to not only fix infrastructure but also expand multimodal options and improve air quality — included fees on gasoline, retail deliveries, rides through apps like Uber and a higher registration fee for electric vehicles to pay for its goals. Those fees, save for the incremental gas fee, are already in effect.
Ganahl’s plan would put the entirety of Senate Bill 21-260 on the ballot for voters to sign off on or reject. Ganahl, and many other Republicans, have accused Polis of sidestepping the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which requires voter approval for new taxes but not on new fees.
“I’m taking this plan to the voters to get approval, and we will call them taxes as they are. So that’s the key,” she said. “It’s just being honest and authentic and transparent with the people of Colorado about how we’re building this revenue to fix the roads.”
In response to a question about what happens to the plan if the initiative doesn’t pass, leaving a chunk of the plan unfunded, Ganahl said it would pass because Coloradans want to be “partners” in the process of fixing the state’s roads.
In 2018, Colorado voters rejected two different ballot measures to raise revenue to pay for infrastructure projects; one would have raised the money through a sales tax hike while the other, backed by conservative groups, would have taken it out of the state’s general fund.
Ganahl estimates that under her plan, the taxes — which would sunset after 10 years — will bring in $3.5 billion. The Legislature would match that amount using money from the general fund, and another $3 billion would be sought through public-private partnerships, all over the course of 10 years.
The plan could require backtracking on the messaging Colorado Republicans have promoted against the fees imposed by SB21-260 since it was introduced. A July 6 email newsletter from the Colorado Republican Party, for example, specifically calls out the 27-cent delivery fee and gas fee.
“Polis decided to use your taxpayer money to give people grants to buy electric bikes. But he won’t permanently lower your gas taxes or repeal the state gas tax he signed into law. He’d rather choose your method of transportation,” that email reads. Ganahl’s plan, however, includes that same fee.
Ganahl has also said she will reduce the state gas tax by half, and it is unclear how that proposal works with the funding required for her transportation plan.
Listed transportation projects
The plan outlines specific transportation projects that supporters say reflect the state’s greatest needs. It includes $3 billion for a toll and bus lane along Interstate 25 between Castle Rock and Fort Collins, $1 billion along the Interstate 70 corridor, $900 million for managed lanes along Interstate 270, $30 million for electric vehicle charging stations and $20 million for a study on a third bore on the Eisenhower Tunnel.
It includes $250 million each for road improvements in Douglas, Jefferson and Arapahoe counties.
The plan does not list any projects south of Colorado Springs. It does have $1 billion for the statewide rural pavement program and another $1 billion for local road investments, which a policy adviser on Ganahl’s campaign said cities like Pueblo can draw from.
Ganahl’s plan has the support of former CDOT chief engineer Pam Hutton, former regional CDOT director Johnny Olson, Republican state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction and Republican state Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument, who all spoke in favor of the plan on Thursday.
“This plan commits real dollars to a real program to take care of rural Colorado and the transportation issue,” Scott said. “Polis and his administration, along with CDOT, have ignored the rural parts of Colorado. They give us a lot of lip service. But we don’t need what you see behind us, which is some of the trains and buses that continue to run empty all over the Front Range. It’s embarrassing.”
Following Ganahl’s rollout of the plan, the Colorado Democratic Party released a statement criticizing it as a “collection of vague transportation ideas” that Colorado leadership is already working on.
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