Will Colorado Springs Voters Pony Up For Road Repairs?

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Photo: Colorado Springs area
The Colorado Springs area.

Residents in Colorado Springs are being asked to approve a sales tax increase to pay for road repairs -- a rather unusual occurrence in the historically tax-averse city.

A recent study showed government spending is about a fifth of the average of other major cities, about $560 per citizen each year. City officials say they need more money for road repairs.

"The roads are worsening day by day," said Billie Stanton Anleu, who covers city hall for the Colorado Springs Gazette. "We’ve become the city streets' laughing stock of America at this point."

The proposed tax increase would amount to just over $.06 on a $10 purchase, and raise an estimated $50 million a year for five years. Anleu said the extra revenue would help treat, but not cure the city’s road problems.

"Sixty percent of our roads at this moment are considered to be in poor condition," Anleu said. "And if it is approved, after all of the sales tax money is spent we would be down to 46 percent. So there still would be plenty to do."

Here are more highlights from CPR News' conversation with Anleu:

Why did newly-elected Mayor John Suthers, formerly the state's attorney general, propose the ballot measure?

His office did a poll throughout the city with different kinds of voters, different economic levels, different voter registrations. They much preferred a sales tax than property tax and preferred all the money goes to roads which is the plan.

Who will pay the taxes?

They predict 40 percent of the money will be raised from people who live outside the city and the tourist trade. We do get quite a number of tourists. I think it was Suthers first day in office when he received a phone call from a woman who was going through Garden of the Gods and really enjoyed it. [She] came out onto 31st Street and hit five potholes in a row and she was calling to let him know they won’t be visiting Colorado Springs again any time soon. So he’s concerned about tourism and economic development not being able to flourish if the roads aren’t fixed.

Who opposes the measure?

There are a lot of questions about it and no matter how many stories I write trying to answer those questions the same questions seem to persist. For example, why aren’t they using the money from the city budget and the Pikes Peaks Rural Transportation Agency to repair roads? What’s going to happen to all of that money if the sales tax increase passes? The answer is they are continuing to spend every dime they can and will continue to do so if the tax passes.

Opponents suggest the city has enough money already. Is that the case?

The city’s budget people will assure everyone that that is simply not accurate.

What happens if the tax measure fails?

The roads won’t get fixed at the level people would like them to be fixed. So it would be the same old same old trying to put Band-Aids on the roads and carry on without really making a dent. The estimate is the tax would cost the average city household $100 a year. That seems like a small amount to many observers but others are not convinced we need it. That is the crux of the argument right there.