Mayors urge support of tax hike for FasTracks

Posted 3/12/09

The Metro Mayors Caucus endorsed supporting a sales tax increase ballot question to provide money to complete the FasTracks public transportation …

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Mayors urge support of tax hike for FasTracks


The Metro Mayors Caucus endorsed supporting a sales tax increase ballot question to provide money to complete the FasTracks public transportation expansion as planned.

The caucus was formed in 1993 to provide a non-partisan organization promoting collaboration on issues affecting the entire metro area. Englewood Mayor Jim Woodward said there were 25 of the 36 mayors at the March 11 meeting focusing on FasTracks.

Woodward said the consensus was that FasTracks is a regional issue and there should be support of a proposal to increase sales tax 0.4 percent to provide the money to build all elements of the project and complete as promised by 2017.

Two light rail riders had different opinions about the proposal to increase sales taxes.

Helen Bullock said mass transit expansion is too important not to provide the necessary financing.

She said she would definitely vote for a sales tax increase for FasTracks because she wants a better system available for travel around the metro area and particularly to the air port.

“That little tax increase is a small price to pay for the convenience of rapid transit to Arvada, Golden or the airport,” she said as she waited for a train at the Littleton Light Rail Station.

Gary Garibaldi had a very different opinion as he waited for a train at the Arapahoe Light Rail Station.

The Centennial resident said he is already paying for the system through sales taxes and fares and he doesn’t want to pay more.

He said the system is OK but not great and probably fares are too high already. Additionally, now is not the time to ask for more money considering the state of the economy.

“I definitely would vote no on on a tax increase request,” he said. “I am just getting by as it is. This light rail is all I use and I don’t want to pay more to see an expansion that I probably would never use.”

The Metro Mayors Caucus action is only an endorsement and doesn’t mean a tax increase is in the works.

The final decision to request voters approve a sales tax increase rests with the Regional Transportation District Board of Directors which will take up the issue between now and August, the deadline to get the issue on the ballot.

“The Metro Mayors Caucus support is very encouraging,” said Scott Reed, RTD spokesman. “We appreciate all the hard work the mayors and others have put into the study and discussions that led to the March 11 decision.”

He pointed out there is a long way to go before there is a final decision whether or not to seek a tax increase to fully fund FasTracks. He emphasized that decision rests with the RTD board of directors and will be on the agenda this summer.

FasTracks is the 12-year project to expand the metro area mass transit system. Plans were to add a total of 119 miles of light rail and commuter rail lines, enhance bus networks, transform Union Station into the metro-area transit hub, create five new Park-N-Ride facilities and improve existing transit systems and facilities. The project was scheduled to be completed by 2017.

Voters approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase in 2004 to fund FasTracks. However, the poor economy put a crimp in the financing plans as sales-tax revenues declined 31 percent and construction costs rose 41 percent. The result is the forecast in revenues will fall $2.2 billion short of covering construction costs to complete the FasTracks project by 2017.

The Metro Mayors Caucus appointed a task force to begin looking at the FasTracks financial problem five months ago.

Woodward, a member of the task force, said the group meets weekly to evaluate the data provided.

He said the focus all along was to make sure that all the proposed mass transit projects were completed as planned and completed on time.

“We recognized the financial difficulties FasTracks and RTD faced,” he said. “I think that is why we felt the best solution was to endorse putting the sales-tax increase issue on the ballot.”

Bob Frie, Arvada mayor, agreed.

He said it is clear FasTracks faces tough financial decisions if no additional revenues are provided.

“There isn’t enough money available now to build the entire FasTracks project,” he said. “But the members of the caucus agreed mass transit is essential to the entire regional area and everyone wants to see it completed as designed.”

John Caldara, long-time opponent of light rail, spoke out against the sales tax increase. The president of the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank, said approving a sales tax increase would reward RTD for failure.


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