With Colorado highways a notorious and dangerous disgrace, legislators don’t know what to do. Democrats who control both chambers simply refuse to commit more of the state’s record-setting revenues to fix the roads.
“It has to be new revenue, it can’t come from the general fund — we aren’t going to cut Medicaid spending to fund roads. It’s just not going to happen,” said Boulder Democrat and House Speaker KC Becker, as quoted last week.
In case the speaker did not get the memo, voters have spoken loud and clear about that. They have said, resoundingly, it cannot be new revenue. They aren’t going to raise taxes for a state government drowning in surplus cash. It’s just not going to happen.
As for Medicaid recipients, the speaker might consider everyone else. The program aids about 20% of Colorado’s population. About 45% are not children, senior citizens or people with disabilities. They are able-bodied adults, many of whom are unemployed in a market desperate for labor.
By contrast, everyone of every age from every walk of life needs roads to access basic services and goods.
Becker seems to know as much, and she suggests raising the state’s 22-cents-a-gallon gas tax. Surveys have consistently shown anemic support for doing so, and voters would have to approve it. Republican legislators rightly claim more gas taxes would harm working families with breadwinners who commute to and from jobs. Voters trounced a recent effort to raise general sales taxes for transportation.
Nothing could be clearer: The people whom the government serves want legislators to pay for better roads with existing funds. Legislators are one-third of a state government of, by, and for the people. They should find a way to do what the people want.
In doing so, they need not abandon all aspirations of new revenues to help pay for roads. To get new money, they should turn to the consumers who buy expensive battery cars. Electric vehicle owners do not pay one penny — let alone 22-cents-a-gallon — in gas taxes that pay for transportation infrastructure.
The state charges an annual electric-car fee of $50, in addition to standard registration fees. State Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, wants a bill that would raise the fee to as much as $100.
Raising fees on battery cars makes good sense, given the grave environmental and social justice concerns they pose. Volumes of emerging research raise concerns about the production of electric-car batteries tapping scarce water resources of vulnerable foreign populations. Electric cars substantially increase demand for child slave labor in mines that provide precious metals for each car’s electrical storage.
Though doubling the fee would be a start, there is no reason to stop there. Illinois legislators recently considered raising their $17.50 battery car fee to $1,000 annually. Last year, Coloradans registered about 25,000 battery cars. That means a $1,000 fee would generate at least $25 million annually for transportation.
State Sen. John Cooke wants to raise the fee and eliminate the $4,000-a-year tax incentive paid on each electric-car purchase. The fee was $5,000 in 2019, meaning the state has spent at least $125 million subsidizing drivers to use highways and pay no gas tax.
In addition to those costs, Colorado committed its $14 million share of the Volkswagen emissions settlement to charging stations for the mostly wealthy beneficiaries of generous battery car subsidies.
Colorado taxpayers have spent a fortune helping a small percentage of drivers with the costs of electric cars. Legislators should demand they do more to help fix our roads.
The Gazette Editorial Board
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