Decision postponed on RTD ballot issue

Posted 3/10/11

The Regional Transportation District decided March 8 to take until May 3 to continue evaluating whether or not to ask voters to approve a .04 percent …

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Decision postponed on RTD ballot issue


The Regional Transportation District decided March 8 to take until May 3 to continue evaluating whether or not to ask voters to approve a .04 percent sales tax increase in 2011 or wait until 2012 in order to provide funds to complete FasTracks.

Without a sales tax increase, it will reportedly take until 2042 to complete the FasTracks project.

FasTracks was born in 2004 when voters approved a sales tax increase to pay for the 12-year project to expand the metro area mass transit system. Over the 12 years, FasTracks projects would 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.

However, since that voter-approved tax increase, construction costs have skyrocketed and, because of the recession, revenues fell well below predictions so the project is about $2 billion short of the money needed to complete the planned project.

So, the RTD Board of Directors has been evaluating the possibility of asking voters to approve an additional 0.4 percent sales tax increase.

If voters approve the tax increase in 2011, FasTracks would be completed in 2019. A year’s delay in approving the tax increase means a year’s delay in completing the project.

The decision was part of the preparation of the annual financial plan that must be submitted to the Denver Regional Council of Governments for approval. The board voted 13-2 to adopt the alternative that provides for a financial plan that assumes an election in 2012 with voter approval of an additional 0.4 percent sales tax increase to start in January 2013.

However, the board decided in order not to preclude going to the voters this year, they would also submit a financial plan that includes voter approval of the sale tax increase this year.

“This is a pretty exciting decision,” RTD Director Kent Bagley said. “It is a decision that avoids a knee-jerk reaction. Instead, it allows us to continue to move forward on this issue in a deliberate manner.”

Bagley, whose district includes Littleton, Cherry Hills and parts of Englewood, Greenwood Village and Highlands Ranch, said the decision to hold off on a final vote provides time for the board of directors to evaluate existing data and gather additional information in order to make a decision that will have a lasting impact on the whole region.

RTD Director Jack O’Boyle agreed the decision keeps the process moving forward.

“We looked at the information we have,” he said. “For example, we know our latest poll of residents likely to vote in the 2011 election doesn’t show strong support for a tax increase at this time. But we also know many community leaders and groups support the sales tax increase because they want to see FasTracks built as planned and completed in the near future. So, it is essential we evaluate all the data to prepare us to make an informed decision that, if we should ask voter approval for a sales tax increase the issue will be approved.”

O’Boyle said well-known economist Patty Silverstine estimates the 0.4 percent tax increase would cost a family of three making about $55,000 a year about $80 a year in additional sales taxes.

Board members also agreed to a final decision May 3 on an annual financial plan that will be forwarded to DRCOG for approval.


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