Aurora’s mayor has publicly put forth a 3rd option to the current FasTracks funding problems. This was exactly what I was talking about in my post about the Denver Post’s Gatekeepers approach: lots of complaints, no solutions. The original reporting about the funding problems offered only two solutions: build 3 lines to their original completion by 2017 and drop the remainder of the lines (and possibly finish them in 2034) or ask voters for additional funding to complete all the lines by 2017. Ed Tauer has put forward a 3rd option (and there are others that are obvious): introduce a slight delay to the Gold, West and DIA (East) lines of about one year while asking voters this November for additional tax money to finish the entire set of lines as originally designed. The reasoning is actually pretty strong: what incentive do voters along the Gold, West and DIA lines have to tax themselves further for the remainder of the system when their lines are already nearly guaranteed to be finished on time?
As community-oriented as I am, I was kind of put off by this reasoning at first. But as I thought more about it, I realized that Tauer has a point here. As much as I want to think that voters approved the original tax in 2004 because it would build out a transit system, it’s likely that many voters thought only of the line that would service their community. From this vantage point, I am inclined to agree with Mr. Tauer that perhaps a more realistic approach would be to introduce a slight delay to more or less force an incentive on some folks.
This Post article does a good job of correctly identifying the culprit: falling tax revenues. It’s something, if you read some of the comments below the article, that some people just don’t want to understand. They somehow think that RTD managers are deciding not to wave their magic money wands, and thus they must be removed! This scenario actually plays into my pet peeve that economists are infallible but the weatherman can’t forecast a thing. RTD based their estimates off of a 4.4% decline in sales tax revenues from 2008 levels. So far in January of 2009, those revenues are down 13% from Jan. 2008. Yet who gets the majority of the blame – the economists or RTD? The Infallibility Syndrome marches forward.
The current estimated shortfall to operate the system for the next 8 years comes up to $6.9 billion. With current tax receipt levels, only $4.7 billion is expected to be generated. All the management in the world isn’t going to alter area residents’ spending habits in this economy. Did the economy in 2004 lend confidence to voters that an ambitious project like FasTracks would be straightforward to fund and build? It probably did. Will the economy in 2009 take away confidence from voters that FasTracks should receive additional funding? That’s the answer nobody knows right now.
The fact that isn’t in dispute is the metro area needs alternative methods of transportation such as mass transit. Our roads are congested and falling apart. Our environment is incredibly stressed by the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from our over-reliance on gas-powered vehicles. The Denver area is far behind the mass transit curve. FasTracks won’t solve all our problems, but it’s a decent next step, I think. I don’t think Mayor Tauer’s proposal is the best possible solution. But it is another potential solution – one that should continue the conversation of what to do to fix the problems the entire area faces. I don’t see three complete lines as an acceptable addition to our current transportation system. All the FasTracks lines should be completed in the shortest amount of time possible.
There will be a meeting on Wednesday for the entire 38-member metro-area mayoral caucus. There has to be a viable solution in between the two extremes proposed prior to this. I look forward to hearing what solutions were discussed and what the eventual choice will be.