Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

Metro Area Mayors Back Plan to Save FasTracks

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When I wrote about FasTracks’ financial difficulties last week, I wasn’t expecting the story to stay in the headlines the way it has. I suppose it was inevitable: a $2.2 billion shortfall is nothing to sneeze at and something has to be done sooner rather than later if the entire project is to continue as originally envisioned.

Today’s Denver Post has the latest: the Metro Mayors Caucus met yesterday and decided to back a plan to put a 0.4% sales tax request on this November’s ballot.

The longer this story goes, the more parallels to similar stories become apparent.

First, here are the facts from the Post story. A majority of the Metro Mayors Caucus voted to ask voters this year for a second 0.4% sales tax increase in order to make up for the shortfall that is the result of bad economic forecasts and even worse economic conditions.

The commitment from the Metro Mayors Caucus is perceived as necessary so RTD can present a unified position to the federal government when they seek additional funds to help pay for the project. Without that commitment, those funds could be shifted elsewhere and FasTracks would have more financial distress. The mayors’ acted yesterday because they want to see the entire project finished by 2017.

A large, looming question is whether such a sales tax could pass in this economic environment. To that, I’ve answered that if a campaign is properly run (a big if, I know), I think voters will continue their support of the project. An easy point to make is that if the tax isn’t passed, a number of transit lines won’t be finished until 2034, if at all: 3 FasTracks lines would be finished by 2017 and the remainder might be started afterward.

Here is a second easy point to make: another option is to shorten all the lines. That makes no sense either. Why would a line go to Stapleton and not DIA? Why would a line go to Westminster and not Boulder? I think those arguments could be presented in such a way that a majority of voters would see the imperative of finishing FasTracks as it was originally proposed.

Okay, onto the part of the article that I was fully expecting to read.

The prospect of a vote reinvigorated FasTracks opponents.

Independence Institute president Jon Caldara, a longtime critic, said backing another tax increase would “reward RTD for lying to us and deceiving us” before the 2004 vote on the original FasTracks tax.

I will mince no words: Jon Caldara is one of the most disingenuous pundits out there. Caldara lies and makes stuff up every chance he gets as long as it advances his ideology. Caldara issues a number of lies here. Backing another increase would in no way reward RTD for anything approaching lies. RTD relied on a variety of economic forecasts when they were drawing up the plans for FasTracks.

While I might agree with Caldara that the economic forecasts were probably too rosy, Caldara fails to call out the correct culprit. Caldara perpetrates what I’ve come to call the Economists’ Infallibility Syndrome. People suffering from this syndrome find themselves unable to hold economists accountable for their forecasts. They instead direct their energy to non-responsible parties when those forecasts bust. In Caldara’s case, he attacks the only thing his extremist ideology allows him to attack: any entity that receives tax dollars. In Caldara’s warped worldview, RTD apparently knew this recession was going to happen and decided to try to bilk the taxpayers anyway. It makes for a cute bumper sticker, Jon, but it doesn’t work in the real world.

This misguided criticism reminds me of the Jon Stewart – Jim Cramer story (which I totally love, btw).  Cramer, just like Caldara, has totally missed the point of Jon’s original piece.  The vast majority of players in the financial industry didn’t have any idea that their sector was about to crater.  Some of us argue that they should have.  More of us are arguing that given their horrible track record, little confidence can now be placed in their opinions today.

The article does contain a worthy response, the first part of which did not appear in the print version of the Post:

In response, RTD spokesman Scott Reed said, “Jon is concocting a statewide conspiracy that would have included the Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the Colorado Legislative Council, the Denver Regional Council of Governments and two different highly-respected financial firms.”

“All of the RTD estimates were based upon their collective work,” Reed said. “The financial plans were public and there was no upside for RTD to over-estimate finances or low-ball costs.”

Whether it’s RTD or climate change, Jon Caldara and his ilk are fond of concocting grand conspiracies which could not and cannot possibly exist. The obvious question is why the Denver Post continues to use nut cases for quotes and present them to the public as serious people. Such is the extent of the mis-named “Independence Institute”. Independence from rational thought, perhaps, but nothing more.

So to sum up, I’m glad the Metro Mayors Caucus has decided on a course of action. The next step is for the RTD board of directors to approve a tax increase ballot measure. In the meantime, there is no time to waste working to build support for such a request. The sooner the public is educated, the more likely I think the increase will be approved. Support must start high now because we know it will taper off as election day draws near.

Cross-posted at SquareState.

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