As news rippled around the Capitol on Thursday morning that the future of legislative leadership’s grand bargain transportation bill was growing dimmer by the hour, Jon Caldara snacked at the cafe across the street, scrolling through a list of transportation ballot initiatives filed Wednesday by the contracting community and that closely mirror teetering House Bill 1242.
Caldara looked up slowly from his iPad. Now that the legislative proposal looks dead, is he going forward with his transportation initiative?
“Yeah, we’re going forward… Do you think it will pass?” he said.
If Caldara really intends to spend a million dollars to land his proposal on state voter ballots then maybe it could pass — and the possibility of Caldara’s initiative or another one passing at the ballot is part of what is fueling whatever hope is left that House Bill 1242 will survive.
Caldara heads the small-government Independence Institute. He was aghast that Republican leaders even entertained, much less signed on to, HB 1242. The bill would ask voters to hike the state’s sales tax in order to borrow $3.5 billion to pay for much-needed transportation upgrades.
Caldara filed his ballot initiative — titled “Fix Our Damn Roads” — as an alternative. The Caldara proposal would have lawmakers put up future tax revenues against $2.5 billion to fix only roads and bridges — no new mass transit or bike lanes. The plan would force lawmakers to reallocate hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget every year for 20 years to pay off the debt. It would mean no new taxes and significantly less money to spend on state programs.
Most analysts view Caldara’s bill as a fantasy — a dangerous fantasy because, given the political climate we are living through, if he takes it all the way to the ballot, you never know what voters might do. In an earlier era, decades ago, they passed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the state budget bedeviling constitutional provision proposed by Doug Bruce, an anti-tax zealot and reported slumlord convicted of tax evasion in 2012.
Caldara was reading the transportation-funding initiatives he may have to compete with in the fall.
“These are all –,” he shrugged, moving his finger over the screen. “One of them is asking for a full percent sales tax increase! These will fail,” he laughed.
He paused thinking about his own proposal.
“It’s a major concession on the right, taking on debt, you know.” He didn’t blink. “Serious, you don’t get the calls I do from Doug Bruce.”