Citizens’ group meets in Eagle-Vail | VailDaily.com

Citizens’ group meets in Eagle-Vail

EAGLE-VAIL, Colorado – There seemed to be an outbreak of common sense the other day.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s “TBD Colorado” civic engagement tour made a stop in Eagle-Vail on Wednesday. The idea behind TBD is to get residents around the state talking about some of the state’s more pressing problems, in hopes of… that’s a hard sentence to finish.

People from Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties – described as “thought leaders” in their various communities – gathered to talk about topics ranging from education to transportation to the state budget – and the state’s workforce (really).

The background materials for participants laid out a double-handful of topics and a matrix of solutions. Almost without exception, those solutions involved new taxes in some way.

Need to fix the roads? Should we increase the tax on gas (with a couple of options), or raise the state’s sales tax and severance tax on oil and gas drilling? Should the state’s income tax be raised to pre-1999 levels to fix the budget? Should those with greater incomes pay a greater percentage? Should there be a uniform mill levy for all the state’s school districts?

You get the idea.

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There seemed to be some support for various ideas. But another idea also floated out of this group: more money in the state budget isn’t always the answer.

One participant suggested the Colorado Department of Transportation needs to show it’s using its current budget as effectively as possible before it asks for the hundreds of millions of dollars it says it needs to simply maintain the state’s highway system in its current state.

That same participant also questioned the whole idea of asking for tax increases, given the times.

Another participant said policy could replace some of the claimed need for additional billions in state revenue. For instance, it might be easier, and a whole lot cheaper, to have heavy trucks on Interstate 70 just park for a few hours during peak times.

It was all kind of interesting, in a “Where are a couple of the bigger issues (health care), and what are you going to do about all this – really?” kind of way.

The surprise of the session came when participants – 30-plus people at seven tables – were asked to write down their own suggestions to get the state “moving in the right direction.” People at three of those tables submitted roughly the same idea: untangle the state’s constitution.

People who pay attention to these things say three conflicting constitutional amendments have combined to create most of the state’s fiscal troubles. Those three: the tax and spending limits of TABOR; the mandated education spending of Amendment 23; and the Gallagher Amendment, which has created a chasm between residential and commercial property tax rates. Until the legislature, and ultimately, voters, untangle those three, the state will be hamstrung at best, trying to get its finances straightened out.

A lot of “experts” say that’s a fool’s errand, that it’ll never happen. Still, a lot of people seem to know where the real problems are the state’s financial situation. That could be good news, eventually.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.