Wednesday, August 19, 2009

RTD area mayors: Tax hike requires refund pledge

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Denver-area mayors Tuesday stated that if the Regional Transportation District seeks voter approval to double the FasTracks sales tax to complete rail projects by 2017, all rail lines must be constructed as promised.

Thornton, Colo. Mayor Erik Hansen said voters should get a pledge from RTD that if the tax increase passes and a given line is not built as promised, "we will give you your money back. I guarantee that's what my voters are saying."

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Denver metropolitan area voters approved a 0.4% sales tax in 2004 to build six new rail lines and advance other transit measures, but RTD’s finance plan currently leaves the agency short by about $2.3 billion in completing the projects by the target date. Declining sales tax revenue, coupled with higher construction costs, have contributed to the current shortfall.

On Tuesday, Denver Regional Council of Governments consultant Ray Murphy said, "We consider (RTD's) sales-tax growth forecast to be the greatest challenge in the financing plan." The plan assumes voters will agree to raise the FasTracks tax to 0.8%, beginning in January 2011, to keep to the 2017 construction schedule.

RTD's plan is to ensure that all FasTracks lines are "shovel ready" — with environmental studies and preliminary engineering complete — for construction to start shortly after voters presumably approve the sales-tax increase in November 2010, said interim General Manager Phil Washington.