In 2004, Senate District 17 voters approved a 0.4% sales tax to form the RTD FasTracks program. FasTracks was going to build six new rail lines and extensions to already existing rail lines, including a rail line between Boulder and Longmont. Currently, $120 million has been collected and allocated to the FasTracs savings account, according to RTD.
The year is now 2020, and RTD has yet to deliver on its voter-mandated, taxpayer-funded Boulder-Longmont rail line. Not a single inch of this rail line exists to date and RTD has now pushed the completion of this rail line to 2050, even though we have already paid $120 million for this rail line.
In June of this year, Governor Polis directed RTD to build the rail line that SD17 voted for in 2004, despite looming budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “The train has to come. It was part of the 2004 ballot initiative… It’s a binding vote of the people.”
In a more normal year, when a global pandemic isn’t occurring, I would have agreed with Governor Polis’ strongly-worded directive. It is absolute insanity that RTD has completely faltered on its promise and chosen to practice the height of ineffective, corrupt governance.
However, we are not living through normal times. Colorado government programs are being cut across the board. Governor Polis, in coordination with his state government agencies, signed multiple executive orders that defunded many government programs, including mental health programs. I have been very clear as to why I believe it was a disgraceful decision to defund mental health programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially considering that Colorado is 27th in the nation for per capita mental health spending (see my post: “Colorado Government’s Defunding of Mental Health Programs is a Disgrace“).
I believe our hard-earned taxpayer dollars should not be routed to any government agency that has proven to be wasteful, ineffective, and downright negligent. This very much includes RTD.
If I were elected as the District 17 State Senator during the last legislative session, I would have made clear three things to Governor Polis and the Colorado State Senate:
1. The taxpayer money (OUR money!) that RTD has collected since 2004 ($120 million, as according to RTD) should be returned to SD17 voters now or it should be redirected to the mental health programs that recently experienced budget cuts and local small businesses that need immediate relief.
If our money is returned to us, this would help SD17 residents who have been feeling the economic sting of the COVID-19 pandemic. This would essentially be a mini-stimulus check program for our residents, including our small businesses, who are in need of immediate economic relief.
If money is redirected to mental health programs and small businesses, then this ensures that SD17, as well as Colorado, can receive adequate help during an incredibly disorienting, stressful time.
2. During one of the worst global health crisis in the last 100 years, the absolute last thing Colorado’s government, including Governor Polis, should be concerned about is building a rail line that should have been built a very long time ago. Simply put: now is not the time. Colorado should be focused on mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic, stimulating the economy and giving relief to small businesses, and prioritizing the mental health of our residents.
3. Lastly, I will propose a massive investigation and audit on RTD to understand where our taxpayer money for this rail line has gone, why the voters’ mandate was not respected and adhered to, and why this government agency was not held accountable sooner. This is long overdue.
Ultimately, RTD has failed SD17. In my opinion, the rail line will most likely never happen, despite the directives by the Governor. We should look toward the future for new, innovative public transportation options for SD17. In the meantime, let’s use our taxpayer dollars that we have been paying since 2004 to directly benefit and empower our community, not defunct, wasteful government programs.