Source: 2016 Annual Report, New Mexico Department of Transportation
At least we’re not alone.
Santa Fe’s solons are scheming to increase the state’s gasoline tax, in part to raise additional revenue for transportation. To our north, a bipartisan cabal of Colorado state pols wants more moolah “for transportation infrastructure funding purposes,” and the group has drafted a bill to ask voters for a sales-tax hike — from 2.9 percent to 3.52 percent — that “would start in January 2018 and remain in place for 20 years.”
The Rio Grande Foundation has warned, again and again, that there are many ways to boost spending on New Mexico’s roads, highways, and bridges that do not involve raising taxes. Repealing the state’s anti-taxpayer prevailing-wage mandate is an easy way to make all infrastructure dollars go further. Shifting 100 percent of the revenue raised by the excise tax placed on motor-vehicle sales to transportation is another promising reform. And walking away from the Rail Runner, however painful, will stop throwing good money after bad.
In Colorado, the Independence Institute has launched an effort to stop their state’s potential tax hike. Calling the measure the “Fix Our Damn Roads” initiative, the organization’s president called the proposal “a re-allocation of existing … spending to roads.”
The initiative’s language charges that “Colorado’s elected officials have decreased funding for road and bridge construction, maintenance and repair by 9 percent over the last decade,” and decries the diversion of funds “that should have gone to roads pursuant to state law” to “programs outside the core responsibility of state government, such as, inter-city bus services (duplicating many services of the Regional Transportation District and unfairly competing with private sector transit providers), resort town housing, duplicative education programs, subsidies for large out-of-state businesses and automatic raises for state officials.”
“Fix Our Damn Roads” would pay for $2.5 billion worth of “road and bridge expansion, construction, maintenance and repair” with revenue anticipation notes.
As the chart above indicates, the major, indigenous sources of New Mexico’s “road fund” haven’t seen much growth in the past dozen years. And federal funding, which contributes nearly half of all “transportation” spending, is an highly unreliable revenue stream.
So it’s time — long past time, really — to prioritize. Ditch the regulations that drive up infrastructure costs. Allocate transportation dollars more appropriately. And follow the “Fix Our Damn Roads” approach of stopping expenditures on projects that return little (or no) value to the taxpayer.
Smart, not more, transportation spending is the answer. While there’s not much chance of a “Fix Our Damn Roads”-style solution being enacted in New Mexico anytime soon, we’ll keep watching our neighbor to the north, and report on the initiative’s progress.