On November 3rd, 2015, a remarkable thing happened that most Colorado political observers would not have believed. Sixty-five percent of the fiscally conservative voters of Colorado Springs approved a .62% sales tax increase that will raise $250 million over the next five years to fund road maintenance and repairs. In fact, registered Republicans contributed 50% of the total 103,044 ballots cast.
So, why did Colorado’s most anti-tax, anti-spend voters approve this tax increase?
First and foremost, most voters, especially Republican voters, are much more likely to support a tax increase when they know exactly how it will be spent. In the case of Ballot Issue 2C, it was crystal clear to voters that every penny would be allocated toward road repairs and nothing else.
When ballot measure language is vague in describing how funds will be spent, you can be sure voter support, especially among Republicans, will decline rapidly. Furthermore, in our 20 years of experience, a ballot measure that allocates funds into the “general fund” is the kiss of death.
The second reason Ballot Issue 2C was approved is that repairing roads was a top priority for voters, including Republicans! Acceptable roads and transportation needs are an issue that touches all voters daily. The voters of Colorado Springs did not need to be persuaded that the city’s roads were in horrible shape and needed attention. The passage of Ballot Issue 2C demonstrates that Republicans are willing to raise taxes if it addresses a problem that is important to them.
The third reason Ballot Issue 2C was approved is the inclusion of a five-year sunset provision. As a result, fiscally conservative voters did not have to worry about a future ballot measure passing to repeal the sales tax. Instead, that will happen automatically in 2020, unlike other ballot measure proposals.
The fourth reason Ballot Issue 2C passed was Mayor John Suthers. His leadership on this issue and credibility with conservative voters was vital in getting the job done.
Finally, Mayor Suthers and the City Council invested in a professional voter opinion survey. Our survey tested different road funding solutions and determined that raising the sales tax for five years was the option with the most support. The Mayor and City Council did not guess what sort of ballot measure voters would approve. Instead, they used a professional survey to understand precisely what citizens wanted and how to raise the money to solve the problem.
That is how you get conservatives to pass a tax increase.