How Do You Get Conservatives to Pass a Tax Increase?


On November 3rd a remarkable thing happened that most political observers in Colorado would not have believed, the fiscally conservative voters of Colorado Springs overwhelmingly voted for a .62% sales tax increase, 65% to 35%. The sales tax is expected to raise $250 million over the next five years strictly for road repairs. When reviewing election return data, we find that registered Republicans contributed 50% of the total 103,044 ballots cast. How on earth did the anti-tax, anti-spend capital of Colorado pass a tax increase?

First and foremost, a majority of voters, especially Republican voters, are much more likely to support a tax increase when they know exactly where the money is going and how it will be spent. In the case of Ballot Issue 2C, it was crystal clear to voters that every penny would be spent on road repairs and nothing else. When sales tax or bond measure language is vague about where the money is going or how it will be spent, you can be sure any Republican support regardless of the cause, will decline rapidly. In fact, many sales tax proposals or initiatives that require voter approval and direct funds into some kind of “general fund” rarely gain the support of a majority of Colorado voters.

Second, repairing the roads was clearly a top priority for not just Republicans but all voters. Transportation is something that touches voters on a daily basis. Republican voters, and all voters in the City of Colorado Springs, did not need to be convinced that the city’s roads needed to be repaired. The fact is Republican voters are willing to raise taxes if they believe it will solve a problem, and poor roads are a big problem.

Third, Ballot Issue 2C included a sunset provision that after five years the sales tax is gone, period. Fiscally conservative voters did not have to worry about a future ballot measure to repeal the sales tax, it’s going to happen automatically in 2020. Some ballot measures include language that give voters an “opportunity” to repeal a proposed tax in a future election. However, Ballot Issue 2C saved everyone the trouble of worrying about that.

Finally, Mayor Suthers and the city council invested in survey research to measure and understand how badly Colorado Springs residents wanted the road repair problem addressed. The research tested different funding solutions, and determined raising the sales tax temporarily as the most preferred option by voters. The Mayor and city council did not just “guess” how residents wanted the problem to be solved. They used the survey to understand exactly what citizens wanted, and how to raise the money to solve the problem. That is how you get conservatives to pass a tax increase.


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