Gas tax, restaurants lead Pitkin commissioners’ priorities for state legislation

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

The two legislative issues Pitkin County commissioners want to emphasize during the upcoming state Legislature session in Denver are increasing the fuel tax and changing state rules for restaurant inspections.

Commissioners have submitted the two issues to Colorado Counties Inc., a nonprofit lobbying group that will decide before the January session which issues are most important to emphasize, said Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock.

“The gas tax is clearly a statewide issue,” Peacock said.

The current tax of 22 cents a gallon for gasoline and 20 cents for diesel and gasohol has not increased since 1983, said Pitkin County Commission Chairman Steve Child. The money generated by the tax — which raised $573 million in 2014 — goes toward maintaining Colorado’s roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

The American Society of Civil Engineers said in its most recent report that 40 percent of Colorado’s highways are in poor condition, while the state has a “significant backlog” of bridges needing reconstruction or expansion, according to a memo submitted by Pitkin County to Colorado Counties Inc.

Also, Colorado’s traffic congestion continues to get worse because the state has one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, the memo states. In fact, the state’s population is expected to grow by 1.5 million people in the next 15 years, the memo states.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Colorado’s road infrastructure a grade of D, according to the memo. The 22-cent tax is below average compared with the other 49 states, the memo states.

“We would like to see an increase in the fuel tax,” Child said. “Trying to maintain roads with income from 1983 is just not cutting it.”

Commissioners propose raising the tax by 15 cents a gallon across the board, which they say would raise about $964 million, the memo states.

“Something needs to be done,” Child said. “It seems like the fairest way to us is for people using the roads to pay for the maintenance.”

As for restaurant inspections, commissioners want more flexibility in both charging inspection fees and conducting the inspections, Peacock said.

“The rub is that the state sets the maximum fees communities can charge for retail food inspections,” he said. “It doesn’t take into account things like geography and different costs of living.”

Also, the system doesn’t allow counties or municipalities to increase the level of inspections beyond state minimum standards, Peacock said.

Pitkin County receives about $8,000 from the state a year to conduct restaurant inspections, Child said. It subsidizes that amount by between $80,000 and $90,000 a year, Peacock said.

During the last legislative session, a bill created a committee to review and make recommendations about changing the restaurant-inspection fees and parameters. Child said he’s going to Denver on Friday to hear from that committee.

Child and Commissioner Rachel Richards are the Pitkin County representatives assigned to Colorado Counties Inc. and will conduct lobbying during this year’s legislative session, Child said.