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OWN questions SD-11, HD-18 candidates about problems with
gas-tax, massage therapy laws

       The board of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) recently submitted two unique questions to the four candidates for state offices whose districts include parts of the Westside. Their answers appear below.
       The first question focused on the state gas tax and the fact that El Paso County pays more than it gets back in revenue.
       The second question pointed out a loophole in state massage therapy laws that invites shady practices. Such have actually occurred in unincorporated parts of the city, including the Westside, according to OWN members.
       As part of both questions, the candidates were asked what they would do about the perceived inequities, if elected to office.
       The state offices and candidates are:

       - SENATE DISTRICT 11 - incumbent Republican Bernie Herpin vs. Democrat Michael Merrifield.
       - HOUSE DISTRICT 18 - incumbent Democrat Pete Lee vs. Republican Michael Schlierf.

       The official election date is Nov. 4. Ballots can be returned by mail or dropped off at designated locations.
       An all-volunteer organization, OWN has been the city-recognized advocacy group for residents of the older Westside for 36 years. Its board members are elected by Westsiders.
       Here are the questions:

       - Gas Tax. Sixty cents of every dollar of state gasoline tax collected in Colorado Springs is spent on roads elsewhere, as gas-tax money is allocated by the amount of state roads in an area. Colorado Springs has very few state roads and gets far less money than it contributes. This has forced the community to impose a sales tax (PPRTA) just to fund roads. The federal allocation of gas tax collected in cities is 90 percent to the cities and 10 percent to rural areas. The rationale is that city dwellers travel disproportionately more in rural areas than rural dwellers and there are very few rural dwellers to tax. If elected, would you work to restore the gas-tax allocation to a more equitable distribution? Or would you continue the disparate allocation using the rationale that rural roads are used disproportionately more by city dwellers and that city dwellers should therefore pay much much more?

       - Massage therapy establishments: According to the County Attorney's Office, conflicting state statutes have created a “gap in the law regarding licensure of massage therapy businesses.” The resulting lack of government oversight has allowed some massage parlors in unincorporated areas -- including locations on the Westside -- to operate clandestine prostitution and human trafficking rings. Would you sponsor and support legislation to tighten these codes and close the loophole?


       - Gas tax. We need to make infrastructure funding a top priority in state government budgeting. Transportation funding is one of my top priorities and I
am committed to fighting for fair and equitable funding. This is particularly important with the announced delays in the Cimarron interchange. This project has been in the works for 43 years. That's long enough. Given that my opponent spent 4 terms in Denver and failed to fix this situation shows his commitment to transportation funding. I will push for tax reform and allocating the proper resources to fixing our infrastructure so we can get Colorado Springs going again.
       - Massage therapy establishments. I would support legislation to tighten these codes and close the loopholes. Human trafficking is a growing problem across the country and under-regulated or unregulated massage parlors could be dens for human trafficking. This is a problem that should concern all of us as some of the most vulnerable among us can be held against their will and treated like animals. That's why I've spent my life protecting those who can't protect themselves and I look forward to working with the Organization of Westside Neighbors to solve this critical problem.

       - Gas tax. The question of equability is not the only challenge
concerning transportation budgeting. With the increased efficiency of automobiles the amount collected from gas tax is insufficient to address the transportation needs across the entire state. It will be vitally important the legislature comes up with alternative ways to fund highways and bridges. One possibility that has been contemplated is charging drivers by the miles driven. I am open to hearing other suggestions for a fair solution as well.
       - Massage therapy establishments. Yes, I consider this a vital safety issue. Always being a champion for public safety I would be happy to support this legislation.


       - Gas tax. The gas tax issue has been around for many years and it is time to fix a very unfair allocation. Once elected, I will examine the CDOT
rationale for this disparate treatment of Colorado Springs; find examples in other communities or states that justify our position and will do my best to pass legislation to rectify this situation.
       - Massage therapy establishments. This is a classic case of state government overreach into local affairs. State prohibition of regulation of massage therapy facilities has no logical basis, as long as it does not interfere with the licensing of therapists. If local entities want to prohibit prostitution, they should be allowed to do whatever is needed, as some home rule entities have done. I would appreciate OWN forwarding me all correspondence on this subject, especially any from the county attorney. I promise to look into this as soon as I receive your formal input.

       - Gas tax. The primary source of road transportation funding is the Highway Users Trust Fund. The HUTF is mostly funded by gasoline taxes; that
tax is $.22 and has not increased since 1992, despite inflation, more roads to maintain, more people driving, more miles traveled and increased efficiency of cars. The deteriorated condition of our roads and bridges is attributable to lack of funding for maintenance. Colorado's DOT receives no general fund revenue to build and maintain roads. In the future, with inadequate funding from HUTF, federal funding at diminished levels and resistance by voters to tax increases, Colorado needs to find alternative sources to pay for our transportation system.
       Alternatives to fund transportation include vehicle mileage taxes, (VMT), in which users pay for miles driven per year, sales tax allocated strictly to roads, such as PPRTA in El Paso County, toll roads and public private partnerships such as the High Performance Transportation Enterprise, (HPTE) concept used in Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder. With HPTE's, a private contractor signs a long term agreement to build and maintain the road in exchange for tolling privileges on some lanes.
       I agree that our Colorado Springs transportation infrastructure needs adequate funding to maintain safety and ease of transit for goods and people, and that the current mechanism seems to send a lot of Colorado Springs tax dollars to other areas of the state. However, if the tax was allocated entirely according to residence in particular areas, our rural areas of the state would have little to no ability to maintain their roads. Ensuring adequate transportation funding for all areas of our state is not only important to rural communities, but it fosters tourism and recreation and enables us to move goods that are important to the agricultural sector and to our economy overall. Going forward, I would be interested to look at the share of funds that go from Colorado Springs to other areas or vice versa to ensure that we can achieve a balanced, equitable distribution, hopefully tied to usage and economic impact.
       - Massage therapy establishments. Of course a loophole that allows for human trafficking must be closed. This is a matter of public safety and human dignity.

Courtesy of OWN; formatting by Westside Pioneer
(Posted 10/12/14; Politics: City Issues/Elections)

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