Polling Metro Denver Voters’ Support of Tax Hikes for Public Transit

Last month I wrote on Reason Foundation’s Out of Control Policy Blog about the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) Board’s decision to abandon a proposed tax hike that would have doubled the current transit-dedicated, 0.4 percent regional sales tax along the Northwest Corridor.

For context, the new revenue would have specifically gone towards FasTracks, a regional transit program approved by voters in 2004 projected to cost $4.7 billion and be complete by 2017. According to the latest estimates, FasTracks costs ballooned up to $7.4 billion and won’t be complete until 2042. For more on FasTracks see my previous posts here, here and here.

Two major factors behind RTD’s decision were uncertainty over voter support and ambiguity over the proposed use of funds. A reader recently sent me a poll conducted by Ciruli Associates, a Colorado-based research and consulting firm, which sheds light on metro Denver voters’ attitudes towards tax hikes for FasTracks. This poll was released prior to RTD’s decision and likely played a role in their decision.

According to Ciruli Associates:

The Ciruli Associates question in this survey used a historical context of the revenue provided for the project since its 2004 inauguration. Previously, polls have shown people like transit, especially light rail, and would like the system built out quicker. But, the decline in trust in government makes RTD and its ability to manage finances and the project an issue in this election.

First, the broad numbers. 49 percent of voters support the tax increase, while 46 percent of voters oppose it. Only 17 percent of voters definitely support the tax increase, while 30 percent (almost one-third) definitely oppose it.

FasTracks Support and Opposition Denver Metro Area

Next, a breakdown by party affiliation. A majority of Democrats (65 percent) support the tax increase, while a majority of Republicans (57 percent) and independents, or unaffiliated, voters (56 percent) oppose it.

FasTracks and Party Support and Opposition Denver Metro Area

Finally, a breakdown by geography. Ciruli Associates note that interestingly, “Voters in the two counties that should receive the most benefit from the next phase of transit expenditure, Adams and Boulder, are among the least supportive of the tax increase. Even Denver is only mildly supportive.”

FasTracks and Counties Support and Opposition Denver Metro Area

This poll was conducted from April 6-10, 2012 in the seven-county metro area known as the Northwest Corridor by Ciruli Associates for The Buzz. Ciruli Associates used RDD probability sampling with 500 voters and calculated a margin of error of + 4.4 percentage points.

This poll was not widely cited in the lead up to the RTD Board’s vote and only came to my attention today, however its results remain informative. Most Colorado transportation observers recognize that the relevant question is not if RTD will seek voter approval for another transit-dedicated tax hike, but when?

For related research, see Reason-Rupe’s December 2011 national poll on transportation and public transit here.