The Colorado Department of Transportation has flooded its social media accounts with posts about unfunded construction projects ahead of an election that asks voters to consider increasing the agency’s budget by millions of dollars.
The posts could be viewed as a public education campaign to help voters understand what will be achieved if voters support two ballot measures, Proposition 110, a sales tax increase, or Proposition 109, which would grant the state bonding authority.
It could also be viewed as an attempt to garner more media attention ahead of an election that could “drench” the agency with new money if Proposition 110 passes, said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a Denver-based libertarian think tank.
“I think it’s very inappropriate,” said Caldara, a proponent of Proposition 109.
Proposition 110 asks voters to increase state sales taxes by 0.62 percent, or about 6 cents per $10 purchase for 20 years. It would raise up to $767 million in the first year and give the state authority to bond for $6 billion.
If approved, Proposition 109 would require the state to use surplus funds and reprioritize spending toward road infrastructure. It would allow the state to bond up to $3.5 billion.
Public agencies are prohibited from spending any money promoting the passage of a statewide ballot questions, according to state law.
The agency is not asking residents to vote a certain way. But it is posting information on the same platforms that reporters use to learn about car crashes and highway closures, which is likely an attempt to encourage news agencies to write stories, he said.
“They are electioneering, in hopes of spinning stories,” he said.
When asked if the agency’s posts could be considered campaigning for additional funding, CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said the posts are important to explain details of the projects that could be funded by the ballot questions.
“We have shared projects identified as critical,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald.
For example, posts say that CDOT could widen U.S. Highway 160 between Elmore’s Corner and Bayfield and improve U.S. Highway 550 between Durango and the New Mexico line, among a long list of other statewide projects, with additional funding.
The agency posted a list of projects that will be done under Proposition 110, a list approved by the Colorado Transportation Commission, and more refined than those projects identified by Proposition 109, she said.
Propositions 110 and 109 identify many projects for funding that are part of CDOT’s 10-year plan for construction, but the list of Proposition 109 projects is older, Ford said.
While currently unfunded, CDOT is proposing to install wildlife crossings along highways across Colorado to decrease animal-vehicle collisions and improve safety. Learn more - https://t.co/MNjjbSyosj #TransportationMatters #TogetherWeGo pic.twitter.com/ffxc7icYZG— CDOT (@ColoradoDOT) October 21, 2018
CDOT’s 10-year plan has been discussed publicly in meetings, telephone town halls and on social media, Ford said.
Over the past two to three years, the agency has spent about $100,000 a year on social media, videos and other public engagement, she said.
This year, the agency added about $100,000 to provide more information about projects, she said.
In June, the agency also launched the Together We Go page on its website with maps of projects that could be funded, challenges the agency faces and information about both propositions 109 and 110.