BY FREDA MIKLINGOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
Jack Tate decided late in 2018 that he would not run for re-election to the state senate in Nov. 2020, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to him to make a positive difference in Coloradans’ lives as long as he is in a position to do so.
One subject he is serious about addressing in the 2020 legislative session that began on January 4 is the Regional
Transportation District (RTD). Says Tate, “I support public transportation. Right now, RTD is at a critical point where its financial health and sustainability is in question and its ability to provide transit services to those who need it the most is in jeopardy. It’s our job in the legislature to provide oversight and support, and as a problem solver I want to be part of this solution to help RTD regain the public trust needed for future success.”
Facing challenges including a shortage of drivers and lack of ridership, the RTD board has announced it is considering cutting back services. Tate thinks there is a better answer. He wants to “increase oversight of the RTD by the legislature and the public, to identify measures to ensure its long-term fiscal health, and to increase transparency and accountability through reforms that will benefit the public interest.”
The RTD was established by the General Assembly as a political subdivision of the state in 1969. It began with 21 appointed members, including ten from the City and County of Denver and two at-large who were appointed by the other 19. In 1980, a ballot initiative was approved by the voters changing it to a 15-person board, all elected from individual director districts, beginning in 1983. A subsequent effort in 1998 to return it to an appointed board failed. The general argument for an appointed board is that it allows individuals with expertise in specific areas to be placed in positions of responsibility for those fields. The argument for an elected board is that it provides accountability to the voters.
Tate does not seek to eliminate the elected board. He wants to add specific expertise to it by making the (elected) state treasurer and the (appointed) director of the state department of transportation ex-officio board members who would participate fully in the deliberations of the RTD board, except that they would not be compensated and their votes, though recorded, would be non-binding. He also wants to add two additional directors who would be appointed by the governor “to advocate for disadvantaged communities.” The senator believes that those with fewer resources and those with disabilities have fewer options if public transportation is not available, so it is important that their needs be considered.
Tate believes the state treasurer can recommend the institution of fiscal reforms to address various areas, including the RTD’s unfunded pension liability for its hourly workers (listed as $241 million in RTD’s 12-31-18 financial statements) and determine if there are potential savings in the organization’s administration budget that might allow better pay to be offered for drivers. He believes that higher pay would increase RTD’s ability to hire and retain drivers, who are currently required to work six-day weeks with limited breaks to keep the busses and trains going.
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