Reporting on light rail expansion, 9News failed to note Owens's opposition to separate light rail project

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

A KUSA 9News report on the launch of expanded light rail service to southeast metro Denver featured Republican Gov. Bill Owens praising "everyday Coloradans" for making the expansion -- part of the so-called T-REX Project -- possible. But it failed to mention that Owens was an ardent and vocal opponent of the 2004 FasTracks referendum, which provided funding for other metro area light rail expansion through a sales tax increase.*

Reporting on the completion of the T-REX highway improvement project and the launch of expanded light rail service to southeast metro Denver, KUSA 9News co-anchor Bob Kendrick reported that, during a ceremony marking the occasion, Gov. Bill Owens (R) thanked Coloradans "for making it possible," without noting that Owens was an ardent and vocal opponent of the 2004 FasTracks ballot initiative that provided funding for light rail expansion through a sales tax increase.

From the November 16 broadcast of KUSA's 9News at 5 p.m.:

KENDRICK: Governor Owens took part in a ceremony to mark the official completion of the T-REX project and the opening of light rail southeast expansion today -- and the governor thanking Coloradans for making it possible.

OWENS: It's the contribution of everyday Coloradans. None of this would have been possible without the consent of the voters. From the beginning, T-REX was citizen-endorsed and it was citizen-driven.

KENDRICK: The southeast rail line will open to the public tomorrow morning at 11; rides will be free tomorrow and Saturday.

While reporting Owens's comments, 9News failed to note that in 2004, Owens campaigned strongly against the successful Referendum 4A -- also known as the FasTracks referendum -- which asked voters to approve a sales-tax increase to fund the further expansion of the Denver metro area's light rail system* through a sales tax increase. Owens at times used deceptive figures in his attempt to dissuade voters from approving FasTracks, according to The Denver Post. As an October 28, 2004, Post article (accessed in the Nexis database) titled "Owens urges voters to nix FasTracks" reported, "Flanked by a dozen opponents of RTD's [Regional Transportation District] proposed FasTracks tax increase, Gov. Bill Owens on Wednesday reiterated his opposition to the $4.7 billion transit expansion." According to the Post:

Voters should reject Referendum 4A, the proposed increase in RTD's sales tax to 1 percent from the current 0.6 percent, and instead consider at some future point a tax increase up to half that size that might pay for "three or four more T-REX projects," Owens said.

While the same article reported that "Owens said a pro-FasTracks vote would raise Denver's sales tax to 8.2 percent," it also noted that "[i]n fact, the city's sales tax would rise to 7.6 percent with passage of the transit tax increase."

An October 29, 2004, Post editorial criticized not only Owens's stance on FasTracks, but also his distortion of the project's tax impact and potential economic benefits:

Gov. Bill Owens had a bad attack of fuzzy math disease Wednesday when he claimed that passage of the FasTracks rapid transit plan, Referendum 4A on metro-area ballots, would increase the total sales tax rate in Denver to 8.2 percent.

Not.

In truth, the existing sales tax in Denver is 7.2 percent and the FasTracks 0.4 percent increase would bring it to 7.6 percent. It's an extra 4 cents on every $10 purchase.

[...]

Owens also said FasTracks would make it harder for Denver to compete with other cities for new business. That claim was torpedoed by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, whose 66-page study... concluded that, far from reducing Denver's competitive position, FasTracks would enhance the region's appeal to new business.

Furthermore, a September 17, 2004, Rocky Mountain News article reported, "Gov. Bill Owens on Thursday came out against the FasTracks rapid-transit proposal on the metro Denver ballot, saying he thinks it would do little to relieve traffic congestion. Instead, Owens said, the metro area should have a new taxing authority that could build combined highway and transit expansions in selected high-traffic corridors, similar to the T-REX project on Interstates 25 and 225." The News further reported that "FasTracks supporters were 'disappointed but not surprised' by Owens' stand" and that "Owens has been an opponent of light rail for many years."

Correction: 

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