This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The people who build Colorado's highways see a lot to envy in how Utah handles road construction.
A business group in Denver brought 160 civic and business leaders from Colorado last week to hear how the smaller state to their west has managed to spend $660 million a year on highway projects compared to Colorado's $159 million. They also found that while Colorado depends on federal funding for 65 percent of its highway money, Utah's federal portion is only 25 percent.
"It's because in the last 10 years they have raised their taxes [for transportation] three times," said the new director of Colorado's Department of Transportation, noting that Colorado hasn't had a major tax increase for roads since 1991.
That sounds like another feather in the cap of what has been described as "the best managed state," and it is, but it also says something about where Utah sets its priorities.
Consider the report that came out last year from the Utah Foundation. It seems that Utahns can show a little envy back to Colorado when it comes to education, particularly early childhood education.
Utah Foundation found that while both Utah and Colorado are below the national average for per-pupil education spending, Colorado has invested more heavily in early education, including public preschool and all-day kindergarten. Thirty-four percent of Colorado 4-year-olds attend public preschool, but only 13 percent of Utah's 4-year-olds do. And about three-quarters of Colorado kindergartners are there for a full day, but Utah still only has 13 percent in full-day kindergarten.
By the time they take their first standardized tests in fourth grade, Colorado students have received up to 18 months more schooling, and the test results bear that out. After a long period of average performance, Colorado's math and reading scores are now in the top 10 nationally.
Utah, meanwhile, has stayed about average on testing in the last decade.
It would be too simplistic to say that Utah has chosen roads over children. After all, a good road system encourages economic activity, which in turn produces more tax money for schools. Conversely, a more educated population attracts higher paying industries, which in turn pay more taxes that can go to roads.
But if we want to have the largest, longest effect with our tax dollars, we would be wise to return Colorado's road envy with some healthy admiration for its early investment in children. When those Colorado pre-schoolers are hitting college, our roads will need resurfacing.