A silver lining to the continued shortage of RTD drivers? He’s got a whole lot of money to pay off the train debt

RTD would use the remaining bonding power granted by voters in the 2004 FasTracks election and draw on its cash reserves to help pay down the debt. This raised concerns among some board members who worried about a possible economic recession depleting these reserves. But the agency’s chief financial officer, Doug MacLeod, said the agency is in a good position right now — it currently has $516 million in cash.

“That’s not to say we have so much money that we want to be reckless with it,” MacLeod said. “But we believe … we are in a good position to deliver on our strategic plan and weather a recession.”

A few things helped improve RTD’s short-term financial situation: the agency collected more sales and use taxes than expected and received millions of dollars in additional revenue from the federal 2021. RTD also has $350 million remaining in federal COVID relief reimbursements it can draw on.

The agency’s ongoing struggles to hire and retain drivers and mechanics, combined with other cost reductions, also saved RTD $127 million in operating expenses in 2021, MacLeod said.

“Given that we have money due to budget underspending, it makes sense to implement this,” said RTD Board Member Erik Davidson.

RTD is currently operating at around 70% of its pre-pandemic service level.

Even though the financial maneuver results in big savings, the agency still faces long-term financial challenges, including the impending return of TABOR restrictions in 2025 that could limit its revenue by tens of millions of dollars a year.

Unless voters free RTD from TABOR through a “de-Brucing” vote, and unless RTD somehow finds new, consistent revenue streams, new analysis shows that the agency will have limited or no capacity to add more services beyond 85% of its pre-pandemic level or make significant capital investments. This includes all FasTracks rail lines that have yet to be built and have been paid for by taxpayers since 2005.

Any further tax increases for RTD would be politically difficult. Some board members have therefore called for a gathering of local leaders to begin building support for the agency.

“If we were to have a summit and come together around the realities of the RTD situation, this would be a good place to start this political discussion,” board member Peggy Catlin said at a meeting in June. .

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