Like spring crocuses, political signs are sprouting up across the city. Flowers they aren’t, especially the dueling, and somewhat misleading signs for and against issue 1A.
Proponents: “Vote Yes — Jobs Now.”
Opponents: “Fight Corporate Welfare!”
Issue 1A asks voters to approve the continuance of a city property tax levy first instituted to repay bonds floated two decades ago to extend Powers Boulevard. During September of this year, the bonds will be paid off and the mill levy will expire Dec. 31, unless extended.
City Council, as it is legally required to do, referred the extension to the voters. The proposal calls for the .665 mill levy, which raises about $3 million annually, to be extended through Dec. 31, 2025.
Simple enough. But, both opponents and proponents agree, the devil (or the angel) is in the details. Here’s the ballot title.
“Without raising additional taxes, shall the existing .665 general property mill levy tax be extended from its current expiration of Dec. 31, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2025, to be used exclusively to create, attract and retain primary jobs, market and promote Colorado Springs, require City Council to create and appoint a five-person Job Opportunity and Business Sustainability Committee with no more than two members of City Council appointed thereto, to make recommendations to City Council pertaining to the expenditure and use of such revenue, with all revenues and expenditures constituting a voter-approved revenue change?”
The purpose of the referred issue is to “establish a sustainable long-term funding source to ensure that Colorado Springs is competitive with comparable communities in addressing the promotion of creating, attracting and retaining employers” and to “establish a sustainable long-term funding source available to City Council to market and promote Colorado Springs.”
Those are worthy goals, which this page has long supported.
No one can deny that those who are charged with attracting and retaining primary jobs to our community are in a difficult competitive position. Other cities, and other states, fund economic development far more aggressively. Our neighbors in Albuquerque, for example, can usually outbid us for any company that might be seeking incentives to relocate.
Another $3 million annually won’t hinder our eco-devo efforts, and it will certainly make the Economic Development Corp.’s task that much easier. It won’t overly burden property owners, either — the city estimates that the mill levy accounts for only $10.60 of the total property tax on a $200,000 house.
But will the issue’s passage actually create, as the signs claim, jobs now? That, as a certain former president might say, depends upon the definition of “now.” Not the day after the election, certainly, but we would expect quantifiable results during the next several years.
Opponents, who characterize the proposal as “corporate welfare,” are off the mark as well. We don’t know what recommendations a newly formed committee would make, nor do we know what council would do with those recommendations. Our guess is that our elected officials will be, as is their wont, cautious and conservative — perhaps too much so.
This is Colorado Springs, after all — not Boulder. Folks who rashly pass out taxpayer dollars are unlikely ever to be elected to council, much less comprise a majority.
Our quarrel with the issue, if it can be so characterized, is philosophical rather than substantive.
During the last two decades, voters locally and statewide have been busy erecting “silos” — programs with designated funding sources, over which elected officials have little control.
City government alone has 29 “special revenue funds.” These tax funds, which include the trails, open space and parks fund (TOPS), the public safety sales tax, the bicycle tax, and the lodgers and automobile rental tax (LART), are legally restricted to expenditures for specific purposes.
In Colorado, and in Colorado Springs, representative democracy has been eroded by clamorous, well-funded special interests who have successfully advocated for such “silos.”
Taken alone, each special interest is worthy — but when governments are forced into fiscal straitjackets, we all lose. Absent the ability to make decisions consonant with current needs, elected officials can’t effectively serve their constituencies.
These are difficult time for city government. As tax revenue has plunged, scores of employees have lost their jobs. Critical positions are unfilled.
We were surprised that council didn’t ask the taxpayers to extend the mill levy and add the proceeds to the general fund. It seemed to us that the creation of a special tax fund to support economic development, if appropriate to the city’s needs, should have been part of the comprehensive plan that will be submitted by the city’s sustainable funding committee.
But just as there are no perfect candidates (unless you’re a candidate yourself), there are no perfect ballot issues.
Voters need to ignore the hyperbole and decide for themselves whether to give council 10 bucks a year for economic development or spend the ten-spot on riotous living.
We wouldn’t presume to tell you how to spend your hard-earned money. That’s up to you — and tens of thousands of your fellow voters, who by the simple act of filling out their ballots and mailing them in, sustain and re-create our precious democracy.