Cutting through the 1A hyperbole

Filed under: Opinion | Tags:,

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.

6 Responses to Cutting through the 1A hyperbole

  1. I do not have a problem with the City asking for a new tax for a specific reason but to disguise it as continuation of a tax which was passed with a sunset provision and that it is actually not a tax increase is not an honest statement. If they want a tax increase, ask for it. The next time a sunset provision is used as an incentive to pass a tax I will not belileve it will actually happen.

    I am unhappy with the City and County raising monies via fees such as the Stormwater Fee and Certificates of Participation (COPS) after ballot issues have been defeated. I do not trust the officials when they do an end run around the voters. I understand the City and County need monies but do not believe what they tell us.

    1 A is just to vague and without sufficient controls on the expenditures.

    Tom Rhue

    Tom Rhue
    March 20, 2009 at 8:33 pm

  2. Tom, You see right through the issue. I just hope that the flaws are as transparent to other voters.

    I’m on the Sustainable Funding Committee where it originated, participated in the debate, and I still don’t understand the basis for the tax extension. A “statement of need” or a budget was never presented.

    BTW, I was asked to write an editorial for The Gazette, and did so (in print Tues March 24th)

    T.A. Arnold
    March 25, 2009 at 7:08 pm

  3. I’m beginning to concur with both Mr. Rhue and Mr. Arnold. Both of you have put it very nicely.

    I’ve been reading the reports on the 1A “Jobs Now” ballot issues, but still have many unanswered questions. I sent a note to the 1A committee but have not received any response.

    Rest assured, I am all for seeing an increase in job opportunities in Colorado Springs.

    The website recaps some key points about the initiative, including the creation of a new 5-person committee to “make recommendations to city council pertaining to the expenditure and use of such revenue …”. I’m wondering what are the required qualifications of the appointed members and where the proposed new City Council Committee will “fit in” with the EDC (see Colorado

    The VoteJobsNow site also discusses how the funds “may” be used, identifying seven categories. However, there is no detailed explanation of these categories and many appear to be duplicates of initiatives by other community organizations. I’d like to better understand how these categories will contribute to creating additional jobs, and retention of jobs. It would also be nice to see a proposed 5-year plan for these uses of funds, with projected # of additional jobs.

    I have seen a lot of quality jobs disappear, and I would love to see them return two-fold. I would also like to see more efforts towards “retention”. However, it would be helpful if the founders of the 1A initiative could provide a little more clarification since so much of this initiative sounds like a duplication of the goals and programs in place by other existing community and city organizations. In truth the idea is great. But what is laid out is very vague I’m not sure I trust the delivery.

    Donna Lovelace-Flora

    Donna Lovelace-Flora
    March 28, 2009 at 1:21 pm

  4. I’m tired of hearing about lack of transparency and “slush fund”. Does anybody realize that our council controls almost $2 billion in budgets every year and this same council will have the final decision about how these funds are spent? If we don’t trust our duly elected officials with another 0.2% of spending, then we have the wrong council or the wrong form of government. We need to realize that we are in a competitive situation when it comes to jobs and any advantage can help all of us who have a job or need a job in Colorado Springs.

    Jerry Novak
    March 31, 2009 at 8:23 am

  5. Vote YES! This is a exactly where I think our money should be spent – Locally. For $10.00/ yr, we can watch and question every dollar spent to attract and retain jobs in our community. JOBS is specifically designed to have local control and local oversight; it is designed in the true sprit of representative government.

    Renee Zentz

    Renee Zentz
    March 31, 2009 at 1:20 pm

  6. 1 A is just to vague and without sufficient controls on the expenditures.
    Tom summed it up nicely.

    John Lee
    April 1, 2009 at 9:07 pm