Are you mad, mad, mad because other people are getting handouts, subsidies, benefits, tax breaks, rebates, refunds and entitlements, and you’re not? If not, you may be the only living American who believes that he/she isn’t being screwed, swindled, shortchanged, taken advantage of, exploited, played for a sucker and made to pay retail for everything.
Mitt Romney noted that the 47 percent of Americans who live off the government would never vote for him. In response, the 47 percenters (or the politicians who sought their votes) attacked the “1 percenters” who made too much money and paid too little in taxes. Campaigning at Colorado College last fall, President Obama told the crowd, “I’ve got your back!” implying that his opponent catered only to the outsized needs of the rich. Once re-elected, he joined Congress in ending the payroll tax cut that had benefitted members of the employed working and middle class. Now I know what the president actually meant: “I’ve got your back … pocket!”
To paraphrase George Orwell: “All Americans are subsidized, but some are subsidized more than others.” Success often means figuring out how to maximize your own benefits, and even block others who want to dip their snouts into the trough.
Take, for example, City Council’s recent decision to renege on the deal that their predecessors had made with SunShare, a local company that builds and operates community solar arrays.
Opponents of the deal seized on an apparently telling factoid: Utilities customers would have to fork over $22 million during the next 20 years to help fund it. Yep, poor working people would pay for rich enviros to buy feel-good solar panels that might reduce their electric bills to zero! Established manufacturers would be forced to leave town thanks to soaring utility rates!
Egged on by Council President Keith King, Council voted 5-4 to kick SunShare to the curb.
That’s fine, I guess, if you believe nothing could be better for economic development than driving fast-growing companies out of business or out of town. But SunShare screwed up — it shouldn’t have been so open and transparent about being subsidized.
The folks who rule that particular territory are sometimes subtle and indirect. They get big subsidies, profit handsomely, and no one understands what’s going on. Others have power, and know how to use it.
Take Gary Erickson’s Copper Ridge development. The site wasn’t worth much until Erickson cut a complex deal with the city’s Urban Renewal Authority, which agreed to issue bonds supported by tax revenues from the development to extend Powers Boulevard to Copper Ridge.
Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? The city gets a road, Erickson gets access and the city foregoes tax revenues that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
That’s one way to look at it. But Erickson’s deal tilts the playing field to his advantage, vastly increasing the value of his dirt and enabling him to attract tenants like Bass Pro Shops. Copper Ridge will spin off tens of millions to Erickson and his partners, and may hasten the decline of nearby retail/commercial centers.
As one disgruntled property owner told me, “It’s as if you bought some land in western Kansas and the city built two interstate highways to service it — think the land might be worth a little more than you paid?”
And consider all the cross-subsidization that the city budget so precisely documents. During the next 20 years, Utilities customers will pay the city $710 million in direct subsidies, not counting inflation. This year’s payment of $35.5 million includes $31.7 million in “Utilities Surplus Revenues,” $2.7 million for staff in the city attorney’s office and services provided, and $1.1 million for audit services from the city auditor.
How exactly can a municipal enterprise have “surplus revenue?” We’ll leave the question to the King and his court. They will need some of it to make the $1.66 million yearly payment on the U.S. Olympic Committee bonds, not to mention funneling a similar amount to the Convention & Visitors Bureau. In an arrangement hallowed by time and power, the CVB gets two-thirds of the annual take from the city’s lodgers and automobile rental tax.
Ranchers know that the dominant horse feeds first, and the rest fall obediently in line. Dogs defer to the leader of the pack. Gary Erickson at Copper Ridge, Doug Price at the CVB, Scott Blackmun at the USOC — dominant horses, big dogs!
And David Amster-Olszewski? Who’s he, some 26 year-old Colorado College graduate? Don’t cut in line, boy! You’ll have to wait your turn — along with that Zuckerberg kid and his data center.