Final Election Comments

Off-year elections in Colorado can be conducted by mail ballot, and the county electoral offices began sending out the ballots on Friday. A majority of mail ballots will be returned within a week of receipt, so further campaigning is is increasingly irrelevant as we approach Election Day. There are exceptions of course, and some genuinely unfortunate circumstances. Most counties use mail voting because it is ultimately less expensive, spreads out the vote processing work-load, and results in a significantly higher turnout. But they are not required to do so, and Adams County will require its voters to visit a polling place on November 1st. Our home city of Aurora sits astride the line between Arapahoe and Adams Counties, and the city is determining a tax measure as well as electing a couple of City Council members. A minority of city residents will not be able to vote until November 1st, so interested parties and candidates will need to continue at least a semblance of a campaign for another three weeks.

We stand by our recommendation of a NO vote on state referenda C & D, but there are a couple of “campaign issues” that should not go unnoticed. First let’s take a brief look at Aurora’s proposed property tax increase.

auroraAurora finds itself in fiscal difficulty primarily because of poor management. City government has acknowledged that the heart of the problem is that sales tax revenues are down, and that the appropriate way of balancing the budget would be to ask for an increase in the sales tax rate. But they “know” a sales tax increase would not be effective, because Aurora shoppers can so easily go across the city line and make their purchases in districts with lower tax rates. For example, if there is something you can buy in adjacent unincorporated Arapahoe County, you get an immediate discount of 4% by not paying city sales tax. So they are asking for an increase in property tax, to raise $10.5 million per year to pay for some specific things which we’ll talk about in a second. The fundamental principle here, and the reason we can recommend a NO vote without debating the finer points, is that the increase is a classic example of “tyranny of the majority.” A majority of voters do not own property, and there is something “un-American” about allowing them to impose a tax on those who do.

Now let’s look at what the money is being raised for. Aurora says it needs the extra $10.5 million dollars to open two fire stations, keep one library branch and a couple of swimming pools from closing, and hire additional police officers to comply with an earlier voter mandate to provide two officers per thousand of population. The citizens of Aurora already voted the funds to build those two fire stations, to build a new branch library and redevelop two other library branches, and to hire additional police. At the time those measures were approved, there was no indication that “more money” was going be needed later. During the same time frame (including the post-2001 recession that led to the “crunch”) the city spent $70 million on a new “Municipal Center” and the old City Hall building has been sitting empty for two and a half years (it’s for sale, with a price tag of $2.5 million). One of the justifications for the Aurora Taj Mahal was that the city would be able to consolidate 28 distributed facilities and departments. We can only wonder how much money is sitting there in unused city properties, but one of those properties alone is “worth” $2.5 million, so maybe that’s where the budget shortfall is.

The propaganda can be pretty subtle, too. Consider the “non partisan” analysis of information presented in
Arapahoe County’s “grey book” on the Aurora tax issue. The state’s “blue book” presents arguments for and against C&D. For Aurora’s propetry tax increase we get a “PRO STATEMENT” and a “CON STATEMENT” (wink-wink) The final paragraph of the “pro statement” is a neat little summary printed in bold, and underlined:

    It is a simple concept: a “Yes” vote means extensive improvements in public safety, and preservation of the vast majority of city services; a “No” vote means deep cuts. There is no other choice.

The “con statement” gets no such highlighting, and you have to actually read it to see that the police staffing level was approved by the voters upon the initiative of the City Council and the Police Association, and funded by, wait for it… a sales tax increase.

Switching back to the C&D campaign, the shouting continues, mostly from the “pro” side which seems to have unlimited funds for TV and radio advertizing, yard signs, and banners. For the record, we have actually seen one single yard sign saying “NO.” Some valiant citizen stole a “Yes on C&D” yard sign and spray-painted “NO” over the “yes.” Probably the only thing we need to add in defense of our own “NO” recommendation is that voters should always consider who it is that is spending significant dollars to promote a tax increase.

Two of the most loudly promoted arguments in favor of the C&D tax increase are related to spending on education. The proponents insist that if the referenda are defeated there will be reduced spending on K-12 programs and colleges. K-12 spending increases were dictated by the voters already, in a Constitutional amendment that overrides TABOR. So that’s an outright lie. And in the case of Colorado’s institutions of “higher learning,” there may indeed be reduced state spending, but as we have observed elsewhere the major universities get a mere 10% of their funding from the state as it is. The correct question isn’t being asked– by what percentage would state spending be reduced, and what percentage of a school’s budget does that represent?

So our recommendation is for a NO vote on the state C&D issues, and a NO vote on the Aurora property tax increase. But, sadly, our prediction is that both will pass. Enough Aurora voters will vote in favor of a tax that they won’t have to pay personally, and enough CO voters have been convinced that they or their children will somehow benefit by giving the state a blank check. Ah, democracy!


What do you think? Please enter a comment below.

One Response to “Final Election Comments”

  1. Old Nate Says:

    I have been unable to find any information on this squabble that seems to be valid. Your info seems better than any I have seen.
    I think I will follow it. Thank you.

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